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Film / Just Before Dawn

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"Will anyone survive those hours Just Before Dawn?"

A Slasher Movie from the year 1981 starring Chris Lemmon, Gregg Henry, and George Kennedy. It was filmed by Jeff Lieberman, who also directed Squirm, Blue Sunshine, and Satan's Little Helper.

The film is set in the Oregon mountainside, where a group of youths embark on a camping trip in their RV. They are warned by a local forest ranger to not to go too deep into the woods, but they ignore the warnings and find out the hard way how dangerous the forest can really be...

This film has examples of:

  • Abandoned Area: The first onscreen murder occurs at an abandoned church in the middle of the woods.
  • Big Bad Duumvirate: The Mountain Twins, a sadistic twosome who like to kill people.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The twins are dead and Connie and Warren survived their massacre, but all their other friends are dead and Warren has lost his confidence while Connie has gained hers. Plus it seems unlikely that Merry Cat's parents would take her back after she snitched on her brothers.
  • Blind Mistake: Daniel forgets his glasses inside the dilapidated church, and in his nearsightedness, fails to see that it's not Jonathan coming to him and Megan, it's a killer with a machete. He is stabbed in the stomach, and Megan has to run for it.
  • Cassandra Truth: After his nephew is killed, Ty acts as the usual "slasher movie guy whose warnings are not heeded" when he runs to the youths, who don't believe his ramblings about "demons" due to his drunken state.
  • Cool Uncle: Ty shows a bit of this to Vachel in the opening scene.
  • CPR: Clean, Pretty, Reliable: After Warren and Connie find Jonathan's lifeless body floating down the river, Warren breathes down his throat once, puts his ear on his chest, and gives up on him.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: The second twin dies by suffocation when Connie rams her fist down his throat.
  • Cue the Sun: As implied by the title, Connie deals with the last of the horror just before sunrise.
  • Don't Go in the Woods: Death awaits in The Other Rainforest, in the form of redneck killer twins.
  • Doomsayer: Paul Logan to a T, although he has more inside knowledge than most examples of this trope.
  • Drone of Dread: The entire score, composed by future Terminator composer Brad Fiedel.
  • Expy: According to the Word of God, Connie is based on Jon Voight's character Ed in Deliverance in terms of character development and ultimate survival. Connie begins as a sensitive outdoors type who finds herself disappointed when she freezes in fear when confronted by a possible threat in the woods. Yet, her friend Megan with far less outdoors experience didn't hesitate to grab a knife. Connie from then on works on finding strength in herself, even embracing her feminine side with more revealing clothes and make-up, all of which gives her confidence to take down the killer at the end. With Warren, one could say he is based on Burt Reynolds' character Lewis in the same film. Like Lewis, Warren is introduced as a confident outdoorsman and the leader of the group who is rendered powerless after suffering an injury. Shortly before the end credits and after watching Connie square off with the killer alone, it is Warren left crying in Connie's arms.
  • Event Title
  • Every Car Is a Pinto: The engine of Ty's and Vachel's pickup truck explodes when it rolls down a hill unmanned and hits a tree.
  • Evil Laugh: The twins have a very disturbing wheeze as a laugh.
  • Fearsome Foot: As the cast walks to the rope bridge they want to check out, the camera focuses on a pair of boots that step on a piece of trash that they left behind.'
  • Foreshadowing: One character remarks at the beginning: "Wonder why there's so many twins around here..." and the killer's methodology involves Twin Switch attacks.
  • Final Girl: The usual characterization is subverted, but the convention is also played straight rendering this a reconstruction of sorts. Connie starts out as an ordinary final girl candidate with her tomboy looks. As the film progresses though, she goes through a makeover that boosts her confidence. It's this quality, not her tomboy nature, that ensures her survival after her friends are killed off. Warren surviving as well also indicates a downplaying of this, as well.
  • Girly Girl with a Tomboy Streak: Megan is often checking her makeup in the middle of the woods, but once they reach the lake, she does take part in rolling/sliding down the hill with visible enjoyment and did grab a knife the first time they heard noises in the woods.
  • Gorn: Notably downplayed. The first murder featured is the most violent, but after that, it's practically a Bloodless Carnage fest.
  • Groin Attack: Vachel is stabbed on his crotch with a machete, and the blade goes through his body, coming out of his ass. The blade is then slowly pulled out of him, the ridges on its back causing extra agony.
  • Hell Is That Noise: The eerie whistle motif heard in the film's score.
  • Hope Spot: Jonathan. Initially grabs onto the end of the rope bridge after falling into the river and uses it to climb back up, before finding a killer waiting for him at the top.
  • Machete Mayhem: With some custom Serrated Blade of Pain thrown in its backside.
  • No Name Given: Neither of the killers are named, the credits only lists them as "Mountain Twins". Their parents' name is given as Logan, though.
  • Obnoxious In-Laws: Averted, Megan gets along pretty well with her boyfriends brother.
  • Outside Ride: The cap-wearing killer jumps on the back of the main cast's RV, and they think of the sudden shaking of the thing as a bump on the road.
  • Outdoor Bath Peeping:
    • While Megan and Jonathan are bathing in a pond, Merry Cat is seen peeping on them. And then the audience is shown that her brother is present as well...
    • Shooting the aforementioned scene turned into an example as well, as the word about the nudity of Megan's actress got around the area, and it attracted quite a few onlookers.
  • The Reveal: Halfway to the film, it is revealed that a pair of twins (both played by the same actor) are responsible for the deaths.
  • Rangers Are Useless: Averted. Roy McLean, the local Ranger, proves to be quite competent. He even manages to gun down the first twin, thus saving Connie's life.
  • Rope Bridge: One goes across a chasm near the cast's camp. Jonathan, when going across it alone, encounters Merry Cat's brother at the end of it, who cuts Jonathan's hand with his machete, and then the ropes holding the bridge.
  • Slasher Film: Often cited as such. Yet, director Jeff Lieberman has made it clear that he was most inspired by Deliverance when making the movie and not slasher movies like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) — a movie that he hasn't seen to this day. While he has admitted that there was pressure to make a film like Friday the 13th (1980) due to its financial success, he did everything that he could to put his own spin on the formula. (Note: This movie has also been called Survivance in other countries.)
  • Scenery Porn: Lots of establishing shots focus on the surrounding woods of the setting.
  • Thicker Than Water: The parents of the twins know that they are killers (or "the devil" as they put it), but won't say anything about it since they are kin. Merry Cat doesn't agree on it, and gets slapped for going against her family.
  • Wham Shot: As Megan spies on the killer after he took Daniel's life behind a window, the camera goes back to her, and the killer's twin brother steps into the view.