OREGON: Just Before Dawn

Crawling through the stunningly beautiful backwoods of Oregon to deliver a highly effective melding of Deliverance and The Hills Have Eyes, Jeff Lieberman’s early-’80s slasher Just Before Dawn eschews a healthy amount of the subgenre’s familiar tropes, in favor of a low-key, naturalistic approach to bloody bumpkin terror. Don’t get us wrong — this jammin’ little sickie has plenty of collegiate slayings and over-the-top gore moments, but unlike Friday The 13th and its ilk’s assembly line of “body count” kills, this film’s unusual thriller rhythms produce a palpable air of suffocating dread from the first minute. The inbred factor doesn’t hurt either, for who among us city slickers can say we wouldn’t make a mess in our pants if an unblinking, stone-hearted forest mutant raised a machete blade to your face? Another key factor here is the minimalist synth score by Brad Fiedel (The Terminator), giving the lush greens and running waters of the locales an unnaturally cold sheen. Packed with some true surprises that even jaded horror heads can jump to, Just Before Dawn delivers the goods.
Dir. Jeff Lieberman, 1981, 35mm, 90 min.