B-Movie Corner: ‘Just Before Dawn,’ an artful approach to slasher film
“Just Before Dawn” was released in theaters in 1981 for a limited run and was decidedly not a commercial success. Over the years word of mouth on the film spread and it became one of the most sought after horror gems of the 1980s and was finally released on DVD in 2005.
The film follows five college students as they make their way through the Oregon wilderness on a drive to the rural land one of them has inherited to scope it out and get away for a relaxing weekend. While on their way they meet forest ranger Roy McLean, played by lovable George Kennedy, who warns them not to venture any further up the mountain, the students of course dismiss him and continue on their way.
They also come across a man who is running through the woods screaming warnings about demons, however, he is also visibly drunk and they also dismiss his warnings and continue further up the mountain.
The scenery for the film is both breathtakingly beautiful and ominously eerie and plays a vital role in the film’s overall unsettling feeling.
Once they arrive in the area they set up camp for the night and in the morning decide to hike to the nearby waterfall for a swim. On the way there they see a young girl singing before she notices their presence and runs into the woods, the group is confused and concerned, but decide to go for a swim.
One of the girls feels something, or someone, tug on her leg pulling her under, she panics and tries to make it to shore and somehow does and survives to tell the rest of the group. However, the group decides to split up to go exploring and this is where the film really picks up.
This is not a typical stalk and slash film that many others in the 1980s did, instead it is a well thought out slasher film that takes a more arthouse approach to the genre. The kills are bloody, but the atmosphere is what will really drive home the scares.
The isolation and great character development make for a slasher film that you will find yourself invested in instead of one where you just wait for characters to die without any regard for the overall film.
The strong female lead is standard for the genre, but there is still a large play on the role of the sexes throughout the film and the ending will most definitely drive that point home in its entire gross-out glory.
This is a must see film for who appreciate well done slasher films or anyone who appreciates a good scare from a menacing, isolated area with a shocking, not soon to be forgotten, ending.
Derek Warren is a cult movie fanatic, collector, craft beer enthusiast and all-around nerd. He can be reached via email at NEPABeerGeek@gmail.com
Final Verdict: This has long been considered an underground classic in the slasher film genre with many clambering to find copies. Thankfully it is now widely available and is must-see viewing for all who love the slasher genre of films from the 1980s.
Where can I get it?: “Just Before Dawn” is currently available on DVD and Blu-ray through online retailers such as: Amazon, Overstock, and Barnes & Noble. It is also currently streaming on: Amazon and YouTube.