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Review: Just Before Dawn DVD (1981)

By Lance Vaughan



If you ever inherit a piece of land in the Oregon woods hold off oncelebrating until you are insured that part of the package does not include an inbred clan of back woods hillbillies hellbent on watching you and your friends die slow agonizing deaths. In fact, sell the property immediately. No good can come of "citified" folks venturing into the woods. Even if the locals seem sweet at first with their frizzy haired "young'uns" and wardrobe malfunction overalls, the truth is eventually you will be expected to dig deep within yourself and find your inner primal beast in order to survive. Director Jeff Lieberman takes his time tightening the noose focusing on setting and mood using silence and lighting to really draw the viewer into the action. I cannot think of a film that better establishes a sense of place, The woods are real and the viewer is made to feel as lost and disoriented as the well established characters.


The picture quality, it must be admitted, leaves a bit to be desired, there is plenty of grit and damage and some scenes seem overexposed or bleached. That having been said, in a genre that holds Texas Chainsaw Massacre with it's equally grainy, almost documntary-like visuals as one of its crown jewels this should have little effect on the viewer's experience. Call me crazy but I think it sometimes adds a nice faux drive- in atmosphere to the proceedings. If you're used to the Paragon VHS release as I am, you're going to really enjoy seeing the excellent, atmospheric cinematography in 1.85:1 widescreen. What you will not be happy with my little gore-hounds, is the couple seconds of missing material from the first (and bloodiest) machete attack.

The film is offered in it's original mono and a new 5.1 digital surround sound thats adds pulsing power to Brad Fiedel's counter intuitive whistle infested score. There's even a nice urprise for all you Blondie fans out there.


The commentary track by Director Jeff Lieberman, though out of sync with the film, is highly entertaining. Jeff does a bang up job recalling the making of the movie and is never at a loss for words. He obviously put a lot of thought into the character's and their motivations and seems to have taken the film and it's themes on survival and mother nature seriously, not being influenced by current slasher trends at the time.

Lions & Tigers & Inbred Twins is a featurette that not only gives away one of the movies surprises in it's title that I went to great pains to avoid revealing, but also has informative interviews with Director Jeff Lieberman and co-screenwriter Mark Arywitz that expose much about the original script and what got widdled away during production. You also hear from Chris Lemon (Wishmaster) about how he risked his life so that you could have your scary movie and Jamie Rose who had to get naked in front of mobs of onlookers and has only gotten better looking with age. You get an interview with mad mountain man John Husucker. who seems equally insane in real life and composer Brad Fiedel (Night School) who defends his bizarre minimalist soundtrack.

There are two fine trailers to choose from and an extensive set of movie stills that include a shot of the original poster art. If you are so inclined, there are bunch of trailers for other media blaster releases (hooray for Anthropophagus) and "special movie features" for two more dubious looking flicks.


The burnt orange cover gives a nice late seventies vibe, the crazy woodman looks suitably menacing and the new lettering with creepy black crows rocks... but what's the deal with the unfortunate still they used of poor Jamie Rose? If I didn't know better I would think she where the film's threat. I prefer Paragon's barely sketched out madman silhouette with machete, simple and classic. Luckily this site is already prepared for such a abomination. Now go directly to the custom covers page and start downloading. Hope you've got ink in your printer...

The menu screens are simple, no-frill affairs that get the job done directing you to all the goods. For the most part this is a fine package, The supplements alone are reason to own. Sure the picture is not perfect and the missing gore is a letdown but just the fact that this elusive gem is now readily available is reason enough to rejoice.



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