Just Before Dawn is a solid, and on occasion, very effective backwoods rural slasher film in the mould of John Boorman’s Deliverance (1972). Brooklyn born writer/director Jeff Lieberman came into it off the back of Squirm (1976) and Blue Sunshine (1978). The former was a worm infested ‘Revolt of Nature’ flick which showed evidence of an eccentric and off kilter sense of humour, and an intelligent use of space and landscape. The latter, arguably Lieberman’s finest film, proposed a novel outcome for counter-cultural experimentation with mind expanding narcotics; in this case baldness followed by an unsociable tendency for mass murder! But what really made Blue Sunshine effective was the decision to delay the effects by ten years, thus allowing Lieberman to explore the hypocrisies of individuals now desperate to be a part of the establishment. Just Before Dawn is probably Lieberman’s most derivative film, and the director himself is happy to admit his influences, but that doesn’t mean it is any less important than his previous efforts. From Squirm Lieberman learnt the importance of setting and location, and one of Just Before Dawn’s most important features is the evocative use of Silver Falls State Park in Oregon as the principal location. From Blue Sunshine he learnt how to create plausible characters which developed in a believable and credible way, and Just Before Dawn is infused with a rare interest in characterisation that helps to make it one of the better slasher films to emerge in the wake of Halloween (1978).
© Shaun Anderson 2012