JIM VAN BEEBER
The fact that Jim Van Bebber is not a household name, at least in horror-households, is a crime exacerbated by the constant stream of meaningless tripe being spewed forth by the likes of Rob Zombie. Van Bebber is the real deal; he’s the Greg Ginn of independent filmmaking. He’s not putting out films that the general public are going to embrace; I don’t see Roadkill : The Last Days of John Martin, The Manson Family or My Sweet Satan being box office hits, but for genre fans, they are must-see flicks.
Van Bebber grew up in Greenville, OH where he started making short super-8 films when he was in high school then went on to study cinema at Wright State University for a year. Instead of attending a second year, he reassigned his tuition money as financing for Deadbeat at Dawn, his first feature length film on his newly founded production company Asmodeus Productions.
Deadbeat at Dawn is an eighty minute feature that tells the story of Goose, played by Van Bebber, the leader of the Ravens street gang. He grows weary of their feud with the Spiders, he wants out so he can settle down with his girlfriend and live a more pastoral life. Things seldom work out for people like Goose as Danny, the Spiders leader rapes and kills Goose’s girlfriend which sends him into a frenzy of violence and revenge. One of the coolest things about this movie and all of Van Bebber’s films is that none of the characters are played by legit “actors”, but the strength of his directorial skills and vision overcome this potential obstacle. You won’t be seeing any of these actors in anything else but a Jim Van Bebber movie. Deadbeat is an homage to the grindhouse exploitation films of the 70’s and early 80’s; it’s filled with violence, Kung Fu and sleaze. There is no irony, it’s a straight up dive into the long-gone 42nd street world of grindhouse / exploitation and would have been at home showing at Time’s Square’s Rialto Theater.
His other feature length film, The Manson Family, took over a decade to finish. Once again, he employed his group of friends to act in the movie which was done over weekends and evenings. Due to the DIY nature of the venture, long breaks in production resulted. It’s a brutal, unflinching, often-times exploitative retelling of the Manson family murders with a wraparound story involving some TV producers making a documentary about the Manson fans. The narrative is true to form and offers a perspective on the “family” that doesn’t romanticize the life of a group of drug-addled outcasts that ultimately murdered innocent people. Let’s face it, the Manson Family is a fascinating subject, that’s why there is a veritable cottage industry around telling and retelling the story. Being one of those “Manson-philes” myself, I can say that Van Bebber’s portrayal is factual and based on reliable source material. Additionally, the movie is entertaining.
A few years back, Dark Sky Films released Visions of Hell, an end-all collection of Van Bebbers work that includes his two feature films mentioned above along with his shorts and some really cool extras and interviews that give a deep insight into his relentless creative process and intense commitment t making films his own way.
As a companion to Visions of Hell, I recommend Diary of a Deadbeat, a documentary on Van Bebber that takes us from his beginnings to his current mission to complete his latest film Gator Green. It paints a picture of a troubled middle aged filmmaker who is coming to grips with the concept that he may never realize his dreams to the extent that he had originally envisioned. It starts off on a downer with Van Bebber, drunk and unruly, ranting to the camera and acting out at horror conventions. It takes a turn for the better towards the end where a sober, more composed Van Bebber is talking about his move to Florida and his new film Gator Green.
A lot of love goes out to Jim Van Bebber on the Necromaniacs Podcast, both Mike and I are huge fans. If you want to take a walk down a shady alley and discover something real and hard-hitting, check out these films.