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Just Before Dawn (1981)
Movie Review by The Mortician

Just Before Dawn (1981) Somehow I missed this golden slasher era movie growing up, directed by cult icon Jeff Lieberman. The plot is pretty simple: five campers in a Winnebago head out for some wilderness hiking, camping, and frolicking and run into a backwoods crazy that knocks them off, one by one, FRIDAY THE13th style. Set in the woods of Oregon, there's some great cinematography and scenery in this one, with more than a dash of inspiration from DELIVERANCE and THE HILLS HAVE EYES. George Kennedy plays kind of the Crazy Ralph "you're all doomed" character who also doubles as the Park Ranger sent in to find the kids once it's obvious people are being killed. There's a nice skinnydipping bit in a lake where the actress's bodacious bod is on ample display and she thinks her boyfriend is feeling her up underwater----when it's really the killer, who's kindly swam out to cop a feel! When she sees her beau on shore and realizes that SOMEONE ELSE is digitally penetrating he from below....it's quite the effective moment! (This scene was later "borrowed" in the classic Pamela Susan Shoop Jacuzzi sequence in HALLOWEEN II...in the same year, nonetheless!) Another set-up that stands out is where one of the male victims is stalked on this tiny little rope bridge above the rapids and he ends up falling into the water below, struggling and clawing to make his way back up the rocky cliffs. Not only does this scene look dangerous---it was, and in the extras, the actors talk about doing their own stunts and how many crazy chances they took while making this movie. It pays off, though, as many of the scenes are hair raising and intense. Deborah Benson is the final girl and man, can she fill up a pair of jeans shorts nicely! Uh-huh! I wish she had done more provocative scenes, at least flashing us some naughty bits here and there, but there's always those Daisy Duke shorts you can drool after. She also happens to be a damn fine actress and in the end, gives new meaning to the term DEEP THROAT in her final confrontation with the killer. I don't want to give away more in case you haven't seen the film, but it's a pretty brutal endcap sequence you're not likely to forget. Brad Fiedel contributes his first soundtrack score to this one and it's very effective---minimalist and haunting with a haunting whistle theme that ties into the story. Of course, Brad would go on to deliver legendary scores for TERMINATOR and TERMINATOR 2. All in all, JUST BEFORE DAWN is a good suspense/slasher movie, and if I would've seen it in my binging VHS heyday of ogling these things, I probably would have enjoyed it even more. These days, it feels just a bit routine after all that has come since it was made (as well as the constant onslaught of "retro" remake movies made in the same vein today). But it definitely has some great moments, scenery, action, a double-whammy plot twist that you don't see coming until it happens, a great score, and some hot chicks. What more could you want from a slasher movie?

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