Visions of Hell: The Films of Jim VanBebber (DVD)

Visions of Hell: The Films of Jim VanBebber DVD review (click for larger image)Reviewed by Uncle Creepy

Starring (Deadbeat at Dawn) Jim VanBebber, Paul Harper, Megan Murphy, Ric Walker (The Manson Family) Marcelo Games, Marc Pitman, Leslie Orr, Maureen Allisse, (short films) Terek Puckett, Mark Gillespie, Hiroshi Tajima

Directed by Jim VanBebber

Distributed by Dark Sky Films

You casual horror fans out there may be asking yourself right about now, “Who the hell is Jim VanBebber? And why does he have his own box set?” I can answer that question in just three short words: exploitation film genius. While many other folks out there are trying to reinvent the grindhouse film experience, it’s VanBebber’s movies that have helped to define that phrase for the now thirty-something generation, especially with examples like the hard to find Deadbeat at Dawn. Dark Sky Films, bless its black little heart, has given fans a gift worth shouting from the rafters about! A box set of all of VanBebber’s films (except for Necrophagia: Through Eyes of the Dead and the Skinny Puppy videos) from Deadbeat to 2003’s The Manson Family, and all of his short films in-between! Sit back, kids! School’s in!

Let’s start with the first film in this set, The Manson Family. Two words … holy shit! The film centers around a TV personality who wants to set the record straight on the infamous Tate-LaBianca murders by casting more of a light on Manson’s family than Manson himself. After all, they did the killing! They smeared the blood! All Charlie did was philosophise and rant! This is all well and good until a group of angry kids set out to target the man who’s responsible for smearing the Manson family name further — our protagonist!

Visions of Hell: The Films of Jim VanBebber DVD review (click for larger image)Told through a series of psychedelic flashbacks and riddled with vintage VanBebber madness, The Manson Family looks and feels like a true Seventies exploitation film. As a matter of fact, I’d hazard to say that at times it’s downright Texas Chainsaw-esque. VanBebber, as expected, pulls no punches when it comes to violence, nudity, and pushing the boundaries of good taste. He also employs the technique of adding in film flaws and defects to simulate age as a means to give the flick the dated feel that he wanted it to have. This not only works flawlessly, but it really adds a lot to the overall experience. You’d swear The Manson Family is older than it really is. It’s an amazingly disturbing and daring film, and the second disc in this set gives it its due in terms of supplemental material.

Things kick off with a feature length documentary entitled The VanBebber Family. Clocking in at nearly seventy-eight minutes, this is a pretty wild ride in its own right and a thoroughly comprehensive look at what it took to bring this project to fruition. The only disappointment? Marcello Games, the guy who played Charlie, is nowhere to be found on the extras. In fact, no mention of him is made at all. Truly bizarre, but fear not, dear reader, since the stage-Charlie couldn’t make it to the dance, the real one is here being interviewed in his place. This is a great addition and the perfect complement to the film itself. Disc Two is capped off with some trailers and another featurette called In the Belly of the Beast, which is a video account of the film’s brief stint at the 1997 Fantasia Festival, where it was known as a work-in-progress called Charlie’s Family. Really good stuff!

But we’re only half finished with the lunacy! Disc Three in the set is home to the little-seen 1988 classic Deadbeat at Dawn. Before I get into the goodies, let’s take a quick look at the plot, shall we?

Visions of Hell: The Films of Jim VanBebber DVD review (click for larger image)Two gangs, the Ravens and the Spiders, are in the midst of a catastrophic feud. Their war has taken its toll on both sides, and for Raven’s leader, Goose (VanBebber), it seems like the time has come to get out and call it quits. At least that’s what his girlfriend tells him before she is raped and murdered by order of the Spiders’ leader, Danny (Harper). This leads to the disbanding of the Ravens after Goose is crushed by his loss. So what are out-of-clique gang bangers to do when in need of a crew? Join up with their enemies, of course! This pushes poor Goose even further over the edge, and as a result he becomes a junkie. But even a junkie can plot revenge! After he somewhat cleans up his act, Goose joins with the Spiders to get closer to Danny. But Danny’s got revenge plans of his own. Deadbeat at Dawn is a double-crossing violent fiesta of bloodshed that needs to be seen to be fully appreciated.

I could sit here and sing this movie’s praises for another six paragraphs, but instead how about I just say this: If you’re looking for a film that is nothing less than wall-to-wall shoot-em-up, beat-em-down depravity, then this is your fix. There are even a few cool-ass extras on the disc to check out after the movie like an interview with VanBebber, some behind-the-scenes stuff, and outtakes. There’s no reason not to have this box set in your collection unless you’re a complete pussy, in which case you shouldn’t be reading this website to begin with!

Need another carrot dangle that should lead you to buy? How about the inclusion of every VanBebber short film on Disc Four? It’s all here, man, from his more obscure shorts like Doper, Kata, Into the Black and Roadkill: The Last Days of John Martin to the very controversial My Sweet Satan. You simply cannot miss! Bring a mop and a raincoat! Things get really messy, really fast!

The bottom line? There’s a whole lot of sick to be had here for one reasonable price. Are these movies good? That really depends on what your definition of good is. They’re certainly not going to be everyone’s drug of choice, but each and every one of the films contained in this set proves on some level or another why Jim VanBebber is one of the most overlooked and important filmmakers of our time. If you have the stomach for it, this is a must buy! Exploitation fans rejoice!

Special Features

Deadbeat at Dawn

  • Interview with Jim Vanbebber
  • Behind-the-scenes featurette
  • Outtakes
  • Still gallery

    The Manson Family

  • The VanBebber Family feature-length documentary
  • In the Belly of the Beast featurette
  • Interview with Charles Manson
  • Trailers

    Films combined:

    4 out of 5

    Special Features:

    5 out of 5

    Discuss Visions of Hell: The Films of Jim VanBebber in our Dread Central forums!

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    Steve Barton

    You're such an inspiration for the ways that I will never, ever choose to be.

    • Uncle Creepy

      Like I said … “good” is relative!

    • G.D.

      That’s cool. I’m actually looking forward to picking this up. I’ve heard a lot about his stuff but have never seen any of his movies and now they’re all here in one package. Beautiful. I’ve heard lots of good things about Deadbeat at Dawn…

    • Uncle Creepy

      Sorry I needed to clarify, he helped define it for our generation. It was late when I wrote that! LOL

    • G.D.

      Why is he the real deal and Tarantino a pretender? Because Tarantino has mainstream success?

    • The Butcher

      He may not have truly helped “define” grindhouse but he sure as hell was the true “embodiment” of it in the following years.

      Unlike pretenders to the throne like Quentin Tarrentino and Robert Rodriguez.

    • G.D.

      Really? He helped define “grindhouse”…um…YEARS after the heyday of grindhouse theatres? Interesting…