FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Dec 12, 2005

There's Gold in Them Thar DVD Cases!

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?


Mike Imboden said...

Just to comment on one nugget of your review (and now there's a new movie I need to go find) - Brad Fiedel does excellent musical work. The music in "Fright Night" is exceptional and without it I don't think the movie would have had it's serious tones come across as serious and instead the whole movie would have seemed like a parody/comedy.
Sorry to jump off track like that. :)

warrenzone said...

I have this one on tape and have never managed to get through the whole thing. All of the director's other movies are good though.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you mentioned Brad Fiedel's score. It's just AMAZING. JBD is one of my favorites, or perhaps it is my favorite, slasher film of all time. Lieberman got all the elements exactly right and the acting is amazing. Remember when movies wanted good actors? But I digress. This is an excellent example of why some of us LOVE slasher movies (me, obviously) and why I keep pursuing that same feeling I get from movies like this.

Amanda By Night

Anonymous said...

I KNEW you would love it! It also slipped through my radar back in the day and I finally discovered it on Netflix a couple of years ago... great flick!

Joe Sherlock said...

I dug it, too and come to find out it was shot 90 minutes away from where I live!