Just Before Dawn
This is a bit of a difficult one to find, but I think it's one I can recommend to any old-school horror fans with the right mindset. If I were to narrow it down, I'd say you get a little bit of 'Friday the 13th' (terribly foolish teenagers), a little bit of 'The Hills Have Eyes', and just a teeny-tiny hint of 'Texas Chainsaw' (both having to do with deranged, homicidal families AND the brutality of some of the kills). It's not exactly what I'd call a "hidden gem", as it's just bad enough. But it was clearly something for its time - 1981; just one year after 'Friday the 13th' came out, giving the idea of camp horror (as in summer camp horror) a huge boost... well, I guess it gave campy horror a huge boost too, but the point is, this one's not bad for its time.
It all starts when a pair of hunters, Ty (Mike Kellin) and Vachel (Charles Bartlett), begin exploring a creepy, abandoned church while nice and drunk. Suddenly, their truck crashes into a tree and explodes (and it's actually kinda funny), and the two find themselves the "intro victims" (as I like to call them) to this slasher flick. Vachel is murdered, and Ty runs into the woods, somewhat aimlessly. I want to take the time to point out that Vachel's kill is a great example of having one's imagination fill in the blanks with horrors worse than we see on screen... doubly worse for any men watching. And it's all done by an unseen assailant with an almost pig-like, squeal of a chuckle. So the film zooms off to a creepy start.
Soon, Ty runs into a camper full of college students heading to a property one of them owns. Among them are the almost typical five we get from most movies like this: Warren (Gregg Henry) and his girlfriend, Constance (Deborah Benson), along with Jonathan (Chris Lemmon), his brother, Daniel (Ralph Seymour), and his girlfriend, Megan (Jamie Rose). Here, Ty provides the role of harbinger, begging the group to allow him to tag along and save him from whatever's chasing him. As any smart group should do, they deny this "crazy person" his ride, but Ty sees one of the people who was chasing him jump onto the back of the camper, thus making him their problem now.
To keep it simple, it ends up being your rather typical raving serial killers vs a group of teens and/or young adults. There IS more to it, but it's still nothing you've never seen before. However, for 1981, it does make for a pretty decent underground slasher movie, but only if you have the right frame of mind for it. If you're gonna have any hope of enjoying this, you'll also have to be able to appreciate movies like the 'Friday the 13th' saga, as it's all pretty typical and unsurprising stuff. This gets right down to the matter of an innocent "survivor girl" or "final girl" who manages to find herself and the power to stand up and fight against what has been ruining her life recently - usually to some pretty kick-ass results, and let me tell you, this one's no exception.
Speaking personally, I tend to be quite a big fan of slasher flicks for the same reasons some people tend to dislike them. There's something to me about the overall predictability of everything that I find genuinely entertaining. Movies like this, for me, equal grabbing a tub of popcorn and just enjoying the more fun aspects of it all. For instance, if someone is doing something we, the audience, all know is a ridiculously stupid move, all that equals is a laugh for me. This one does a good job of forcing the audience to imagine some of the off-screen kills, which I enjoy a little more as I'm less of a gore-hound and more of a suspense nut. I love having my brain do the work as opposed to just seeing it all in plain sight - but hey, sometimes that plain-sight stuff can be fun too (looking at practical effects).
If you can somehow manage to find this, and you are a collective fan of the three movie titles I mentioned in the beginning, I'd say that this one is pretty well worth checking out. It definitely feels like it fits in the time of the old-school slasher, and much like with something like 'Texas Chainsaw', the graininess of it all somewhat adds to the atmosphere of everything. It's something you can watch and have a good time with, and not too gory visibly, but quite disturbingly gory if your mind can properly fill in the blanks. All in all, I enjoyed it for what it was and may want to introduce some fellow fans of the genre to it. But it's definitely not a list-topper of any sort either, and most of the fun lies in how terribly corny it is. But still, its not without its merits!
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