Saturday, December 4, 2010

"Just Before Dawn"(1981)d/Jeff Lieberman

My first exposure to tonight's feature was as a trailer on a Paragon Video vhs of Lucio Fulci's Paura nella città dei morti viventi(Gates of Hell),standing out over the other coming attractions for laughs that me and the boys had gotten over George Kennedy(for some unknown reason he's always been pretty funny to me?I dunno.),and a particularly nasty machete to the sprig-n-berries featured in the clip.It wasn't until years later that I actually picked a copy up,after realizing the director was the same man responsible for long time favorite of mine,the 70's cult classic,Squirm.Most of the time,it's simple pleasures that do the trick for me.Finding a pack of cigarettes in a jacket I haven't worn recently,hearing a forgotten song from my childhood that takes me back,piped over the loudspeakers in the grocery store while I'm shopping,a surprised smile from an elderly woman when I hold the door open for her(you know she was expecting to get mugged),unexpected compliments in my e-mail over an entry I may have put a little extra into from someone whose opinion I hold in high regard,and then there's the top of the list:Sitting down to a horror movie that passed me by somehow and discovering it surpasses what little expectation I had for it by leaps and bounds.Such is the case with Dawn.When I finally threw it in,I was a teenager who had seen just about every horror movie ever made to date,with the confidence that one measly little formulaic slasher entry from earlier in the decade wasn't gonna impact me in the least bit.Afterwards,I was smiling,as this was one of those rare instances where I was indeed,very wrong.
Lieberman's work here is a creepy,unexpected little shocker whose eerie ambiance permeates every frame.Solid performances abound,from Kennedy's prophetic park ranger with a penchant for talking to plants and animals,to Mike Kellin's drunk,distraught hunter(cinephiles will remember Kellin as the henpecked schoolteacher from the excellent 1967 drama,The Incident).Brad Fiedel's ominously odd score serves as a moody backdrop for the events that unfold.This is one you owe it to yourself to see,especially if slashers whet your whistle.Onward.
"I may be drunk and lying in the dirt,but you've got a three hundred pound maniac hanging off of your camper!",laughs Ty(Mike Kellin).
Two hunters,Ty(Kellin)and Vachel,stumble upon an abandoned backwoods church in Oregon after bagging themselves a handsome buck.The anebriated Ty gets spooked by a grinning face looking back at him through a massive hole in the roof,and Vachel gets run through at the junk with a machete by a snickering moutain of a man.Ty sees the behemoth exiting the church and putting on Vachel's safety orange hunting hat just as their truck rolls downhill into a tree.He wisely runs for his life.Further down the mountain,a van full of twenty-somethings checks in with McLean(Kennedy)the park ranger,who,upon hearing their intent to travel further up into the foreboding wilderness,advises them to turn tail and head back from whence they came.True to form,they don't listen.They run into a half-crazed Ty,smelling of booze and fear,running the other way,and ignore his warning,too.He watches as they continue driving past him,and a hulking man jumps out of a tree onto the back of their camper as it moves through the difficult terrain.He laughs knowingly.In the van,there's Warren(Gregg Henry),and his girlfriend Constance(Deborah Benson),Jonathon(Chris Lemmon,Jack's son),Megan(Jamie Rose)and the obligatory nerd-with-a-camera,Daniel(Ralph Seymour),all doing some serious boogieing to Blondie's Heart of Glass while noticing an awful lot of dirty gemini kids standing around cars on blocks outside dilapidated shacks in the depressed back mountain area.Warren slags the phenomena off to all the inbreeding that must be going on.Keep that in mind,Warren,it just might come in handy later on.They cross what has to be number four in the world of tentative rope bridges above a huge ravine,start a fire,and pitch camp exactly six hundred fity-three miles from fucking nowhere,unaware they're being watched from just beyond the treeline...
I don't dig heights myself,but they're a walk in the park compared to homicidal mountain-sized redneck twins(John Hunsaker).
The next morning they hike to the waterfall,noticing a feral piece of she-trash spying on them from the trees,but when Jon and Megan traipse off for a skinny dip-flavored make out session in the lake,the redhead flips her fiery wig when she realizes the touches and gropes she's been reacting to under the water haven't been coming from her boyfriend,who's already gotten out and started drying off on the shore.Jon gives chase to the mountain girl,who paints her face with Meg's make up(awww,that's cute),only to find himself on the rope bridge with a machete gash on his hand,and a giant,murderous giggling mutant seemingly on both sides at once.How can that be?A boot to the chops sends him plummetting to his maker in the rapids below.Meanwhile Daniel and Meg have discovered the rundown church,an ideal locale for an impromptu photo shoot that screeches to an abrupt halt when Daniel is shanked in the labonza by a lumbering,snickering giant.Meg is then cut to ribbons by the same backwoods titan,while his equally homicidal twin brother takes pictures with Daniel's camera from the church window.As Jonathon's waterlogged corpse floats up and joins them,Connie and Warren realize they're very alone on the mountainside and the sun is setting.Meanwhile,McLean is surprised by a hysterical Ty,who tells his frightening story to the ranger,who sets off on his horse to find the foolhardy group before its too late.The ranger makes a stop at a nearby shanty,and is greeted by a redneck with a gun,and two teenaged girls(one is Merry Kat,the feral child from earlier)in tow,who tells of the monstrous birth of his twin sons of evil that killed his wife in the process,and how he impregnated his own daughter(all together now,bleeech.),resulting in Merry Kat.While Warren goes to retrieve the camper keys from Jon's body,Connie is trapped up a tree by one of the twins,who procedes to hack it down,but before he can snuff the convulsive chick,he eats a gun blast from the ranger,consuming a plate of lead-based death himself.McLean tells the duo to return to camp and pack their things,but back at the camp they are suprised by the other twin,who renders Warren useless with a well-placed stab before eating perhaps the most righteous knucle sammitch in cinema history,at the hands of the overwrought girl.She stands up,pulling her forearm out of the mountain man's lifeless throat,mimicking the twins' vocalizations as Merry Kat bears witness from the forest.Cue the titular pre-dawn shot of the region and that creepy whistling.
"Arggggh!My labonza!I've been shanked there..." gasps Daniel(Ralph Seymour).
I've heard a lot of rascals compare this one to Texas Chainsaw Massacre,but I'm with "Panama Jeff"(the hat looks good on you,Lieb!),in that it more closely resembles Boorman's backwoods clASSic,Deliverance.The director and fellow Libra has also helmed genre favorite Blue Sunshine(1976),as well as Remote Control(1988),the pilot of the 'Til Death Do Us Part television series,and most recently Satan's Little Helper genre-wise,in 2004.Kennedy,a World War 2 vet,is still plugging away on television and in film.Jack Lemmon's son,Chris,has found success mostly on the small screen,most notably in the Hulk Hogan-based series,Thunder in Paradise,back in the nineties.Gregg Henry has arguably had the most success of any cast member since Dawn,scoring a plethora of television roles,as well as parts in DePalma's Body Double,Star Trek;Insurrection,the Mel Gibson vehicle Payback,and genre favorite Slither.Jamie Rose's television resume is equally impressive,acting in everything from NYPD Blue and Silk Stalkings to Two and a Half Men,and House,M.D. most recently.She's also appeared opposite Eastwood in Firefox,and opposite Billy Bob Thornton in Chrome Hearts aka/Chopper Chicks in Zombietown,surely a minor Tromasterpiece.As it stands,Just Before Dawn is a top tier slasher,mixing inventive kills and creepy atmosphere to attain cult classic status in the sub-genre,nearly being picked up by Universal according to Lieberman on the dvd commentary track.Universal's loss,for sure.Three solid wops.
Backwoods tracheotomy: Constance(Deborah Benson)uses one of the twins' epiglottides as a speed bag.


Lee Russell said...

Good review. This is a real stand-out in an era of carbon copy slasher films. The moments before Meg's off-screen death are pretty brutal in what is implied. It seems fairly likely they were going to rape her and then kill her, while taking more pictures. I also like how the final girl in this one becomes an alpha male of sorts, penetrating the last twin with her much lager "member", in a bit of role reversal from the standard "killer is stabbing you with his knife/penis" implication, found in many lesser slasher films.

beedubelhue said...

Absolutely! Thanks,Lee.


Connect with Facebook