The Horror Honeys: Slasher Hexmas ~ The Nightmare Has Begun!

Slasher Hexmas ~ The Nightmare Has Begun!

A Revenge Honey Slasher Hexmas Review by Linnie

Just Before Dawn (1981)

One of the great things about theme months at The Horror Honeys is that they aren't just for sharing our knowledge and opinions with you lovely people; they are also for expanding our own horror horizons, and learning a thing or two. One recent rainy afternoon, I decided to follow YouTube down the rabbit hole of suggested 80s slashers, and the last film I watched was Jeff Lieberman's Just Before Dawn. When I told Supernatural Honey Suzanne that I was watching it for the first time, she was baffled. "That's one of my favorite redneck camping movies!," she said.

And after viewing Just Before Dawn, I think I officially agree with Suzanne. Not only is it one of my new favorite horror films, but damn if I don't have a new favorite Final Girl!

So join me, guys and ghouls, for a trip into the woods with what I hope might be YOUR new favorite too, Just Before Dawn!

The Story: Five friends head out in to the woods to camp, climb, and check out some property that one of them just purchased in the middle of nowhere (as you do). Despite warnings from the local forest ranger (George Fraking Kennedy) that they need to turn around and go home, the friends proceed anyway, and find themselves confronting your average machete-wielding inbred redneck murderers. Will they survive? Will they ever find that property they bought? And why are everyone's shorts so damn tight?

Suzanne thinks she's a badass because her tight shorts gave her
an angry vagina.
From the synopsis, it would be easy to assume that Just Before Dawn is derivative, or perhaps that you won't find it that entertaining since you've probably seen similar films a dozen times before. But the fact of the matter it is one of the original horror camping movies. In 1981, Friday the 13th had preceded it, but that is a "summer camp horror" movie, and there is a difference. Every slasher film set in the woods prior to '81 was a summer camp horror. The closest film I can think of to compare it to is Wes Craven's The Hills Have Eyes, but Just Before Dawn is more Deliverance as a slasher than anything. While modern fans are cursed with the hindsight of the inbred rednecks of Wrong Turn and all of its sequels, it's easy to see how Just Before Dawn could have actually inspired that series of films.

Never trust a man in a flannel coat. This is a fact.
One of the things I enjoyed most about Just Before Dawn was that it didn't adhere to your standard horror characterization tropes (virgin, slut, jock, nerd, comedian). Each of the five friends exhibited a bit of all the tropes, which means rather than getting stereotypes, we get fully formed human beings that are generally quite likable. The acting is as solid as you can expect from a low budget 80s slasher film, with standout performances from Gregg Henry as Warren (hummina hummina 80s Gregg Henry) and Deborah Benson as Final Girl, Connie.

I do so love you, Gregg Henry 
Which brings me to my favorite element of Just Before Dawn: Connie and the film's general complete deconstruction of gender roles. Even after Halloween and Friday the 13th (or perhaps because of them) the virginal Final Girl in horror films was still a trope that was alive and well. In fact, it's a trope that still hasn't entirely died and is only occasionally trumped by films like You're Next and The Guest (both of which were made by the same guys... go figure). But Just Before Dawn featured a Final Girl in Connie that I officially count among the best, on par with Erin and Anna.

This sassy head tilt should make it clear... I don't need your help.
Connie is a powerhouse of bravery and survival skills. After most of her friends have been picked off, Connie (who until that point hasn't particularly stood out in any real way) becomes a firecracker, surviving entirely on her own while her boyfriend Warren is off looking for help. She not only climbs a tree like a damn spider monkey in her bare feet, but she kills an inbred redneck by shoving her fist down his throat until he suffocates to death as Warren watches, cowering and crying. Even the best 70s/80s slashers almost always end with the Final Girl being saved by a man (Dr. Loomis saving Laurie in Halloween, anonymous male pickup driver rescuing Sally at the end of The Texas Chainsaw Massacare) but Just Before Dawn ends with Connie saving Warren's keister like a stone cold badass, shrugging off the carnage like it ain't no thang.

Should have kept a better eye on your glasses, friend.
It's baffling to me (and Suzanne) that more people don't talk about and/or love Just Before Dawn. It doesn't just stand out among its 80s slasher counterpoints, but its a clever and fun film with a Final Girl who deserves recognition as one of the best ever written and performed. If you haven't seen Just Before Dawn, do it. Now. I command it.

Revenge Honey Rating: 4 & 3/4 badass bitches out of 5

Just Before Dawn is available via YouTube& DVD!

Have YOU seen this should-be 80s classic?
Tell me on Twitter: @linnieloowho