Movie Name: Just Before Dawn
Release Date(s): October 14, 1981
MPAA Rating: R
College students Warren (Gregg Henry), Constance (Deborah Benson), Jonathan (Chris Lemmon), Megan (Jamie Rose), and Daniel (Ralph Seymour) are going into the woods to see newly acquired property. Despite the warnings from forest ranger Roy McLean (George Kennedy) and a crazed man (Mike Kellin), the group head into the woods…and find that danger comes in all forms.
Directed by Jeff Lieberman (who also wrote the screenplay with Mark Arywitz and Jonas Middleton), Just Before Dawn is a horror slasher film. The film received average to positive reviews and has garnered a cult following over the years.
Just Before Dawn piggybacks on a lot of horror films in the late ’70s and early ’80s. A group of randy twenty something kids head into the woods (against warning) and end up paying for it. It does have some twists and turns but fails to deliver them in an effective way.
The movie does something that later movies like Scream did. It provides two killers for the price of one. The movie presents it as a surprise (at the end), but reveals it too early on. It could have been a really big surprise if suddenly you thought the killer was dead and another pops up…but you already knew there were two killers from the attack at the abandoned church. It would explain how the killer could be almost everywhere, but the script wastes this. It is also notable that the while the guy cowers from the killer, the girl takes things into her own hands…literally.
The cast is anchored by George Kennedy who did a lot of this type of movies after find success in Hollywood (and really banking on his Oscar win). He plays his normal role except I half-way expect him to be the murderer just because of his name status. Mike Kellin also was a genre star and often in similar movies. The other actors in the group have done more work including Gregg Henry who has gone on to be a rather prolific character actor, and actor Chris Lemmon is the son of Jack Lemmon who has also had a long career.
The movie is very grindhouse. It is pretty grimy in appearance and shot in a way that is just cheap and brutal (but works for the style of the movie). It is obviously low budget, but you are expecting low budget from a horror film like this…if were clean and neat, you would probably be disappointed.
Just Before Dawn isn’t bad but it also isn’t special. There were tons of “Don’t Go into the Woods” type of horror movies popping up, and Just Before Dawn is just another one (with a little of The Hills Have Eyes mixed in). It had the opportunity to be better with some work on its plot and shooting, but it never quite makes it over the hump as a “great” horror movie. If you are a fan of slasher films and made it through all the “classics”, then Just Before Dawn might be something to put on your list.