Just Before Dawn (1981 film)

Just Before Dawn (1981 film)

Just Before Dawn
File:Just Before Dawn.jpg
Directed by Jeff Lieberman
Produced by Doro Vlado Hreljanovic,
David Sheldon
Written by Jeff Lieberman,
Mark Arywitz,
Jonas Middleton
Starring George Kennedy,
Chris Lemmon,
Gregg Henry,
Deborah Benson
Music by Brad Fiedel
Cinematography Dean King,
Joel King
Editing by Robert Q. Lovett
Distributed by Picturmedia
Release date(s) 1981
Running time 90 min.
Country United States
Language English
Budget Unknown

Just Before Dawn is a 1981 slasher film from director Jeff Lieberman. Though the film came and went quietly upon its theatrical release it has now developed a devoted cult following among horror fans. It is praised for its eerie atmosphere, lush cinematography, and above-average cast. But, unlike many films of its kind, Just Before Dawn focuses more on suspense and atmosphere, than on gruesome violence, of which there is very little. The film was shot on location in the Silver Falls State Park in Sublimity, Oregon. It featured early performances from Chris Lemmon (Jack Lemmon's son) and Gregg Henry (star of Slither), as well as early work from composer Brad Fiedel who wrote and performed the film's unusual score. Lieberman cites the 1972 film Deliverance as the main influence on Just Before Dawn. He also calls Just Before Dawn his personal favorite among his works.


In 1978, Two men are hunting in a forest and come across an abandoned church. They go in to explore, and one of them is stabbed with a Machete in his groin by a killer who's wearing a checkered jacket while the other, Ty, runs away screaming.

It then goes to 1981, Park ranger Roy McLean (George Kennedy) is at his home, followed by a van of five teenagers going camping, but becoming lost. McLean warns them not to keep going the way they're headed, but they ignore him. The five are: Warren (Gregg Henry) the blonde, body builder; his girlfriend Constance (Deborah Benson), the shy, blonde girl; Jonathon (Chris Lemmon), the goofy, horny partygoer; his provocative girlfriend, Megan (Jamie Rose); and the nerdy camera operator, Daniel (Ralph Seymour). On their way to the campsite, they almost hit a frantic, dirty Ty who tells them to drive away, but they do not listen, and he runs into the woods. They finally find a campsite and begin to set up, drinking beer, eating, and listening to music, not paying attention to anything around them. When night falls they go to sleep, all the while being watched by something in the woods. The next morning, they eat breakfast and go to the waterfall, where they see a young girl named Merry Logan (Kati Powell) who runs off into the woods. Meanwhile, Megan and Jonathon have gone skinny dipping in the lake, not knowing someone is under the water with them. Megan does not realize that Jonathon has got out of the water, and feels hands touching her. She assumes it's Jonathon, until she sees him on shore, upon which she panics and swims to safety.

When the group splits up to go exploring, Jonathon spots Merry and chases her, asking what her name is and telling her he will not hurt her. She thinks this is a game and runs out into a clearing where she sees something horrible, backing up towards the trees. Jonathon figures it's the roped passageway over the river ahead, and begins to go across, but Merry runs and he gives chase, only to be killed by the killer who hacks off her hand by his machete. Jonathon runs to the other side, only to have the rope snap, almost plunging him to his death in the rapids below. As he begins to climb up, he is greeted by the same man, who shoves him off to his death with his boot. Megan and Daniel have gone off to takes pictures of the woods and come across the church and a graveyard. Daniel breaks his glasses and sees a figure coming through the woods, and thinks it's Jonathon and tells Megan, who decides to make it look like they're making out. Daniel sees the figure approach, and upon realizing it's not Jonathon, pushes Megan out of the way and is stabbed through the stomach with the machete. Megan sees the killer and runs into the church, where she sees him outside picking up Daniel's camera. She turns around and is greeted by the same man, and realizes that they're identical twins. He begins to hack her with the machete as the other takes pictures through the window. Meanwhile, Warren and Constance have met back at camp, but cannot find anyone else, until they spot Jonathon's body floating in the river, and pull him out. They go to find the others but cannot find any trace of them as night approaches, so they go back to get the keys from Jonathon's body which has disappeared. Ty finally meets Roy and tells him all about the killer twins at the church, and Roy goes out on his horse to find the teens, and comes across Merry's family, who consist of a crazy father, and silent sister/mother. They tell him that the twins were actually theirs and that their mother died after having them, so he mated with his daughter and had Merry. Warren goes to find Jonathon's body to get the car keys, and leaves Constance at the campfire, where she is attacked by one of the twins who chases her up a tree. Warren finds Jonathon's body along with Daniel's who is wearing sunglasses and gets the keys, running back to camp with the ranger. The twin cuts down the tree Constance is in, and is about to kill her when Roy shoots him in the chest, killing him, and he tells the couple to go pack their things. They go back to camp, as Merry runs through the woods to find them. At camp, the other twin stabs Warren and tries to kill Constance, who instead rams her fist down his throat, choking and killing him. Then she stands up, with a blank look in her eyes, indicating that she may have gone insane, as Warren breaks down and Merry watches from the trees,as the sun sets with view of the forest.



The original script included a sixth camper named Eileen and a different fate for Megan (which included being tossed to her death by the twins). It also included a climax involving Connie being forced to handle rattlesnakes by the in-bred villains. The title of the original screenplay was 'The Tennessee Mountain Murders' which was then changed to 'The Last Ritual'. The title was changed after the script's heavy religious theme was axed and the story was rigorously revised.[1] Despite its authentic, weathered appearance the 'old' church house used in the film was actually built for the production. Director Jeff Lieberman said that countless strangers showed up at the filming location on the day that the scene with Jamie Rose swimming topless was to be filmed. Lieberman said that word of this shoot had apparently gotten out among the local forest rangers.[2] While shooting in the woods one evening the lighting went out without explanation leaving the cast and crew in total pitch darkness. After several minutes the producer yelled out 'let there be light!' and sure enough the lights did indeed blare on - again without explanation. According to director Jeff Lieberman despite the numerous reviews of Just Before Dawn that have implied it was inspired by The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) or The Hills Have Eyes (1977), he had not seen either film at the time of making Just Before Dawn.


The eerie whistling motif heard in Brad Fiedel's music score is a reference to the rescue whistle that Warren carries in the film. According to composer Brad Fiedel many of the ominous sounds in the music score were actually electronically altered audio clips of himself vocalizing droning noises.


In France, the movie was released under the title "Survivance", as if to emphasize a connection with John Boorman's Deliverance.[3]

Critical reception

AllMovie's review of the film was favorable, writing, "anyone lucky enough to fish out a copy of director Jeff Lieberman's Just Before Dawn will certainly find themselves richly rewarded."[4]

Home media

Just Before Dawn was released on DVD on July 26, 2005 from Media Blasters. It is a 2-Disc Special Edition, and the features include director commentary and a documentary on the making of the film.


External links

  • Internet Movie Database

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