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  Just Before Dawn Female Empowerment
Year: 1980
Director: Jeff Lieberman
Stars: George Kennedy, Mike Kellin, Chris Lemmon, Gregg Henry, Deborah Benson, Ralph Seymour, Katie Powell, John Hunsaker, Charles Bartlett, Jamie Rose, Hap Oslund, Barbara Spencer
Genre: HorrorBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 2 votes)
Review: Two hunters are out in the Oregon mountain wilderness, and having stumbled upon a disused church in the forest, venture inside to partake of their whisky. However, one of them, Ty (Mike Kellin) catches sight of a figure staring at him from a hole in the roof and worries that they are not alone, so creeps outside to investigate. To his dismay, their truck is set rolling down a hill into a tree, causing a small explosion and leaving them stranded; even worse, his friend has an unfortunate encounter with a machete which kills him. Ty runs for it: these mountains are hostile to visitors, to say the least...

Jeff Lieberman followed up his two off the wall, minor cult shockers Squirm and Blue Sunshine with this, rather predictably offering the world his take on the then-current slasher craze in horror. It was not massively different from much of the product out there, but he had a well-developed sense of flair when it came to brightening up unappetising-sounding material, and ensured that at least the location shooting made for some vivid visuals. The main characters are not that escaping hunter, although he does turn up again, but a group of five young people on a camping trip.

Frequently Just Before Dawn would be compared to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre or more obviously The Hills Have Eyes, but according to Lieberman his chief inspiration was John Boorman's Deliverance, with its city folk on vacation having to battle the country folk determined to put an end to their good time. Those country folk are an inbred family, but most of them do their best to warn off the five by turning up at their camp brandishing a shotgun and blasting the radio into oblivion, however they are met with derision and the explanation that one of their number has bought the deeds to an area of land out here.

Naturally, such protestations sound pretty weak in the face of a machete-wielding killer. The family are not the only people trying to persuade any tourists to skedaddle, as there is a forest ranger, McLean (George Kennedy), doing the same only a lot less violently, and of course there's Ty, who the visitors get away from as quickly as possible when he shows up raving. Apart from that, the first half of the film could easily be a camping movie, as we are shown a lot of footage of hijinks between the five potential victims, including skinny dipping and giving each other frights by way of false scares.

We have to have a final girl in amongst all this, and she is Connie (Deborah Benson), who starts the story meek and timid, but goes on one of those emotional journeys American films are so keen on, thereby transformed into someone who can stick up for her herself and stick her fist somewhere that, as far as I know, no other horror movie has employed as a way of despatching their villain, so there's that novelty to look forward to. Another point of interest is that there is a big twist concerning the killer, who appears to be bumping off tourists so he can plunder their belongings to dress like they do in a bizarre parody of holidaymakers, and the reason he gets about so swiftly. It's touches like this which make Just Before Dawn a sliver above the usual slasher of its day. Music by Brad Fiedel.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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