Just Before Dawn
From Picturemedia Limited
Original Theatrical Release Date: October 14th 1981
Plot: Campers find themselves up against not only the dangers of nature, but also the dangers of towering in-bred backwoods creeps who have really sharp knives.
Did you know, when you look up "Underrated Slasher Film" in the dictionary there's a picture and synopsis of Just Before Dawn? Picked up by a tiny company at the boom of the 80's Slasher for release in 1981, Dawn was unceremoniously ignored. Sometimes marketing can either help or distract away from a Film, but this one clearly needed a lot more help than the work that was put into getting this Film out there. It's a real crime when good Films are left ignored. Thankfully over time Just Before Dawn has found love through it's fans. Those who have seen the film have largely fallen in love with it. With good reason to.
There are so many things to recommend here. I can go into them in more minute detail, but for me a film like Dawn is best experienced rather than deconstructed. For those who love atmosphere, I think this is one of the very best Films of the time to really exploit that aspect of Horror Filmmaking. There's a lot of natural beauty in Dawn, and Lieberman seems to effortlessly catch it all. He often cites Deliverance as his inspiration and while looking at the film you understand why. This isn't the kind of Movie that uses the great outdoors as just a set. It's really a world where every sound, every tree and everything around them is something that the characters fully inhabit.
I really like the actors in this film. There are all a pretty likeable bunch, which is rare. Leads Gregg Henry (Body Double, Slither) and Deborah Benson (September 30 1955, Our Winning Season) are really good and believable as the couple with the camping experience and a seriousness about their passion. Jack Lemmon's son, Chris, is on hand as the more jokey of the bunch to serve as a nice counterpoint to the leads. Jamie Rose plays Megan, who would be otherwise known as the "slut" of the group but is actually, though very attractive and sexy, a surprisingly decent actress (she now teaches it in Los Angeles). Ralph Seymour (Killer Party, Rain Man) is always fun to watch. He's a pretty quirky guy and I love when he pops up in random things (Meatballs Part II, Fletch, Ghoulies, Empire Of The Sun, The Relic and so on). And I can't forget the character actor greats, Mike Kellin (Hell Is For Heroes, Sleepaway Camp) and George Kennedy (The Dirty Dozen, Cool Hand Luke). They each bring an additional weight and class to the Film. I love that George talks to his plants and horse, Lucille. His character is at first glance a tad unnecessary, but he's always a hoot to watch and gives the role a real dimension.
There are things that go down in Just Before Dawn that are pretty unique in Horror Films. I would like to say that the defeat of the villain is one of the best and most original I've seen. There's a sense of the primal that Writer/Director Jeff Lieberman taps into, and the Film is a lot more layered and intelligent than you might imagine. Going back to Deborah Benson and her role as Connie, there's a real interesting metamorphosis that goes on with her in the Film. Deborah brings a real quiet intensity, and Lieberman's Direction in those scenes are utterly flawless.
Intelligence and playfulness can be found in all of Lieberman's Film Work. From the Nature runs amok Squirm (1976) to the droll LSD Paranoia of Blue Sunshine (1978) to later films like the campy fun 50's Sci-Fi tribute Remote Control (1988) and the quasi-Slasher Satan's Little Helper (2004). I actually really recommend Squirm and Satan's Little Helper if you haven't seen them. Squirm is one of my absolute favorite movies about the dangers of Nature in the post-Jaws sweepstakes of the genre. And Satan's Little Helper is a Movie full of dark humor and a surprisingly nasty bite. It's a lot of fun to watch, especially around Halloween as that's when it's set.
Both Just Before Dawn and Jeff Lieberman should really be sought after if you love Horror. It's not all the time you walk away from a Movie feeling as if you actually watched something from someone with a real point of view. We need more Filmmakers like Jeff, and he needs to be making more Movies for us. In the meantime, watch Just Before Dawn with your favorite capable camping buddy who happens to be sporting a lot of eye makeup and short shorts. You just might need her to get your ass out of the forest one day.
Connie after. Don't even think about messing with her.
This is the only Slasher Film that I know of that uses Blondie's Heart Of Glass on the soundtrack. Using Blondie in any Movie is always a good thing.