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Jim Van Bebber

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on: July 13, 2017, 06:01:41 AM

All the talk about Tarantino's Manson project has led me to a controversial movie called The Manson Family (2003) and its director, Jim Van Bebber. Guy clearly has a vision and a unique personality... Though his career started in the late 1980s, he's only completed two feature films -- the other being Deadbeat at Dawn (1988). The rest of his career is peppered with short films and false starts. Deadbeat at Dawn is on DVD but OOP.

A street gang leader sets out for revenge against a rival street gang.


A dramatization of the horrific and notorious Manson Family Murders, in the form of super 8 home movies.

Manson Family review:

Quote from: IMDB User Benjamin Simko
I'll be helpful if I can...

I'm giving the film a 10/10 because of how I feel about it, but ignore that part of this review. What I'd like to do is help you, the potential viewer of The Manson Family, figure out whether you'd love this movie or hate it. It is a polarizing film, as is obvious from the reviews - no genuinely bad films get such an extreme reaction, positive or negative. The worst movies on earth are the ones where you just feel like your time was wasted. At worst, this film will make you feel like your time was violated - remember that the people who give it one star were motivated to find this web page and leave their comments. Go look up any god-awful Fred Olen Ray movie and see what people say: they give 2 or 3 star reviews. I suggest that the only one-star reviews on this entire site are motivated by being offended, not by the movie being "bad" in any objective sense.

Okay, that said, I think this is a well-made film, which I am prepared to support with evidence. The people who said that this is poorly shot ("the camera doesn't move") are clearly out of their minds. Not only does the camera move (and why would it matter if it didn't?), but the filmic technique is a dead-on mimic of the film techniques of the period it is depicting (late 1960s). This is a low budget, 16mm film, so it doesn't have any kind of Hollywood gloss - it is semi-documentary in it's approach. However, I found it to be stylish and evocative of Vietnam documentary footage, Woodstock (the film), and classic drive-in exploitation movies of the period. Again, this is something you'll probably either love or hate, but it is a calculated decision to look "unprofessional" by modern Hollywood standards.

As far as the content of the film, I think it is mistakenly regarded by some as a "message" film, and by others as an "exploitation" film. I think it is neither, or maybe more accurately, both - this is a "depiction" film, intent on depicting the Manson Family as realistically as possible. Why do that? Because Manson and his "Family" is one of the most sociologically interesting phenomena of the 20th century, in many ways comparable to Hitler and the Nazis. Jim VanBebber made a conscious (even a little heavy-handed, lending a little credence to the idea that this is a "message" film) decision to focus on the "family," the actual killers (Manson himself was convicted of inciting the crimes, not participating). Having read a lot of Manson literature including the Vincent Bugliosi book Helter Skelter, I think that this is the most accurate way I've seen the story told, particularly with the "Rashomon"-esque narration of the participants, where they whitewash their own involvement in the crimes, something that frustrated District Attourney Bugliosi to no end.

Now, how will you be able to tell whether this movie is for you, with all the "VanBebber is a genius" or "this is the worst movie ever made" crap out there? Here's the checklist:

1: Do you like low-budget 16mm horror films? It looks low-budget like Evil Dead or Texas Chainsaw Massacre (the original), a look which I find to be raw and immediate, but that's an opinion. The much-debated quality of the acting is exactly in keeping with this style. If, for example, you thought the acting in the Texas Chainsaw was rough and real, you'll probably like this, too.

2: Can you cope with graphic sex, drug use, and violence? The sex is near-X-rated and the violence, though they use 70's-style Karo syrup blood, is intense, grotesque, and on-screen. And really happened to real people, which freaks me out.

3: Do you find the twisted social mores of the Manson family to be interesting? This is not a film about a charismatic leader - it's a film about lost sheep. This type of senseless killing is only committed by people who have lost their empathy, an effect that is all too easy to achieve - it takes a lot less than what Manson did to subvert a person's ethics (see the psychological research of Milgram, Zimbardo, et al).

I thought the film did an excellent job of making an intellectual point at a (mostly) visceral level. The point is that human ethics are incredibly flexible and that hedonism is ultimately selfish, even when the love is "free." My final statement: A person with a (very?) strong stomach who is willing to engage his or her intellect in something that doesn't seem quite worth it on the surface will probably enjoy this movie, and be surprised at how deep the well runs. A crazy gore fan will probably like this movie. Fans of underground and experimental film (esp. Richard Kern fans) will love this movie. Mainstream Hollywood fans will not; non-genre fans will not.

His 1994 short film, My Sweet Satan, based on the true story of the murder of Ricky Kasso, is about "a group of directionless, bored, drug-using teenagers who get involved in a cult."

In 2013, Van Bebber Kickstarted a short film, Gator Green, which was meant to be used as a launching pad to attract investors for a feature, but the full length version never materialized. The short film is included on Severin's blu-ray release of The Manson Family (2003)

Massacre Video released a documentary about Van Bebber, Diary of a Deadbeat, last year.


And some more interviews and info:

Confessions Of A Lurking Weirdo: The Mythology Of Jim Van Bebber

Quote from: Jim Van Bebber
Your film “My Sweet Satan” is a retelling of the story of Rick Kasso, which was literally the scare story people used in 80s when they tried to dissuade people from listening to metal.

Do you remember that whole war? It was a war against metal, against heavy metal, under the guise of Satanism and all this bullshit. You had Geraldo and everyone on the planet Earth coming after it. I remember it. I certainly do! I found it offensive as shit. You want to give a bunch of 50-year-old ladies something to hate so you give them metal. You hate Ozzy. You hate Bruce Dickinson. You hate Lemmy. Why did they pick on that shit?

It was a convenient target.

It sold ratings. That’s what I tried to say with The Manson Family, that it ended up being more about television ratings than the man.

How did you hear about the Kasso story?

I was working at a bookstore – the same one I showed in the movie – and I came across a book on it.

When you watch that movie there’s nothing you can say is happy. It starts with a guy hanging himself in jail and someone else gets beaten to death by a fire pit. I’m not sure metal comes off positively

I disagree.


I think every film I make has a happy ending. These guys are doing their shit. Most people sit at a computer all day and masturbate. These guys lived. Everyone I represent on film is a living being. Maybe their life is short, maybe it’s sweet, maybe it’s sour. It doesn’t matter. They are living. They aren’t sitting there texting.


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Reply #1 on: December 01, 2017, 11:42:43 PM
Quote from: Cinema Arcana
According to director Jim Van Bebber, Arrow Video will be handling the 30th Anniversary Blu-Ray issue of his gory gang warfare classic, DEADBEAT AT DAWN (1988). He states, "I'm very pleased to announce that DEADBEAT AT DAWN has found its new home with the impeccable Arrow Films," and confirms it's slated for a new 4K transfer from the original 16mm A/B rolls under his supervision. Should be a solid release; hopefully they'll include the shorts collection that accompanied the earlier Dark Sky DVD.



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Reply #2 on: July 27, 2018, 08:52:07 PM
October 22/23, 2018

Jim Van Bebber’s Deadbeat at Dawn (1988) on blu-ray from Arrow US & Arrow UK

Jim VanBebber's notorious, blood-drenched cult classic Deadbeat at Dawn rises again on the advent of its 30th anniversary, newly restored for the first time on Blu-ray. Locked and loaded with a raft of new extras, see Deadbeat as you've never seen it before – in all its head-busting, bone-crushing glory!

Written by, directed by and starring VanBebber, Deadbeat follows the story of Goose – a gang leader whose girlfriend is brutally slaughtered when he attempts to leave the thug life behind. Pulled back into the gang, who've now formed an uneasy alliance with the thugs that butchered his girl, Goose sees an opportunity to exact his brutal, deadly revenge.

The very definition of DIY, independent filmmaking (VanBebber quit film school after his first year and used his student loan to fund the movie), Deadbeat at Dawn surpasses its low-budget origins to create a revenge movie that delivers more thrills and bloody spills than all of Chuck Norris' films combined.

Special Features and Technical Specs:

  • Brand new 2K restoration from original film elements by Arrow Films, supervised and approved by writer-director Jim VanBebber
  • Original uncompressed PCM mono audio
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Brand new free-wheeling audio commentary with Jim VanBebber ('Goose', The Ravens' Gang Leader), actor Paul Harper ('Danny Carmodi', The Spyders' Gang Leader) and guest Cody Lee Hardin, moderated by filmmaker Victor Bonacore (Diary of a Deadbeat: The Story of Jim VanBebber)
  • Jim VanBebber, Deadbeat Forever! – a brand new retrospective documentary on VanBebber and the Deadbeat legacy by Filmmaker Victor Bonacore, featuring first-time interviews, super-rare footage, VanBebber's college films and much, much more!
  • Archival 1986 behind-the-scenes documentary – Nate Pennington's VHS documentary on a failed Deadbeat shoot
  • Outtakes, newly transferred in HD
  • Four newly-restored VanBebber short films – Into the Black (1983, 34 mins), My Sweet Satan (1993, 19 mins), Roadkill: The Last Days of John Martin (1994, 14 mins) and Gator Green (2013, 16 mins)
  • Jim VanBebber Music Video Collection, featuring never-before-seen Director's Cuts
  • Chunkblower – promotional trailer for an unfinished Gary Blair Smith-produced gore-soaked feature film
  • Extensive Image Gallery – Never-Before-Seen Stills!
  • Reversible sleeve featuring newly commissioned artwork by Peter Strain


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Reply #3 on: July 30, 2018, 09:53:21 PM
that's cult cool