At some point, somewhere in this blog, somebody pointed me to Just Before Dawn. I’m much much too lazy to go searching for the name, so if the recommender is reading this, I’ll just have to say muchas gracias. That’s Spanish for ‘thank you’!
Yes, saying thank you implies that I not only watched Just Before Dawn but I also enjoyed it. ‘Tis true. This 1980 slasher slipped under my radar in the days of VHS, but was recently released in a deluxe 2-disc set on DVD. Huzzah! Lookit me now, ma! I done seen it! I feel so cool, hip, and ‘in-the-know’.
This movie is full of the slasher stereotypes that we’ve all come to know and to love (or hate, depending on the movie). We’ve got the five teenagers, heading up into the woods to camp despite being warned repeatedly against it; the older authority figure (in this case, a park ranger played by George Kennedy, who I just love) who does the warning; the usual assortment of teens: the virtuous final girl, the nerd, the slut..; the backwoods inbred killers; the rural setting with dancing around the campfire…stop me if you’ve heard these all before.
Just Before Dawn works so well, however, because it takes all these stale ingredients (stale by today’s standards, anyway) and shows what you can squeeze out of them with good writing, good acting (including a turn by Jack Lemmon's son Chris), great direction, and a damn eerie soundtrack. And when I say ‘soundtrack’, I’m not simply referring to the music. Brad Fiedel uses SOUND to convey mood and create some real suspense. During several scenes, for example, there’s the constant chirping of crickets. It goes on so long that you begin to tune it out, as you would in real life- it becomes white noise in the background. Then, suddenly, the crickets stop and there’s silence. That silence means there’s someone out there in the woods. That’s not usually a good thing, now, is it? HINT: It is not.
Director Jeff Lieberman (Squirm) crafts some outright shudder-inducing sequences with the killers stalking the victims- the killers are out of focus and at the frame’s edge, but they’re there and we know it- the victims don’t. And I really thought I was way beyond getting spooked by the “Hey, is that you? Quit playing around, it isn’t funny anymore!” type of scenes. They’re so rarely effective, but there’s several of them here that are just outright fantastic, and I’ve been taught not to be so jaded- not that the lesson will stick.
I think a good indicator as to how much I like a movie is by how much I give away here in the reviews. When I really really dig a movie, I don’t want to give anything away because I want you to go out and see it for yourself, and it's always best to go into these things knowing as little as possible. So go. A reader recommended Just Before Dawn to me, and now I recommend it to you. That’s a double Final Girl Seal of Approval, but if you need more than that, then fine, be that way. I give it 8-and-a-half out of 10 crazy backwoods inbred killers and the slasher fans who love them. How’s that for ya?