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Just Before Dawn
Warren (Gregg Henry) and his girlfriend Connie (Deborah Benson) get together with Jonathan (Chris Lemmon) and his girlfriend Megan (Jamie Rose) as well as Johnathan's brother Daniel (Ralph Seymour) to hop into the RV and head into the mountains of western Oregon for a hiking getaway. Before they make it to their destination, a park ranger named Roy (George Kennedy) warns them to stay out of the area, but this being a slasher movie and all, they pay him no mind and proceed blissfully unaware that a killer is running about the area with a big knife.
Regardless, they make it to their destination without any major issues and proceed to set up camp. They party a bit, do some skinny dipping and, yes, even some hiking but as anyone familiar with how slasher films operate already knows, it's only a matter of time before that killer we saw in the opening scene makes things difficult for our campers.
Shot primarily on location in and around beautiful Silver Lake in Oregon (seriously, if you're ever in the area check it out, it's gorgeous), Just Before Dawn isn't the goriest of slasher films (though it has a couple of decent kills) but it is quite tense and atmospheric. But it works, and it works well. There isn't' a whole lot of character development here but you don't come to a slasher film for that in the first place. What matters here is that the main characters are, for the most part, likeable enough to keep our interest. Of course, throwing the mighty George Kennedy into the mix as a park ranger helps things out too, as does a small part for Sleepaway Camp's Mike Kellin (Mel!). The leads do decent work as well.
Director Jeff Lieberman, who gave us Squirm and Blue Sunshine a few years prior, paces the film very well. The story gives us a few ‘hints' at what is to come in the early parts of the film that successfully pique our interest while the cinematography from Dean and Joel King (the latter of whom was the cinematographer on Frightmare) is solid. The film wasn't made with a massive budget but it never feels cheap. There's a solid twist at the end of the film that actually works quite well here too. All in all, Just Before Dawn holds up as a tense and clever backwoods slasher ripe with suspense. Gregg Henry, who starred alongside Mel Gibson in the Point Blank remake Payback, is solid enough and his good chemistry with Deborah Benson, who is also fine in her part. Chris Lemmon (Jack Lemmon's son) and Jamie Rose are also decent enough as the second couple in the film. Ralph Seymour, who some will automatically recognize from a small part in Pee-Wee's Big Adventure is also pretty good here, we have no trouble buying him as the ‘fifth wheel' of the group.
Code Red brings Just Before Dawn to Blu-ray for a third time (the first issue had no real extra, the second issue was a Roninflix exclusive and this third edition pretty much duplicates that exclusive), using a 50GB disc for this reissue. The 2013 release featured both the U.S. theatrical cut (90:24) and the longer International cut of the film (102:24) on a 25GB disc that offered noticeable improvements over the older DVD release from Shriek Show (which only had an edited version of the shorter cut) but which also left room for improvement in terms of color correction and compression.
This reissue does a very nice job fixing the color correction, albeit only on the shorter cut of the film. The new AVC encoded 1080p 1.78.1 widescreen image, transferred from the internegative, looks very nice, in fact. Compression, again, is less than perfect but the colors look a lot better. It's not perfect, there's still some print damage here and there, but it's pretty nice. The AVC encoded 1080p 1.78.1 widescreen transfer of the longer cut, however, has not really been improved over the last Blu-ray release. As such, it's still in noticeably lesser shape, with faded colors and more print damage. The screen caps below give a pretty accurate indicator of how both movies look while in motion.
Both cuts of the film get English language DTS-HD 2.0 Mono options. The theatrical cut also gets optional English subtitles, the International cut does not. The audio on the shorter cut is pretty clean and nicely balanced, with only occasional moments of any minor, audible defects coming into play. The longer version doesn't sound as good, dialogue is a bit more muffled and flatter and there's more noticeable hiss in spots.
The previous Code Red disc was light on extras, but this release does include some bonus material old and new. The new material starts off with an interview with Gregg Henry that runs fourteen-minutes and sees him talking about his thoughts on his character, how he got along with his co-stars and what it was like taking direction from Lieberman. An interview with Chris Lemmon runs twenty-eight-minutes and features the actor looking back on his fellow cast members, stunt work that was required of him in the film, the Oregon locations and their pros and cons and more. Actress Jamie Rose spends sixteen-minutes talking about her co-stars, working with Lemmon a second time, what it was like filming a nude scene in a public park with a bit of an audience, injuries on set and more. We also get a new interview with producer David Sheldon that clocks in at just under thirty-one-minutes. He talks about how he got his start in the business, moving to Los Angeles, his early days at AIP and some of the blaxploitation films he helped make, his relationship with William Girdler and then his work with Leiberman and his involvement with Just Before Dawn. All of these are well done and quite interesting.
Lions, Tigers And Inbred Twins was originally made for the aforementioned Shriek Show DVD (which also included a commentary with the director, not ported over to this release). It's carried over to this disc but not in its entirety, approximately seventeen-minutes of footage consisting entirely of Jeff Lieberman's comments have been cut out of this version. On the last Blu-ray, this led to a distracting audio synch issue with the featurette, but that has been corrected on this reissue. The featurette runs approximately fifty-one-minutes in length. Preserved here is input from screenwriter Mark Arywitz, Sheldon, Lemmon, Rose, John Hunsacker that covers the script, changes Leiberman made to that script, the casting of the film, the locations used for the film and more.
The US cut of the movie also features a three-minute intro with Jamie Rose and Gregg Henry dealing with Banana Man (yup). Rounding out the extras on the disc are TV spots for The Fifth Floor, bonus trailers for Street Law, The Dark, Conquest, Blackout and Screams Of A Winter Night (but no trailer for Just Before Dawn itself, unfortunately), menus and chapter selection. The slipcover and reversible cover art that were included with the previous limited edition release, which was a Roninflix exclusive, are not carried over to this general release.
While the definitive version of Just Before Dawn eludes us, despite some quirks this is a pretty decent reissue from Code Red. The movie itself holds up very well, it's tense and exciting and, by slasher movie standards, quite creative as well. Highly recommended!
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.