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Just Before Dawn

George Kennedy , Mike Kellin , Jeff Lieberman    R (Restricted)   DVD
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By Daniel Jolley TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:DVD
The more I think about it, the more I like this movie. Substituting suspense for an excess of gore, Just Before Dawn is pretty successful at actually bringing you in to the story. In most horror films, I basically just sit back and look forward to the next death scene, hoping it will be as gruesome and as bloody as possible. I won't say I actually came to care about the designated victims in this film, but I wasn't hoping for their deaths. Maybe it's because, for one of the few times in horror film history, these young people didn't invite their deaths by doing incredibly stupid things. OK, I guess they did a few dumb things -- but nothing of the "I'll be right back" variety. I also liked the casting of George Kennedy as the outside hero who might or might not ride in on his white horse to save the day. Most of all, though, I liked the ending.

I had my doubts early on. This isn't exactly the first time I've watched a group of young people head off on a camping trip into the unexplored wilderness. This particular group of three men and two women weren't exactly the sharpest knives in the drawer, either. When some crazy dude runs out of the woods hollering about a demon that just killed his nephew up the road, I'm turning around and going home -- I don't care how liquored up the fellow is. If a George Kennedy-shaped forest ranger also warns me not to keep going, I'm definitely packing up the Vienna sausages and turning tail. (Personally, I would also have been a little nervous about the fact that the early scenes kept changing from night to day and back again every couple of minutes.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Awesome DVD! Jan. 25 2014
Format:DVD|Verified Purchase
The bonus content was excellent on this release, making it worth a look if you are a fan of the film or just a fan of early 80's slashers. The film has a bit of an aged look, but it fits with the overall style of the film. Be warned: this is not a gory film and there is not much nudity or on screen violence, making it somewhat of a mild slasher film, but "Just Before Dawn" is an exceptional example of low budget film making.
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Amazon.com: 3.5 out of 5 stars  44 reviews
31 of 37 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "Keep breeding in the same family long enough something's bound to snap." Aug. 5 2005
By cookieman108 - Published on Amazon.com
Format:DVD|Verified Purchase
About once a month I'll go through the Amazon DVD `Hot New Releases' section (`Hot New Releases' basically means any DVD that's scheduled to be released and for sale on Amazon, sometimes hot, mostly not) and see what's on the horizon...and that's where I found Just Before Dawn (1981)...Amazon states it was released in 1982, while The Internet Movie Database says 1981. I had never heard of the movie (perhaps because it got lost in the morass of horror films to come out in the early 80s), but I do dig on unearthing cinematic nuggets of joy that find their way to DVD...more often than not what I end up unearthing is the celluloid equivalent of a cow flop (like Dawn of the Mummy, which was also released in 1981), but when I do come across something truly decent, like this film, it makes up (to some extent) for a lot of my mucking about in the proverbial swill. Directed by Jeff Lieberman (Blue Sunshine, Squirm), the film features Gregg Henry (Payback), Chris `son of Jack' Lemmon (Wishmaster), Deborah Benson (Mutant on the Bounty), Ralph Seymour (Meatballs Part II), Jamie Rose (Chopper Chicks in Zombietown), Mike Kellin (Freebie and the Bean), and Hollywood veteran (also WWII veteran) George `Dragline' Kennedy (The Dirty Dozen, Cool Hand Luke, Airport 1975).

The film opens on a couple of hunters milling about in what appears to be an unused, dilapidated church deep in the woods. The younger of the two seems overly interested in procuring one of the antique lighting fixtures (a candle holder) as a gift for his wife (I guess she's easy to please), while the other, older man (Kellin) is more interested in getting his drink on and pretending to be a preacher...until he sees someone outside and decides to check it out...smart move, as the man still inside the church ends up getting a vasectomy via a machete (a machectomy?). The older man doesn't see this, but given the screaming and the appearance of a lumbering, slightly bestial looking character exiting from the church, he gets a good idea of what happened and takes off running. Then we cut to five young people in an RV, driving up the mountain to do a little camping, climbing and checking out of the area (apparently one of them actually inherited the mountain, as he keeps whipping his deed out, which means little to the local residents). The group encounters the local forestry man Roy McLean (Kennedy), and he issues an indiscriminate warning which they fail to heed, and keep on trucking up the dirt roads. Along the way they encounter the older, still alive hunter, who also warns them vigorously, but, as with the forestry man, they pay no mind...perhaps the third time would have been the charm, but guess what, there will be no such warning, as the `demon' (as the inbred locals call him) is king of this hill, and has little patience for interlopers (especially smart alecky city types).

First of all, can anyone who has seen this film tell me what George Kennedy's character was doing when we first saw him? He was in his modest outpost/home, and appeared to be involved in bizarre Frankenstein experiment in terms of splicing various types of plant life to each other (looked like a banzai tree and a maple leaf)...anyhoo...I really did enjoy this movie, as I think it had a lot going for it in terms of a talented director, and a particularly strong and experienced cast, both of which ended up elevating this slightly above much of the slasher/killer horror dreck that came out in the early 80s. There's a strong sense of flow throughout the story, like things are continuously moving forward, perhaps slowly at times, but nonetheless forward (we don't get a good look at the killer until about 40 minutes into the film, but his presence is felt throughout)...in terms of a slasher film the violence is relatively minimal, but what of it there is felt effective...others have stated this DVD release features some cuts (particularly in the opening sequence with the groinectomy), but this is the first time I've seen the film, so I'd have to take their word for it...if this is true (why would they lie?), then that's too bad, as I'd prefer to see a film as it was originally intended released, if possible. One of the many aspects I really liked was the usage of the Oregon mountains as a backdrop, as they provided some striking visuals and an interesting and spooky setting for the story. Some of the supporting characters were kinda one-dimensional (the hillbilly family, for example), but the more prominent characters made up for this, especially in terms of the actors being able to infuse very natural qualities within their characters. Also, George Kennedy's character was actually an effective one...generally in these types of films, the come late in the game law enforcement types (okay, he was a forest ranger) are usually lame duck fodder material whose only purpose is to extend the body count, but that's not the case here. Another aspect I really liked was the revelation of the killer (perhaps one of the best scenes in the film), as it wasn't overblown but done in a subtle manner...I pretty much guessed what was going on before it was revealed, but that didn't make it any less effective (a couple of hints were dropped earlier in the film, but nothing overtly obvious). I also appreciated the sort of transference of power near the end, where the seemingly weakest member of the group steps up, while the strongest member cowers in fear and shock. As far as the characters, did anyone else who saw this film think Warren (Henry) was whipped? And that Megan (Rose) sure was a flirty girl...with nice bazooms that we get to see as she takes a topless swim with her boyfriend Jonathan (Lemmon)...a little nekkidness never hurts...too bad Connie (Benson) didn't get in on that action, but she did don some Daisy Duke shorts later on in the film, and wore them very well (nice cheeks). I thought the ending odd, as Connie gave new meaning to the term `hand job'...I certainly didn't see that coming...

The anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) picture on this Media Blasters/Shriek Show DVD release is slightly sub-par...there's obvious wear throughout (dirt, lines, marred frames) and the colors sometimes flat, but it is watchable. I wasn't expecting a pristine copy, but I did feel they could have cleaned it up a bit. Regardless, I do appreciate someone taking the time to release this gem to DVD. The audio came through alright, but the claim of 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround Sound seemed dubious...also included is the original mono audio track. There are some special features, most on the 2nd DVD, including a commentary track by director Jeff Lieberman, cast and crew interviews (67:06), a photo gallery, and a whole mess of trailers, including Flesh for the Beast (2003), Lizard in a Woman's Skin (1971), Touch of Death (1961), Anthropophagus (2002), Choking Hazard (2004), Rojo sangre (2004), Hiruko the Goblin (1990), Plaga Zombie (1997), Shadow: Dead Riot (2005), and Death Trance (2005). All in all a mediocre release of a great film...4 stars for the film, 2 for the release, 3 stars overall.

Cookieman108
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Slasher - Poor DVD Aug. 15 2005
By Perry Black - Published on Amazon.com
Format:DVD
I am a huge fan of Jeff Lieberman's SQUIRM, the pinnacle of this good director's career. Really, Lieberman's only big projects were BLUE SUNSHINE, SQUIRM, and this film, JUST BEFORE DAWN. Various writing and TV jobs round out his career, but these three films are the standouts of Lieberman's accomplishments. (I only recently became aware of the 2004 pic, SATAN'S LITTLE HELPER, so I have not seen it yet.)

SQUIRM was original and completely entertaining. I absolutely loved the film. BLUE SUNSHINE, however, was a bore. It was like watching an episode of a bad 70's TV series. JUST BEFORE DAWN falls somewhere in the middle for me. But overall, JUST BEFORE DAWN is a fine horror film.

The characters in JUST BEFORE DAWN are hit and miss. A few of them hook you into the story and exhibit well-executed character arcs. Plus, they are fun to watch. At the same time, the other half of the characters are stale and two-dimensional.

The cast is above average... no Oscar-winning performances here, but the acting is way above average for a low budget slasher film.

The screenplay is nothing special. It is pretty much just DELIVERANCE mixed with all the typical slasher moments you've seen in countless other stalker flicks. Yet, at points, the screenplay does throw the viewer an unexpected and pleasantly surprising twist. Actions of the characters tend to pay off later in the movie. And the overall concept, though derivative, is still pretty cool. So I'd rate the story and screenplay above-average for this kind of movie.

The only level on which the movie really fails is in the gore department. Yes, I know Lieberman's intention was to make a slasher movie that was more intellectual than commercial. And he certainly succeeded at that. But when you make a body count movie, you are promising something that horror fans expect you to deliver on. JUST BEFORE DAWN fails to deliver on that promise. Some expert directors can "cheat" on this count. Mega-horror-hits HALLOWEEN and THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE are void of graphic gore. But instances where a director is good enough to pull off a crowd-pleasing slasher without the gore are few and far between. Unfortunately, Lieberman denies us the gore and fails to deliver a suitable substitute in JUST BEFORE DAWN.

But JUST BEFORE DAWN succeeds spectacularly on two counts:

First... Brad Fiedel's music score is superb. The haunting atmosphere of JUST BEFORE DAWN owes much to this high achievement in horror movie music.

Second... JUST BEFORE DAWN is executed extremely well by an obviously gifted director. The movie is intelligently constructed and the wonderfully creepy tone of the film makes it a standout for me. Yes, the movie was limited by budget, by a barely-above-amateur cast, and by a screenplay that got the job done, but didn't do much more. Given this, JUST BEFORE DAWN would have been an unwatchable mess if helmed by a lesser director. Lieberman's use of interesting, remote, hazardous-looking locations and his daring sound design are brilliant. And he did not fear directing this movie with more depth than required by a studio seeking to cash in on the 80's slasher craze. Lieberman's DP also did a stellar job, giving the movie an artful look instead of a cheap low-budget look. Despite its limitations, JUST BEFORE DAWN works.

Yes, I'm aware of the flaws in the DVD presentation. I absolutely HATE this trend of cropping the top and bottom of the image to market to the 16x9 television viewer. I understand that some have reported gore footage missing from this release. And the DVD was created from a battered print and not the original negative. And, as far as I'm concerned, you can take Disc 2 of this release and use it as a drink coaster. It is about as amateur and unwatchable as can be.

Despite the flaws in the DVD, I have to give a recommendation to JUST BEFORE DAWN because I consider it a standout and important entry in the 80's horror/slasher onslaught. I'll buy a better DVD if a more competent company should create one. But until that day, I'll enjoy this release of JUST BEFORE DAWN.
18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A "Slice" of Mountain Hospitality Aug. 1 2005
By Michael R Gates - Published on Amazon.com
Format:DVD
1981's JUST BEFORE DAWN, Jeff Lieberman's entry in the horror's slasher sub-genre, is one of those nearly forgotten gems that is thankfully being resurrected and pushed back into the public eye by various home-video companies scrambling for DVD content. The movie has often been written off as one of those teens-in-the-woods flicks of the FRIDAY THE 13th ilk, but that's really not a fair assessment. Though the plot of the film does revolve around a small group of friends out on an excursion into the wilderness, the outstanding screenplay by Mark Arywitz and Gregg Irving; Lieberman's exceptional directing; a beautiful setting and atmosphere (it was filmed entirely outdoors at Silver Falls State Park in Silverton, Oregon); and competent performances from the group of relatively unknown young actors gives this film the gritty, rural-Americana realism that can best be described as TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE (1974) with a twist of DELIVERANCE (1972).

As with the aforementioned Tobe Hooper classic, the plot of JUST BEFORE DAWN is relatively simple. A small group of friends travel into the mountains to check out a tract of land there that his been inherited by one of the young men in the group. After being warned by a US Forest Ranger (expertly played by Hollywood veteran George Kennedy) stationed at the mountain base that traveling up the mountain isn't such a good idea, the young people nonetheless make their foray into the wilderness and soon find themselves inexplicably at odds with some of local mountain folk.

One of the things that sets JUST BEFORE DAWN above other teen slasher flicks of the 1980s is the fact that the city kids in this story are good kids who have a legitimate and respectable reason to be in the wilderness. They are there to check out property that they own and to do a bit of camping; they are not there to get drunk, smoke dope, or have a wild orgy. This makes the characters much more sympathetic than their snotty, disrespectful cinematic counterparts of the era, and that makes the cruelties they suffer all the more horrifying.

JUST BEFORE DAWN is not without its faults, and it does therefore contain a few of the slasher cliches (some fans of the sub-genre would call them requisites rather than cliches). Most notable of these is the T&A shot. When the kids are swimming in a small mountain lake, the beautiful redhead removes her bikini top to provide a few glimpses of bare breast. (The redhead is played by the luscious Jamie Rose, who had a short but successful career on television first as a regular on FALCON CREST, then later on ST. ELSEWHERE, before fading into bit parts on TV and in video and films.) However, this is carried out much more tastefully than in lesser films of the era, and it can be cogently argued that it is a natural part of the story rather than gratuitous nudity.

One other noticeable cliche in the film is the portrayal of the mountain residents, of whom the killer (or killers) is a member. They do seem to be a bit one-dimensional and cartoonish, as if they came straight from the panels of an old LIL' ABNER comic strip. But this is really only a minor flaw and does not detract too much from the overall realism and terror.

All in all, JUST BEFORE DAWN is one of the more competent offerings from the post-HALLOWEEN (1978) decade of slasher flicks. Even better than director Lieberman's other well-known films, it is not preachy like his campy cult classic BLUE SUNSHINE (1976), and it is grittier and much more realistic than his popular nature-run-amok horror flick SQUIRM (1976). Horror fans and slasher aficionados alike should seek it out for their collections.

The two-disc DVD release from Media Blasters is the best version of JUST BEFORE DAWN released to date. It offers a good digital transfer of the film in anamorphic widescreen, though it is obvious from scratches and wear marks throughout that the film wasn't given much by way of restoration. Still, the color is good and the picture is crisp. By way of extras, there is a running commentary with director Lieberman, as well as a second disc chockfull of goodies like featurettes and interviews with cast and crew. Well worth the cost of admission.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars WOW!!!!!!! Oct. 31 2005
By RAPR - Published on Amazon.com
Format:DVD
I have never heard of this movie until last friday. After stumbling across it here on amazon, and reading the reviews, I bought it and watched it on Friday after work. I wanna say thanks to the reviewers who gave it a positive rating. This movie is a hidden gem!! I have to say it is now a favorite of mine. The acting WASN'T over the top, cheesy, or lame and the suspense was awesome. I recognized quite a few of the actors right off the bat. Alot of em have been in other movies and are really great actors in their roles.

Now I know where "Wrong Turn" (actually a good flick for nowadays horror crap) got some ideas from. This movie is pretty tense and the music is awesome. The location is excellent because a dark forest at night has got to be one of the scariest things I know. Sitting around a campfire where you can't see what's hiding in the woods but "they" can sure as hell see you! The skinny dip pond scene is pretty cool. Watch for the "shape" in the waterfall behind the half naked chick! I agree with some of the reviewers when they tell people to quit griping about the dvd. I thought it looked great! And I actually like a little bit grainy of a picture on these movies. It ads a little bit of creepiness to the flick.

I just can't believe (being a horror movie fanatic) that I missed this movie back when. It must of slipped thru the cracks at my local movie store back in the 80's. I swear I rented everything they had available in the horror section then. The only bad thing about watching this movie is now I wanna see more of the same. I wish they made more movies like this. I get so sick of the new horror crap these days.........oops did I say new? I meant I get so sick of the horror "remakes" these days, and the unoriginal PG13 so called horror they puke up, that I want the 70's and 80's blood , guts, and that thing called sex and nudity that all the horror flicks had.

Oh well, I guess i will watch this once a month and pray to the horror gods that someone will make some ORIGINAL crazy ass horror again. My definition of a great horror movie (if you disagree i'm cool with that) is when you watch it and go "holy $h*t that could really happen. A movie that sucks you in and makes you think about it for weeks after you see it. A scary movie doesn't have to always happen at night with thunder and lightning. How about someone coming home from work at 5 in the afternon, open their front door, and standing in the middle of their living room is some freak of nature ready to tear their ass up for no apparent reason. Could happen, probably has happened, scary sh*t in my book.

Anyways, this movie is definatley great for the collection and could be viewed forever in my opinion. Thanks again fellow reviewers for pointing me towards this awesome movie.
17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Can't Wait for the DVD Release! May 11 2005
By Gary Young - Published on Amazon.com
Format:DVD
Wow! I'm really looking foward to the release of this forgotten slasher gem on DVD. My old VHS copy that I recorded from late night TV many years ago bit the dust a couple of years back, so a DVD release was just what I had been hoping for.

"Just Before Dawn" follows a group of young campers on their trek deep into the mountains where they are stalked by a bloodthirsty killer. Yeah... I know, typical horror movie plot. But "Just Before Dawn" perfects the formula. Above average in both the acting and directing departments, this one offers plenty of scares too. As well as a major plot twist that you may or may not see coming.

If you're a fan of the slasher sub-genre "Just Before Dawn" is a must see. The body count is nowhere near as high as "Friday the 13th pt. whatever", but it more than makes up for it in every other department.
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