Just Before Dawn

justbeforedawn

Jeff Lieberman, USA, 1981, 90 min.

A group of young people are terrorized on a camping trip in the remote wilderness. Not too original, right? But this film has a lot going for it. It has strong performances, a great location and solid direction. This is one of the rare, good slasher films. Written and directed by cult favorite Jeff Lieberman, the film takes the slasher genre and almost perfects it.

The story starts off with the prerequisite murder. The villain and location are introduced in bloody fashion. A standard opening that continues with the introduction of the main characters, a group of twenty-somethings on their way into the woods for a camping trip.

The film then gives way to what really makes it worthwhile. The wonderful locations found in the Oregon wilderness are put to great effect by cinematographers Dean and Joel King, and Lieberman keeps the film tense and interesting without resorting to cheap tricks.

Its a location and direction that work well to create an atmosphere that is genuinely creepy, and it keeps it up until the well-earned climax. The ending is different as well, and tries to reverse the gender roles of the time period. I have a slight quibble with the transformation of the main character, which reinforces gender stereotypes as well as subverts them, but thats understandable for that time period.

The slasher genre is not really known for producing great films. I can probably count how many I like on one hand. This would be one of them. It’s creepy, scary and fun. A solid slasher film that rises above others of its ilk and makes you wonder why they all couldn’t have been this good.

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