'Just Before Dawn' Movie Review

Just Before Dawn
by Chris Wright, MoreHorror.com

I was shocked at how much I enjoyed “Just Before Dawn.” When you hear the synopsis, first impression leads us to believe it will be run of the mill bad. Jeff Lieberman along with the musical composition of Brad Fiedel (Fright Night, Terminator) lead this backwoods slasher to underrated gold. The movie was first released in 1981 by Paragon Video at the peak of the slasher popularity. With solid more known entries like “The Burning”, could “Just Before Dawn” be good as well? Upon my first viewing, the movie is pretty good for what it had to work with.

The plot is essentially that five campers go to a wilderness mountaintop to have an eventful evening despite ignoring the warnings of the forest ranger. The forest ranger Roy McClean informs them of the bad things that happen in those woods and encourages them to turn around. This sounds like your typical simplistic slasher movie. The movie early on even had a “Crazy Ralph” type character named Ty, who has gone a bit loopy after surviving a chase from the mountain killer. The beginning of the movie has Ty and a friend of his in a random church on the mountain before the mountain killer sticks a machete through his friend’s crotch.

What makes this low budget slasher presentable is the surprising likeability of the five campers. Warren, the blonde hunk type, is dating Connie, a shy girl. Jonathon and Megan are the wilder types in their relationship. Lastly, we have our nerdy tag cameraman Daniel. They arrive at the mountain site with is filled with beautiful scenery including a waterfall. They happily ignore Ty’s warning of demons in the woods.

While all this is occurring, this mountain man is seemingly everywhere stalking the campers. Megan and Jonathon have amusing nude encounters in the river but after Jonathan slivers away, Megan thinks he is still there. Why wouldn’t she? He is playing with her legs in the water. At least she thinks this is all play until she runs out screaming seeing Jonathon is no longer out there! That entire scene is fairly creepy to watch and well done.

Jonathon, unfortunately, meets his demise after coming across the checkered shirt mountain man and falls off a cliff into the raging rapids. You would think these scenes would be gory. The movie is essentially 'goreless' and relies on the musical composition and suspense to carry it. Daniel and Megan, soon, find the mysterious church only to meet their demise as well. Daniel gets a machete through his chest while Megan is killed off screen. A huge twist occurs midway through that I am not going to mention otherwise it spoils the twist entirely.

We are left with Warren and Connie as the final two left. The forest ranger decides to make it his mission to rescue them all. He comes across the backwoods family living on the mountain, whom lie about knowing they have visitors on the mountain. Roy McClean is given information when their backwoods daughter Mary Cat leads him to their camp site.

The twist is already fully known at this point but I am still going to overlook it for those who have never seen this movie. Connie fights off the murderous killer as she seemingly grows stronger from fright. Forest ranger Roy comes in off of his horse and puts several bullet rounds in the mountain man. Connie has seemingly gone off the deep end is wearing makeup.

When Roy leaves saying he will inform the police, Warren and Connie are attacked again! It looks like he was dead before or was he? Connie fights him full force and wins by ramming her fist down his throat inducing suffocation. Connie, with a crazy look in her eyes, helps Warren, whom was stabbed, up after scaring Mary Cat away. We fade to the wilderness.

This movie is surprisingly good despite a few plot holes and minor lagging in places. It’s low budget with solid acting and likable characters, a rarity in many slasher movies.

I highly recommend this and IMDB has this at fresh 6.0/10 on their database. Brad Fiedel’s synthesizer and wilderness sounds musical score was perfect for this movie. Lieberman’s directing is spot on in this movie.

Some would criticize this as a “Last House on the Left” or “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” rip off. The director says he had never seen the movies when this was made. The church in the movie didn’t seem to have much significance either. I read the original screenplay had a more religious tint to it so I guess that is why it was there. If you can find a copy of this movie, check out this underrated forgotten slasher gem.

“Just Before Dawn” (1981)
Directed By: Jeff Lieberman
Written By: Jeff Lieberman, Mark Arywitz, & Jonas Middleton

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