Just Before Dawn

A group of friends are on a camping trip which will take them deep into the Oregon wilderness, the trip has been arranged as one of the group owns some land there.  Before we meet them, we encounter a couple of drunk hunters celebrating their latest kill in an abandoned church.  One of them is brutally murdered and the survivor makes off into the woods.

Soon enough he stumbles into the campers and warns them of a ‘demon’ chasing him, not taking any notice of the old dude they continue on into the forest.  Eventually the old guy gets to the forest ranger station manned by Oscar winning Hollywood legend George Kennedy.  Having met the campers earlier in the day, he goes off into the forest with his trusty steed Agatha to see if he can find them.  Unfortunately there is only tragedy in the group’s future as they are soon being stalked by an animal noise making nutter.

Jeff (Squirm) Lieberman’s Just Before Dawn is not your average slasher film.  In fact you could argue it’s more of a survivalist thriller type movie such as John Boorman’s Deliverance.  Sure you could argue it’s a horror film as there is a redneck possibly ‘in-bred’ family in there and a hulking killer, but the body count is low and Lieberman prefers to amp up the tension rather than let the blood flow.  Not to say there isn’t blood but it is used effectively and one particular ‘kill’ sequence towards the end of the film is definitely a first.  It was also shot before the influx of ‘maniac’ films after the success of Friday the 13th, so it predates the likes of The Burning, My Bloody Valentine and even Halloween II.

The cast (which includes Gregg Henry) is likeable apart from the annoying ginger girl, Megan who I couldn’t wait to be murdered and Lieberman used the Oregon locations beautifully as it’s a real handsome looking film.  A mention must also go to the atmospheric score from Brad (Terminator) Fiedel whose electronic sounds really give the film a nice edge especially that eerie whistle.

88 Films’ Blu-ray has been remastered and the film looks terrific.  There’s a longer cut on the disc as well which is scratchy and damaged, one would imagine projecting it on a screen would give the film a real ‘old school’ feel.  There’s a commentary on there, a nice interview with Lieberman, a Grindhouse doc from Calum Waddell, trailers and a gallery from the director himself.  If you buy it direct from 88 Films you also get an exclusive slipcase with an alternative film poster on it’s cover.

All in all, a real nice package for a tremendously under appreciated film.  I enjoyed it immensely re-visiting it after many years, so give it a bash I don’t think you’re regret it.

  • Starring George Kennedy  Chris Lemmon  Gregg Henry  Deborah Benson
  • Director Jeff Lieberman
  • Distributor 88 Films