Released into cinemas back in October 1981, Just Before Dawn is one of those films lumped in with the wave of slasher flicks that washed into movie houses over that period.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love slashers (as anybody who visits this site knows), but to do that to director Jeff Lieberman’s opus does it a bit of a disservice.

To be sure, there are plenty of slasher tropes on display – after all, it’s pretty tough to spin ‘machete-wielding psycho carves up campers’ any other way.

But the essence, the vibe of Just Before Dawn if you will, is much more Deliverance or even Southern Comfort than say Friday the 13th.

After an opening murder sequence, the story focuses on five happy campers, heading to the forest for a bit of fun, despite the warnings of ranger Roy McLean (George Kennedy).

And Lieberman takes plenty of time to introduce us to the characters and let them develop, the likes of Warren (Greg Henry) and Megan (Jamie Rose).

Thankfully none of them are too annoying, meaning the lack of carnage early on can be lived with.

And that all means that when the violence does kick in – courtesy of a hulking redneck, it has much more of an effect than faceless knife fodder being carved up from first minute to last.

The violence itself is far from spectacular, a far cry from the in-your-face effects so prevalent during this time.

There are a couple of neat touches, and Lieberman deserves all the credit in the world for one superbly delivered plot shift that took me by surprise.

And, as alluded to earlier, the emphasis on man versus nature as well as man versus crazed psycho is something to enjoy.

But, and this is a big but, there are still problems here.

The acting ain’t great (but it is serviceable), and there are a couple of character reactions and motivations that jar.

In addition, and I’ve already touched on this, anybody expecting a bloodbath will be sorely disappointed.

But if you want something a little bit different (but still familiar), with an attention-grabbing storyline shunt and a final death the likes of which I haven’t seen before, then Just Before Dawn delivers.

 

 

About The Author

Simon Fitzjohn

Simon is a journalism tutor in London, who also just happens to be a movie fanatic, with a craving for the darker side of cinema. He has written two books, one on the horror films of director Bob Clark (2014) and the other on the history of the character Norman Bates (2015). His third book, on the work of British exploitation director Pete Walker, is due in 2017.