Just Before Dawn is a 1981 slasher film from director Jeff Lieberman. Though the film came and went quietly upon its theatrical release the film has now developed a devoted cult following among horror fans. It is praised for its eerie atmosphere, lush … see full wiki
Warren (Greg Henry) inherits a piece of land in the wilderness. He brings his girlfriend Connie (Deborah Benson) along with three other friends with him to go hiking. Later, they were given a warning by the park ranger (George Kennedy) to turn away and forget about the place. The group continues on completely unaware of the dangers that awaits them.-summary
If it wasn't for the fact that the slasher genre is my favorite among the horror sub genres. I would have never given this one a try because at the time, I was not a fan of Jeff Leiberman's work. I couldn't wait for Squirm to end, nor was I too thrilled about Satan's Little Helper, and because of that, I came into this with low expectations. To my surprise, I learned that Leiberman wasn't that bad of a director. Just Before Dawn which was released in 1981 proved that the guy did have some creativity lurking somewhere in that mind of his. The film borrows a bit from John Boorman's Deliverance, and it's always mentioned in the same breath with Friday the 13th, but the film is quite different from the two.
For those who crave vicious and brutal activity, their blood lust will be satiated in the very beginning, as the film opens with a very brutal murder. When I first saw the film, I thought this would be your standard by the numbers slasher, and for the most part it is. However, the film soon throws the viewer off for a moment and begins to suck you into its world. Those who understand that horror isn't only about a quick and high body count will begin to appreciate what Leiberman was shooting for here.
Just Before Dawn is among the most stylish horror films I have ever seen. The film has a very eerie music score consisting of a synthesized melody, with a whistle in the foreground courtesy of music composer Brad Fiedel of Terminator fame. The BGM did its job for me in the very beginning by helping to create a rather uneasy setting. But as good as the simple music score can be, surprisingly, it's the lack of music which actually showcases the brilliance of the films style. Lieberman does a fine job of creating a sense of isolation and loss of hope for the characters. The music takes a backseat for the crickets and waterfalls to stimulate the viewers imagination. In a way, nature becomes the soundtrack. The film almost resembles a documentary during certain moments. That was how real the setting felt to me.
The film has a pretty small body count, with very little graphic murder. However, once again, Leiberman goes the route of leaving a bit more up to the viewer's interpretation by keeping a couple of deaths off screen. But at least one death left a lasting impression on me, because it defined man's will to survive by any means necessary.
The acting is one of the strong points, and everyone was believable in their roles. The character development was well done, because for the most part, the main characters especially, behaved in ways that normal folks probably would. Some will probably think the characters were unrealistic, because they chose to disregard warnings and remain unwelcomed in the woods. But taking under consideration the character of Warren, his actions made a lot of sense to me. The killer (John Hunsaker) is as creepy as can be. He's somewhat silent, deadly, shrouded in mystery, and has an intimidating figure. I wouldn't want to be lost out in the woods with him. Now although the character development is very good, the only issue I could actually think of would be the easy foreshadow concerning a certain characters actions. Other than that, I really can't think of anything else.
The plot is pretty straight-forward and does take a bit of time for things to happen. I didn't have much of a problem with it, since it worked in the favor of the characters. This was a group that I actually cared about. But once the action begins, the film moves at a very good pace, with a decent amount of suspense and a nice ending.
It's very rare that I review extras, but this is another one of those moments that I have to point it out. The second disk contains a feature that runs for at least one hour. It's a very entertaining feature that takes place with some of the characters, as well as director Jeff Lieberman, producer David Sheldon, and Brad Fiedel. They're pretty open with their feelings, and I also thought there were a couple of funny moments. Overall, I think this will appeal to most hardcore horror fans who take their movies serious. I do not recommend this to those who need very large body counts and unbelievable amounts of gore. There is also brief nudity for those who need it. The film has a 90 minute run time.
Pros: -Stylish, good acting, character development