Fright Fest Review #10: Just Before Dawn (1981)

They just mist the killer!
Whore Killas in the Mist

Subgenre:  Slasher

Summary:  A group of young hikers is terrorized by hill-folk in the Oregon mountains.

Review:  Though the summary might lead you to believe that it’s just another forest-set slasher, Just Before Dawn manages to separate itself from the pack.  For one thing, it’s far closer in tone to Deliverance than Friday the 13thIt’s a movie more concerned with suspense than gore, and maintains that focus throughout.  And though it may be a slow burn, it never mistakes padding for pacing.

Just Before Dawn’s interactions between the killers and the protagonists are surprisingly nonviolent for a good chunk of the film, and the few glimpses of the villains it offers are far more affecting than a typical death scene.  These killers don’t chase.  They wait.

Above all else, Just Before Dawn feels real.  There are no superhuman characters on either side, nor is there any stylized violence.  This is a raw, gritty movie that knows when to dial back and when to pile on.  This stark tone oddly (but successfully) contrasts with the movie’s idyllic images of nature.

The Verdict:  Just Before Dawn shows admirable restraint in its suspenseful brand of backwoods horror.  I give it seven-and-a-half incensed inbreds out of ten.

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