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John’s Old School Horror Corner: Just Before Dawn (1981), killing hillbillies one fatal mouth-fisting at a time

December 13, 2013

MY CALL:  Paced too slow and more dumb than disturbing, yet this attempt at an inbred slasher Deliverance managed to impress me with one redeeming death scene in the finale that I’ll never forget.  MOVIES LIKE Just Before DawnThe Burning (1981), The Hills Have Eyes franchise (1977, 1984, 2006, 2007).

Crammed into an RV and heading to some recently inherited land out in the wilderness, the feisty redhead Megan (Jamie Rose; Chopper Chicks in Zombie Town), the worrisome and reserved Constance (Deborah Benson; Ghost Fever), Daniel (Ralph Seymour; Ghoulies), our adventurous tough guy Warren (Gregg Henry; Raising Cain, Slither) and Jonathan (Chris Lemmon; Wishmaster) have set out on a camping outing.

As they make their way in, one of them notes “I wonder why there are so many twins out here.”  I wonder why so many of them look homeless, feral, inbred, hungry and dangerous!  Keeping in pace with horror canon, they naturally pay no mind to the dangerous, unwelcoming-looking local mountain folk and continue on their journey.  Forest Ranger Roy (George Kennedy; Brain Dead, Creepshow 2, Death Ship, The Terror Within) serves as the harbinger, ominously warning the five youngsters away from the mountain suggesting grave consequences but no details.  As if they hadn’t enough red flags waving in their face, they encounter a scared drunkard (Mike Kellin; Sleepaway Camp) whose hunting buddy was killed by an over-sized, wheezy-laughing homicidal man-child.  He warns them not to go on with an intoxicated rant–while, of course, not mentioning the murderous hillbilly or his dead friend.  Again, as if they have no idea they were cast in a slasher/horror movie, they press on and heed not his warnings, passing them off as alcohol-induced lunacy.

I really feel the need to pause here and point out that most backwoods slasher movies begin with one warning sign–for example, dirty inbred mountain people OR a forest ranger’s warning OR a drunk’s warning that gets ignored.  In this case we have all three!  So, that said, I feel that these twentysomethings deserve whatever bloody end they meet.  I’ll also point out that these tenderfoots clearly never camped before, because they try to drive a loaded RV up a root-knobbed mountain trail.  It comes as no surprise when these idiots’ vehicle gets stuck and they must continue on foot.  Sure. Because who’s worried about the local mountain people?  They won’t do anything to the abandoned vehicle!  Later, these fools choose to cross a dubious looking rope bridge–no boards, just rope! It’s just one bad decision after another.

No one saw that coming!

They encounter a young woman in the woods who flees upon their approach.  This, AGAIN, is not a good sign.  It’s weird!  It would make ME nervous.  Later we meet her mountain folk parents who shoot–yes, SHOOT, like with a shotgun–their stereo.  Yet more reasons to not be on this mountain where, by the way, nobody else wants you to be!  Despite all these worrisome warning signs that still go completely ignored, Constance slowly switched gears from being a nervous prude to loosening up a bit.  She dresses more scantily and gets more playful.

The pacing of this film is devastatingly slow.  Hardly anything happens in the first hour and what little that does happen is presented with zero suspense, fright, gore or intensity (except for in the first five minutes when a man is stabbed “through” the pelvis–that was cool).  At about the hour mark the movie shifts gears and our wheezy man-child of a killer becomes more proactive in his twentysomething-killing endeavors.

I know this is a little fuzzy, so I’ll explain. The machete’s exit would is this guy’s butt!

The killer is obese, ugly and childishly simple (clearly mentally retarded from inbreeding) and toys with his victims.  This is meant to be disturbing, I found it weak in execution and really just dumb.  The gore is rare and, typical of the era, the kills are reduced to seeing the victim “after” they’ve been stabbed.  But what makes this entire movie worth it is when, while her boyfriend watches and whimpers, Constance goes toe-to-toe with our killer and literally fists him to death!  This was one of the most memorable slasher movie kills EVER!

Open wide!
This is definitely a contender for the “most bonkers kill of the 80s.”

I’d say horror collectors should go for it and watch this.  If you own fewer than a few hundred horror movies, you probably won’t have the patience for this yet.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. Lorena permalink
    July 9, 2016 12:32 am

    I’ve recently watched this movie on Youtube (it’s since been removed!! Grrr!), It was everything you said but I was glued to my seat cus I wanted to see how they each got executed for ignoring SO MANY red flags..lol ;D Creepiest part of this film for me was when the red head is skinny dipping w/ her boyfriend and later on gets groped under the water and she laughingly thinks it was her dude, suddenly her dude is on the other end under the waterfall! That’s some scary shit!! O.O I’m a big 80’s movies fan so and I’m definitely adding this one to my collection! =)

    • John Leavengood permalink
      July 9, 2016 12:05 pm

      Despite my hyper-critical, armchair analyst (“analist”) nature, I think this is a good one for people who love wilderness redneck slashers or even little-known slashers. That closing scene with the throat fisting, though…YIKES. LMAO

Trackbacks

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  3. John’s Horror Corner: Wrong Turn (2003), if The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) family had a cabin in the woods. | Movies, Films & Flix
  4. John’s Horror Corner: Wrong Turn 2: Dead End (2007), an over-the-top gorefest that was made for Henry Rollins. | Movies, Films & Flix
  5. John’s Horror Corner: Wrong Turn 3: Left for Dead (2009), mixing the booby traps of Rambo: First Blood (1982) and Predator (1987) with inbred, redneck, mutant, cannibal hillbillies. | Movies, Films & Flix
  6. John’s Horror Corner: Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings (2011), the best cannibal hillbilly sequel in the franchise so far. | Movies, Films & Flix
  7. John’s Horror Corner: Wrong Turn 5: Bloodlines (2012), not quite the worst of this hillbilly horror franchise. | Movies, Films & Flix

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