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“DIARY OF A DEADBEAT” (Film Review)

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If you’re a fan of violent low-budget genre movies, you’ve almost certainly heard the name Jim VanBebber, and you’ve probably seen his 1988 college-kid opus DEADBEAT AT DAWN. Handmade, violent as hell, and wildly ambitious, DEADBEAT AT DAWN is a reflection of the man himself, who did his own stunts, wrote, and starred in the film. His career continued from there, and he found an odd cult success, chronicled in a cleverly-named new documentary, DIARY OF A DEADBEAT.

Filmmaker Victor Bonacore’s voice in this intimate portrait wavers back and forth between one of a skilled archivist and enthusiastic fan. Bonacore shows a strong reverence for VanBebber’s work, often depicting him as a folk hero of low budget cinema. Scenes of VanBebber attending conventions and meeting his fans back up this image: the guy is loved by a niche group of fanatics, and they flock to the brash, intense and magnetic VanBebber.

However, Bonacore is no slouch when it comes to covering VanBebber’s career: DIARY OF A DEADBEAT delves into almost all the projects he’s been involved with, from his early short films as a kid, to his acting roles in low budget cinema throughout the nineties and naughts. Even VanBebber’s recent partnership with the extreme cinema distribution company Unearthed Films on AMERICAN GUINEA PIG is chronicled in DIARY OF A DEADBEAT, incorporating more timely subject matter into the decade-spanning story of the D.I.Y. filmmaker.

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As for those who lend their peace of mind to DIARY OF A DEADBEAT, interviews range from fans to collaborators, other filmmakers, artists, musicians, and critics. This includes Pantera singer Phil Anselmo, transgressive artist Richard Kern, Skinny Puppy’s Nivek Ogre, and even FANGORIA writer Heidi Martinuzzi. Anyone with a strong knowledge of low budget horror will likely recognize one or two faces, and it’s interesting to hear how much of an influence VanBebber has been on these figures.

Certain aspects of VanBebber’s life aren’t entirely spelled out, leaving it up to the audience to glean how tumultuous many of his relationships have been. It’s also hard not to notice that he’s holding a drink in almost every frame of behind the scenes and interview footage he appears in, but it’s no secret that VanBebber likes to party; he’s a lunatic, he admits it, as does everyone else who appears in the doc. This FANGORIA writer even met him once behind a movie theater following a screening of DEADBEAT AT DAWN; he was barefoot, angry at the world, and cradling a beer.

VanBebber’s dedication to making his films on his terms ranges from admirably bullheaded to borderline crazy, and the documentary gives the whole range. Some of the best sequences focus on his failures, and even more interestingly: some of his best projects that you didn’t even know were his. Your favorite Skinny Puppy music video? VanBebber created that. And DIARY OF A DEADBEAT reminds you exactly how strange and excellent VanBebber’s talents are. For anyone passionate about guerrilla filmmaking, DIARY OF A DEADBEAT offers up a fascinating look at what it’s like to be a renegade filmmaker in a climate that doesn’t encourage it.

You can pre-order DIARY OF A DEADBEAT on Blu-ray HERE.

About the author
Madeleine Koestner

Madeleine Koestner is a writer, filmmaker and performer. She plays a ukulele and sings songs about ghosts in small venues in New York City. She likes beer, synthesizers and movies about death games. Sometimes Madeleine does special FX makeup and gore for low-budget horror movies. You can follow her on twitter @DVDBoxSet, but do so at your own risk, as she’s really weird and inappropriate.

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