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Friday, September 9, 2011

Just Before Dawn

     Talk about a pleasant surprise!  I had never seen Jeff Lieberman's little-seen but well-loved slasher JUST BEFORE DAWN , and I'm pleased to say that it's one of the best "horror in the woods" movies of the 80's.  Imagine if  THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, THE HILLS HAVE EYES, and DELIVERANCE all had a child together, and you get JUST BEFORE DAWN. I love these types of slashers, especially the whole inbred and murderous hillbilly ones. Backwoods legends are creepy enough on their own, and we've all heard the stories of those crazy, deformed people hiding up in the mountains.  Having grown up in the Ozark Mountains, I can certainly relate.   

     Here's the jist. Five young adults decide to take a Winnebago up into a heavily wooded and mountainous terrain, despite warnings from Forest Ranger Roy McLean, played by George Kennedy, of course. Roy shares with the youngsters the local stories of "demons" living up on the mountain, but they take no heed to the warnings. Young and carefree, they keep right on truckin' up the mountain because, ya  know, they're young and carefree and all.  However, they soon find out that there might be some truth to those stories after all as they quickly find themselves stalked and hunted, one by one.

        JUST BEFORE DAWN stands out because for one thing, it doesn't rely on mindless gore or effects to make a point. It employs that wonderful old chestnut suspense instead, which almost never lets up. The whole look and feel of the film is genuinely eerie- it's got superb atmosphere and suspense. The director makes the Oregon woods terrifying just by filming them. JUST BEFORE DAWN also excels in the sound department.  Besides the genuinely haunting score, there are many scenes that perfectly mimic that feeling of isolation- the sounds of birds and crickets, snapping twigs, crackling campfires, and trickling streams. All of these together really convey a sense of being alone in the woods where anything can's a great, haunting effect.

      Completely lost in the shuffle of FRIDAY THE 13TH clones, JUST BEFORE DAWN is well worth a look for serious slasher fans. This is a good one, kids. Shot on location at Silver Falls State Park in Sublimity, Oregon, the film offers some spectacular scenery as well.  

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