31 Nights of Halloween Horror: Part 27 in a 31 part series. Join me for 31 nights of horror reviews in the month of October. Every night we’ll take a look at a different horror film, some old and some new. Tonight we’re talking about:
Just Before Dawn
Dir. Jeff Lieberman
As if you needed another reason to be afraid to go camping in the woods. While the title may make it sound like a vampire film, this is indeed a film with helpless campers on a mountain being hunted by crazy machete wielding hillbillies.
5 friends led by Warren, played by a very young Gregg Henry, who you will recognize from his over 150 acting credits, are on their way to go camping in the mountains in an area he just purchased the deed of the land for. Along the way they are warned by the forest ranger played by George Kennedy, another actor you will recognize with a slew of credits to his name, but they brush him off and continue on their way. Next they run into a delirious hunter who warns them there are demons up on that mountain. Still not believing any of it, the group of 5 drive on. Finally they park their RV, hike to their campsite, forget some shit, some of them go back to the RV to retrieve it while the others set up camp only to return later and tell the rest of the crew they were robbed and someone took all the food. On a deserted mountain with not another soul around they are apparently unfazed by this as they continue their trip. The whole time they are there they are being watched by prying eyes and eventually run into a hillbilly family in the woods, that once again warns them to leave cause the devil is up here. But no word of warning can deter our fearsome five from ending their camping trip early. Like the Griswold’s with Wally World, nothing can keep them off this mountain. Nothing until they start getting picked off one by one that is, then I am sure they are having second thoughts about not having listened to the moose out front.
Just Before Dawn gets lumped into the slasher category because it is about a group of kids being stalked and killed in the woods, but what JBD has that few of the others don’t have is real suspense and tension. The scenes at night when everything is in total darkness and they hear something in the woods, and desperately try and see into the darkness with their flashlights, you know something is out there and you are waiting on the edge of your seat for it to jump out, but it never does. Not yet. Scenes like this and the great atmospheric score make this film stand out above the rest.
Jeff Lieberman, while not having an overly busy career is no stranger to horror. He also directed the outstanding Squirm as well as Blue Sunshine and Satan’s Little Helper. It is a shame we haven’t seen more from him, as his contribution to the horror genre have all been winners, and Just Before Dawn is no different. There is no real gore in the film and only brief nudity, but it is packed with hair raising tension throughout to make up for any other element you feel might be missing.
While the characters in this film are camping over several days, the title suggests that maybe all the events happen in a single night, which they do not. While I love the title for this movie, it does not seem to fit the movie too accurately, unless it is strictly in reference to the final events of the movie that happen. If that it is the case, the title fits perfectly because what an amazing ending. I won’t give it away, but it involves a kill unlike any other kill scene I have encountered in a movie before, absolutely truly bizarre and somewhat disturbing. Just Before Dawn is one worth adding to your list if you haven’t seen it yet.