Saturday, 12 September 2015

A review of Just Before Dawn... and a bit about my horror history.

So what makes me watch or not watch a film? Well my mood is one thing, I need to be in the right mood for that kind of film, if I am in the mood for a B movie then I am in the mood for a B movie, If I want something intelligent then that's the kind of thing I am going to watch etcetera.

Also there is an element of who I am with. My fiancée doesn't like horror films, she will try and tolerate the occasional mild one for me basically out of love, but she really doesn't like the more hardcore variety with them sometimes actually scaring her. Now I love her more than anything and although I like sharing my hobbies and the things I love with her my last intention is to show her something that is actually going to have any lasting effect on her or really unnerve her. I tend to watch more films focused around what she likes when she is around which often tends to be family friendly fantasy for example the Harry Potter movies or something Disney related, I do enjoy these films mostly but this means that when she is not around I watch the horror I couldn't watch around her and save the family friendly fantasy for when we are together. (I also have a teenage daughter so cant just throw anything on at any time for obvious reasons).

Some of the modern horror films I can convince my Dad to watch with me, both of us enjoy Sci Fi films so we will kind of take it in turns he will put a Science Fiction flick on and then I will put a horror movie on, but he is a very harsh critic. A horror film has about fifteen minutes to grab him and if it doesn't manage to do that then he will declare it rubbish and walk off and do something else.

So when it comes to low budget, old or extremely gore filled horror I am pretty much on my own, watching it alone in the dark. I don't mind this when I am at home but I cant say I enjoy going to the Cinema alone to watch a horror film, so usually if it is something I am going to watch then I will wait until its released on blue ray/DVD.

I dont tend to feel the need to own that many films though, I am quiet happy to look at what is being shown on the horror channel and record it to watch or just to look at what is available on various online services ranging from Amazon Prime to stuff like You Tube, sure I do own a few horror blue rays, if a film has really really gotten to me and made me need it then I will get it examples being the Exorcist, Hellraiser, HollowMan, the Thing. A lot of forgotten about 80's horror seems to end up on YouTube, a lot of it is stuff which hasn't had a Blue ray release, heck some of it never got any further than VHS, it is stuff that has been pretty much forgotten about and almost abandoned and sometimes it is a crying shame.

I grew up in a small town, it had a one screen cinema and two or three Video Cassette rental stores. Now one of these stores used to charge 50 pence a night to hire there older films. I would go in with about £2 and head to the middle row at the back. Here they had a rack filled with these hard plastic thin containers which has a VHS front cover inside them and a number tag stuck to the outside. I would flick through these looking at what was on offer, there would be things like Critters, Aliens, Nightmare on elm street but sooner or latter I had made my way through everything sort of well known, this is when you would be looking at these films you had never heard of, looking at the cover art, maybe reading the sentence or two on the back which tried to explain the premise of the film. Of course this led to me watching some stinkers and worst of all paying for the privilege but it also had its good side, it meant that I watched a lot of films, I watched things that no one else I knew had and I got to find classics I otherwise would never have known about.

This devil may care give it a go attitude is something that I have kept with me to this day when it comes to films. I am willing to judge them with an open mind, I wont look at a budget or notice that there are no marketable names and dismiss a film. I will pop a film on and if it can grab me it grabs me. If the film is wonderful then that's great, if the film sucks well if it is bad enough then I will have a good laugh at it. I approach a lot of horror films I find now days the same way as I approached the ones in that rack. If a film is on YouTube or Amazon Prime, I will read the short description and maybe look online at its case or poster and from there I will make a quick judgement call if I am going to give it a shot or not. The funny side is now even taking in to account the cost of Amazon Prime I get to watch more films for less money and I never really see any of it as a waste.

So tonight I sat here my Fiancée was off at her flat writing a piece of work for her Masters and I was trying to do my best not to call or message her to much, trying to let her get down to it, my daughter was in bed so I decided it was time to start trawling through the good old Digital rental racks again. This is when I came upon a film called Just Before Dawn.

Just Before Dawn, was released in 1981 and the rough plot goes like this five campers arrive in the mountains to examine some property that they have purchased,they are warned by a forest ranger that a huge machete-wielding maniac is on the prowl and that its dangerous around these parts right now. However obviously they ignore this warning after all if they didn't it would be a very short film. So you can guess what happens next person after person vanishes. The general premise of it sounded alight and I noticed that George Kennedy was in it. Now I am not his biggest fan but I do have his autograph on my wall. I have a Picture of the CreepShow 2 that's autographed by the Actor George Kennedy, the effects artist legend Tom Savini and another person who I did work out who it was but can no longer remember. Anyways this was enough to sway me and make me decide to watch it


OK so now I am going to talk about the film in more detail so from here on out until I write the conclusion this is going to be spoiler territory, if you want to watch the film first do so now here we go.


So the film starts with two hunters who are out in the woods drinking and exploring an old abandoned church after a successful hunt. It soon transpires though that someone is looking down at them through a hole in the roof. We soon witness a large figure murdering one of the hunters by stabbing him in what is obviously the groan area with the machete. The other hunter see's this figure putting on some of his companions clothes and then bolts for it running away from the murderer. I was quiet surprised to see a killing this early and the machete death kind of put me in the mind of the Friday the 13th films.

The scene soon cuts to what we would call in the scooby doo days ''a gang of youngsters'' who are in a camper heading towards the great out doors to go camping and drinking and all the usual stuff together. On there way they meet forest ranger Roy (George Kennedy) and he can best be described as the ''You don't want to go there'' character who gives them the typical it could be dangerous and I aint coming after you once your in trouble, but at least tell me where you are going speech.

The youngsters meet the hunter who survived he is out of his breath shaking and drinking he tries to warn  the teens and begs them to take him along, saying he will be killed if they don't. The teens however refuse leaving him behind Then you see a human form climb up on to there camper unnoticed by them the hunter see's it though and he begins to laugh a somewhat crazy laugh proberbly part in relief that if the killer is following them he is safe but also probably in a it serves them right for not caring about what happens to him kind of way.  

The youngsters find themselves at a wonderful location a real wonder of nature, trees, crystal clear streams, the soft sound of a waterfall, it seems like its going to be the most amazing time for them and for a bit it is. At first they camp and there is a fake scare where two of them jump out on the others. Then they hike for a bit and cross a rope bridge before seeing a girl who quickly retreats. After this one of the guys goes for a swim with one of the girls at first they are just splashing around and playing and then she pushes him under, this is when she starts to worry and asks him to stop playing around, she is soon relieved to feel a hand touching her all over, thinking that it is him and then she looks at the edge of the water and see's her boyfriend looking back waving, This is when she begins to panic, she makes her way over to him and somewhat hysterically tries to explain that there is someone else there.

 At this point we are almost forty minutes in to the film and so far there has only been one kill, but then we have seen some beautiful cinematography, if I had an area like this near me I would find myself very tempted to get a cheap camera and go out there and try to make something and this backdrop is used very well. I also like how some of the characters have been shown, we have two ladies but they are both very different, one is shown to be an experienced camper and hiker but even when she felt under threat she couldn't bring herself to grab a knife for defence, yet the other girl is much more feminine in many ways yet feels comfortable to grab a knife and use it if needs be. Yes she might have got overwhelmed and panicked when she realised the hand that had been touching her wasn't her boyfriends but then one of the other boys screamed earlier so its not shown as a purely female reaction to fear, also I happen to think I would flip out and loose it if strange hands were grabbing at me from under the water and I am a large fully grown man. At this point I can say if your a lover of gore who wants a stab a minute then this is not the film for you, it has a much slower pace than that.

It is at this point that our drunk surviving hunter makes an appearance again, he has found himself at the rangers house and begins to tell him that there has been a murder but he can only describe the killer as a Demon as being ''tall, bigger than you, built like that mountain up there''. He says that he has seen the kids that they wouldn't listen to him and that it will kill them too.

That night the youngsters are having a party drinking and dancing around there tent and camp fire when a shot from out of nowhere hits there radio and ends the fun. A local old man comes out along with his family holding a shotgun, the girl with him is the one the youngsters had seen earlier. The old man tells them to go and to leave, it comes across as half being a warning and half being a threat
but they pay no heed to the old man's words and continue camping. This is OK but it by now kind of feels like one warning too many, a lot of horror films like this have the sort of idea that the young people are brining there death upon them through there actions and that if they had only stopped and listened to the voice of reason then they would have been spared a painful death via the wrath of a killer or force of nature but in my opinion this film is over doing it.

Next day, Jonathan one of the youngsters becomes the first target of the killer, He see's the young girl in the woods and follows her, soon he steps on to the rope bridge trying to show her its safe once he is on it he almost gets to the other side but finds himself face to face with the killer who cuts his hand and then while he is retreating slices the  ropes on the rope bridge causing Jonathan to fall in the water, we watch as he struggles up the ropes on the other side of the river but he is again met by the killer who simply kicks him back into the water while you wonder how he could have gotten across there without a bridge especially that quickly. So 53 minutes in to the film we  have our second death (although you don't actually see the moment of death).

Soon we see Warren and Constance fishing this is when Jonathan's body comes down a small waterfall and slaps itself in front of them, Warren makes sure he is dead and then they have a debate about whether he has been murdered or not before Constance runs off with Warren following her. 60 minutes of film and so far two deaths, one very bloody, one actually rather tame with the final moment not even being seen, the fall he made was survivable so we can either guess he died from the blood leaving his hand in the water or he somehow drowned or broke his neck while being buffeted by the water in total honesty it is not explained in the slightest.

We cut back to Daniel and Meg they are at the church from the beginning, they are in the grave yard when a figure appears in the distance, at first Daniel presumes it is Jonathan messing around again but as the figure draws closer a machete through the chest proves this to be wrong. Meg runs into the church with the killer trying to follow her but she closes the door on him. It turns out Daniel is not quiet dead, the killer returns to his body and while he is panting and screaming he pulls the machete out of him. Meg watches the killer from inside the church through the window when the question of how the killer can move so quickly is answer by the fact a man the spitting image of the man outside is shown inside the church with her. I have to admit I wasn't that surprised, I was expecting something like this I would have been more disappointed if they had tried to pull of that it was just one guy as well some of what was seen earlier just wouldn't have made sense. Then she notices the person in the church with her and as he closes in on her she screams no again and again and I wait for the money shot which doesn't come.

Its at this point that Warren remembers that Jonathan had the keys to the camper van so decides to go retrieve them along leaving constance alone, it was at this point that I found myself actively shouting at the screen ''oh for darns sake don't split up you stupid son of a bitch, they always get you when you split up, one of you is as good as dead if you do this''. Then I remembered it was a film, they couldn't hear me and that I am not five.

So then we have Warren wandering around in the dark with a lantern pretty much in my opinion looking for death. I know its supposed to be a horror but I couldn't help but laugh when I saw Jonathan in shades stood up against a tree weekend at Bernie's style. As Warren notices Jonathan at first he seems to think he is alive again somehow but when he comes to his senses he begins to search his body for the keys. This is when we cut to the ranger who has gone to the family who shot-gunned the radio, he starts to ask if they have seen the youngsters but despite the daughter trying to say she has he has her mother drags her inside and the father tries to claim they haven't seen no one. Then as the ranger rides off the camera stays outside of the house but we can hear the conversation inside as they tell the girl to never go against the family, and she replies but there killers there the devil you said. This is when we hear the words but there still your brothers. The girl runs off finds the ranger and tells him that she can take him to there camp.

We go back to Constance now just as she hears the whistle blowing, this causes her to get up and decide to investigate, at first she calls out telling Warren not to play games with her. Now I am not being funny, I know some of them were pissing about and scaring each other earlier but after there good friend is dead and as far as they know two other friends are missing and haven't been seen for ages I seriously seriously doubt your boyfriend would be in the mood to try and make you jump at this point in time, he held his dead friend in his arms earlier that night it is hardly the kind of thing that puts you in a chuckle-some mood. Then while she is getting closer to the fire the killer comes and practically sits down next to her before blowing the whistle. This leads to a 10 second running chase followed by her climbing a tree, the killer tries to a machete the tree down while she screams Warren again and again. We cut to see the ranger finding a scared Warren before going back to the girl up a tree. The tree falls and down goes the girl with it an all, but she manages to scramble away with the killer once again giving chase, just as it looks like he is about to swing and kill her he is shot and we see it is the ranger who has done it. The body falls on the girl and she just lays there trembling so Warren goes across to her to make sure she is alive. The ranger inspects the killers body and lets out the cherry ''you keep breeding in the same family so long and something is going to snap, I guess that is what the old man was trying to hide''.

The ranger sends Warren to grab his gear so that him and Constance can get out of there, but what we  the viewer but neither he or the ranger know is that only one of the killers is dead. I will leave it here and not comment on the very end of the film, I will leave that for those interested enough to view it and instead give the conclusion to my review

In Conclusion

The film can be a bit slow at points, but it is also beautiful, there are some good set pieces and it takes great advantage of the environment it was filmed in but I think compared to other films of this type the kills are rather disappointing in general, everyone who is killed by the killer is killed in the same way, I guess I am spoiled by a lot of latter films where an individual way was thought up for everyone who would die. There is some good characters and good ideas here but they never feel fully fleshed out. I guess I would give this film about a 6 out of 10, I think it is better than average but has a lot of issues, I certainly pulled far worse than this out of the rental rack but I don't think I will be in a hurry to watch it again.

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