Just Before Dawn (1981)
Cast: George Kennedy, Chris Lemmon, Jamie Rose,
Director: Jeff Lieberman
Synopsis: Yet another Friday the 13th meets Deliverance scenario – but utterly dull
This was one of many Friday the 13th inspired spin-offs that was churned out hastily in the early 80’s in an attempt to cash in on the slasher craze kick started by Halloween in 1978. The film, directed by Jeff Lieberman of Squirm fame, follows the rather Deliverance-like doomed journey into the Oregon woods of a bunch of young adults who are out there trying to find some land that one of them apparently owns. The group, riding along in typical Texas Chainsaw style are confronted by local warden George Kennedy who warns them not to proceed any further into the forest which he claims is fraught with dangers of the expected and unexpected kind. Typically the rather snotty group of irritating, overgrown “youngsters” plod on ignoring the wardens words of warning.
The audience at this point is already aware that there is a podgy bumpkin rampaging around the forest with a machete having seen some fellow being knifed in the opening scene. Sure enough, one by one the members of the group are whittled down by the murderous chubby bumpkin or as it turns out, two rotund bumpkin brothers who are identical twins and equally bloodthirsty in their intent of butchering anyone or anything that moves in the uncompromising forest. The films opening sequence is rather lack lustre and drearily staged and sadly things don’t get much better as the movie progresses. None of our potential victims are in anyway well sketched or likeable characters and one is in fact hoping that the bludgeoning machete hacks them to bits sooner rather than later.
For the first interminable half hour the movie meanders along as our campers are obviously being tracked by the wheezing, demented inbred kindred killers. Then finally, there are one or two very disappointingly staged death scenes devoid of any suspense or even any semblance of semi-presentable gore. The film plods along trying to encroach on Texas Chainsaw territory along the way but failing miserably to create any tension, any atmosphere or any notion of horror. To make things worse, there is no artistry to the camerawork and the acting is insipid at best (Chris Lemmon is no Jack). The film more or less groans to a ridiculous “woman comes to grips” kind of climax scene when our heroine finally exercises some awe-inspiring intuition and show of muscle by shoving her entire arm down the inbred Telletubbies throat showing her admiring boyfriend that she isn’t all frilly dresses and coy dance steps. As the day breaks, all is well and calm and the inbred chubbies have been dealt with and the films major shock twist ending is that there isn’t a shock twist jack-in-the-box type end. It all ends with the same spectacular dullness that the film began with.
A dreary, uninteresting totally unexceptional affair bereft of any shred of suspense or tension, lacking in style or wit and if that wasn’t bad enough – it isn’t even gruesome, gory, shocking or scary in the least. Twenty odd years ago when one saw it in a theatre (yes, even drivel like this got released to theatres during the early 80’s slasher boom) it didn’t seem quite so tawdry – but time hasn’t been kind to this film and its pretty much earned the obscurity that has become its fate seeing that the film is out of print on VHS and unreleased as yet on DVD either- hardly surprising really. Strictly for die hard slasher fans who insist on watching them all regardless.