Just Before Dawn is a slasher directed by Jeff Lieberman and released in 1981. Five friends arrive in the mountains for a camping trip, though they have been warned on their way up there that a maniac is loose in the wild. Their “logical” reaction is to continue as planned. Of course, they find themselves on the path of the hillbilly maniac and must survive in the wilderness.
Just Before Dawn is as unoriginal as it gets with its premise involving campers and a maniac picking them off one by one. But that is not even the biggest issue of the film.
The characters are not as annoying as the typical teenagers populating the slasher genre but they are not particularly likable either. The biggest problem of Just Before Dawn is the fact that the killer is not scary at all. He is a dirty, ugly, fat hillbilly. He is repulsive but does not strike fear (especially when he has difficulties running, making you wonder how those teenagers cannot outrun him easily). I didn’t feel any real threat during the entire film, even when the maniac is supposed to be lurking in the woods.
After a promising opening scene, the film slows down and it doesn’t feel like a slasher until much later. Until then, we follow the group of teenagers camping in the mountain and some scenes are unnecessarily long. Also, without spoiling anything, there is a twist which comes out of nowhere and doesn’t have much effect since nothing in the film made you wonder if there is more than meets the eyes. So, if the film never plants a seed of doubt in your mind, the reveal simply is meaningless.
However, the beautiful setting of the film is well used. The director must have loved the location the film is set in because there are numerous shots showing the beauty of the landscape. Just Before Dawn reminded me of Deliverance and after some research, I found out Lieberman cites the film as an influence.
There are a lot of great ideas in Just Before Dawn but unfortunately, they are wasted due to poor execution. It is at best a very average slasher with barely any gore and underwhelming kills.