Just Before Dawn is truly a lost classic of the slasher genre. With some many other great flicks coming out around the same time, I think this flick just got lost in the shuffle. Which is truly a sad case. Just Before Dawn is a teens-in-the-woods slasher with something a little different going for it. For one, the teens are there to mountain climb and survey the land, not screw and smoke pot. For another, there is a creepy mountain family that lives on the property. And for another, George Kennedy lives down the road, where he talks to plants and kisses his horse all day. After an excruciatingly long period of “chase and follow” (which includes some genuinely frightening and admirably restrained scenes), the redneck killer makes his presence known and the kids start dropping left and right.
So what’s so special about this film? A few things. First, the location and atmosphere are fantastic. This is no Camp Crystal Lake, these folks are in the middle of nowhere. (although either there are a lot of waterfalls on this mountain or they happened to come across the same one several times in their trek) Second, there is a feeling of casualness to the scenes that has been all but lost in our polished, tech heavy thrillers of today. The kids talk about nothing. Sometimes they don’t talk at all. We enter scenes at the end of jokes, sometimes barely hearing the conversation, as if we were eavesdropping. I honestly have not seen many films where this has been done to better effect (think Burstyn and Blair’s dialogue scenes from “The Exorcist”). Plus, the fright elements are tucked within shots with the characters, not announced with cuts or fanfare (the man swinging onto the back of the camper is a shiver inducing example), and the results are unsettling. Even the “twist” ending doesn’t seem like a ripoff because the idea was fairly introduced early on, in a bit of banal mood setting dialogue. Very effective.
Bottom line, this movie delivers. It was the Wrong Turn of the 80’s before there even was a Wrong Turn. After viewing it, you will realize allot of people stole ideas from this movie. Which makes me even more upset it truly doesn’t get the credit it deserved. Be sure to watch this along with Rituals for a fun filled night. After watching both these films, you really, really will not want to go camping.