He Knows You’re Alone Just Before Dawn

The slasher obsession has to stop somewhere, so I’m thinking this may be one of my last posts on the subject. Unless, of course, it’s not. My intention with this blog has always been to use it as an outlet for whatever I feel like writing about. I guess it’s conceivable that I could spend the rest of the year obsessing about 80s slasher films. But I feel like that would be kind of pointless, as there are far more detailed and established horror and slasher blogs out there.

Last weekend we watched He Knows You’re Alone (80) and Just Before Dawn (81). I’ve noticed that slashers tend to fall into one of two location styles: urban (usually suburban) and rural. The urban slashers are usually direct descendants of Black Christmas and Halloween, where the victims are in a house, school, or other building in a fairly populated area. The rural slashers are usually Friday the 13th rip-offs, but sometimes the lush forest setting can work wonders for atmosphere and suspense.

He Knows You’re Alone falls strictly into the urban camp. It came out several months after Friday the 13th, but it’s obvious that this one was either made first, or the filmmakers just hadn’t got around to watching F13 yet. Stylistically, it’s somewhere between a Halloween rip off and a by-the-numbers crime thriller. The only real gore comes in the form of a head in a fish-tank, which may have been a concession to the post-F13 demand for graphic violence.

The premise, about a killer who targets brides-to-be, is good, but the killer himself is too plain looking. I guess when I watch a slasher, I want to see a guy in a mask. It’s hard to accept some guy in a suit with googly eyes as the unrelenting force of evil to contend with icons like The Shape from Halloween. The cast is mostly good: A young Tom Hanks pops in to tell the heroine she’s “just hallucinating” when she says she’s being followed (as if hallucinations are perfectly normal). Don Scardino from Squirm is likable as the ex-boyfriend, although I was disappointed that he didn’t request an egg cream at any point in the film. Paul Gleason (The Breakfast Club, every other movie ever made) plays a cop. And the annoying little sister was played by Dana Barron, who was the teenage daughter in National Lampoon’s Vacation.

But let’s face it: The weekend belonged to Just Before Dawn. In a strange bit of synchronicity, this film was directed by Leff Lieberman, who gave the world Squirm. This horrifying vision of a world in which no egg cream is safe from giant radioactive worms starred Don Scardino from He Knows You’re Alone, and…that’s where the similarities end.

I was immediately on board from the opening credits, where a haunting synthesizer score drones over a shot of the sun coming up in the wilds of Canada. OK, it was actually Oregon, but damned if I didn’t assume this was a Canadian film the entire time I was watching it. Part of the problem may have been that this film bears a striking resemblance to the Canuck classic Rituals (77) starring Hal Holbrook, in which a group of doctors on a camping trip are menaced by a vengeful local presence. It was obviously influenced by F13 as well, but with its emphasis on buildup vs. body count, it ultimately has more in common with Rituals and other post-Deliverance backwoods survival tales.

Just Before Dawn replaces the crusty old doctors with a group of fresh faced and cocky college kids. And unlike Rituals, there is no justification for why a backwoods killer wants them dead (other than a somewhat flimsy premise about inbreeding). But the plot is merely a loose structure on which to hang some increasingly suspenseful set pieces. Without giving it away, there is a twist about halfway in that I did not see coming (well, to be fair, I wasn’t looking), and it was a beautifully filmed and classic creepy moment.

Throughout the film, the forest itself becomes a main character. The cinematography perfectly captures both the beauty and isolation of the wilderness, so we are right there with the campers as they begin to realize just how cut off they are from any kind of help.

The best thing about Just Before Dawn other than the scenery and cinematography, however, is the Final Girl. The dialogue sets up the fact that Constance (Deborah Benson) is an experienced outdoors-woman, albeit one who defers to her overly confident boyfriend Warren (Gregg Henry). We knew that at some point this timid flower was going to be pushed too far and have to resort to her primal instincts and girl scout skills; but damn if our jaws didn’t hit the floor when the shit started to fly during the climax.

SPOILER: The method in which the killer gets his comeuppance was both unexpected and awesome, and the final shot of Constance straddling her attacker while her boyfriend sobbed in the background was one of the best images of female empowerment I’ve seen in a horror film.

I’ve seen some reviews that complained about this movie being too slow. Well, if you need a kill every five minutes to remind you you’re watching a horror film, maybe this one isn’t for you. But for anyone with an average to normal attention span, I recommend sticking with it. Once Constance busts out the Daisy Dukes, things start to get good. And not just because of the shorts. (But, seriously: those shorts are amazing.)

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11 Responses to “He Knows You’re Alone Just Before Dawn”

  1. Shawn Francis Says:

    Insightful post. I have never been an ardent fan of slasher flicks, but I do own a small clutch of them on DVD. So small, mind you, I can count them on one hand: HALLOWEEN, HALLOWEEN II, THE HITCHER, HIGHWAYMEN and BASIC INSTINCT. I have seen more, like HALLOWEEN: THE ORIGIN OF MICHAEL MYERS, which, if it ever hits DVD unedited, I will most certainly add to my collection, but, for the most part, the ones I have just mentioned are the only ones I can watch repeatedly and still get enjoyment out of.

    Now, concerning JUST BEFORE DAWN, this is a flick I have been aware of for some time, and would certainly love to see. I almost got it last year, but then learned Media Blasters’ version was the CUT one. It’s shorn 11 minutes, and if it ever sees the light of day, I will most certainly add it to the movies I mentioned above. I, too, am fully aware of how Constance ends her attacker’s life. Won’t spoil it here, either, but it certainly sounds like an original death.

    Anyhow, thought I’d pay another visit, give my support, and my two cents. Keep up the good work, Ryan.

    • roarvis Says:

      Thanks Shawn!

      I tend to prefer the slashers that break the mold to some extent. You should check out Black Christmas if you haven’t, and maybe The Burning (although it’s a F13 ripoff in many ways, i like it better than those films).

      I don’t think those 11 minutes are going to add much to Just Before Dawn. I could be wrong, but I’m basing that on a detailed breakdown of the cuts that someone posted.

  2. Shawn Francis Says:

    I’m itching to see this so bad now, I may end up getting it later this year, when I have more money. It’s a flick I have always wanted to see. I don’t know, 11 minutes, is fairly significant. They have a list of the cuts on IMDB.com under Alternate Versions. I think, I’ll visit the site again and take another look, just to see how much of a difference I think they might make.

    • roarvis Says:

      Just rent it now, then buy the inevitable director’s cut. If you keep reading about it, you’re gonna spoil the movie for yerself!

  3. Shawn Francis Says:

    I already know all about it. First heard about in Fangoria when they did an inteview with the director, then I read more about it on IMDB.com, so, knowing all about a flick doesn’t really ruin it for me. I never rent, solely because the flick I might rent, I MIGHT wanna keep, so what would be the point. On the other hand, if I didn’t like it, I just saved myself some money. I used to rent when I was young. Not really into it anymore. Nowadays. I wait until the movie in question hits cable. Anyhow, I just checked out those deleted scenes again on IMDB, and I’d still like to see then reinstated, assuming I end up liking the flick.

    THE FINAL TERROR, I have seen, and would love to see on a worthy DVD. The “official” one they put a few years ago was atrocious. Worst transfer I ever saw. RITUALS is one I just learned about, and, for some reason, it kinda reminds me of SOUTHERN COMFORT. So, Code Red is putting RITUALS out in November, I believe. Might pick it up.

    • roarvis Says:

      I need to see Final Terror. I thought Rituals was already out? I watched a terrible VHS rip, and then the DVD came out like the next day.

      It’s definitely in the Deliverance/Southern Comfort vein, but with more of a horror slant. Would be a great double feature with Just Before Dawn.

      I don’t know where you stand on torrents, but someone made a fan edit of Just Before Dawn with all the footage re-inserted.

  4. Shawn Francis Says:

    RITUALS might be out on another region, but, as far as I’m aware, it’s not on region 1 DVD. Code Red has it on their site with TBA next to it. With me suddenly interested in it, I recently emailed them asking if they had a more concrete date in mind. Haven’t heard back from them, yet. But, I’ll let you know if I ever do.

    Concerning torrents, I had never heard of them until a 2007, when this former pen-pal told me how he was downloading these movies. I’m still not quite familiar with them, but I get the jist of it, that any movie, especially ones not yet released, can be downloaded from the web.

    Not really my way of watching a flick, for, even though I own a computer, I can’t understand how anyone can relax and watch a movie on it. To me, enjoying a film means popping in a DVD, flipping the lights off, putting on my headphones, and watching it on an actual TV screen. I can only tolerate watching trailers on a computer screen. And, I wasn’t aware of it until I joined AV Maniacs, that torrents kind of cut in on small companies that are trying to legitimately release one of these gems and make some legitimate money on them.

    So, I personally, gotta say no to torrents.

    Seek out THE FINAL TERROR any way you can. I like it, and it’s got a few before-they-were-famous actors in it. I emailed Code Red about it a long time ago, and they said it wasn’t cost effective to release it because it was so readily available in the bootleg market.

  5. roarvis Says:

    I can see both sides of the torrent issue. I don’t think it’s hurting companies any worse than rentals, the exception being downloading uncompressed DVDs (which I rarely do, and then only if it’s out of print).

    I never watch movies on the computer. I transfer the avi files to disc or flash drive and watch on my DVD player.

    Either way, I commend you on sticking with the legitimate releases. I’ve been trying to do my part lately. This summer is going to kill my bank account, with all the great blu-rays coming out.

  6. Shawn Francis Says:

    Yeah, I can understand, in these hard economic times, that downloading the movies off of a computer will hurt your wallet less, which is why I don’t really fault anyone for going the torrent way. Just doesn’t work for me personally, that’s all.

    Well, to cover the costs of my summer acquisitions I went through my video cabinets with a fine tooth comb and turned in as many as I could. Surprising how many flicks I don’t really care to watch anymore. Most of the hard hot categories were in the live action superhero department. There were exceptions, of course, but, I don’t know, just getting tired of seeing all those types of movies, I guess. On the other hand, I can’t get enough of the DC, and some of the Marvel, Animated Movies.

    Now, the Fall flicks I simply must own are TWINS OF EVIL, VAMPIRE CIRCUS, and the upgrade of HORROR EXPRESS. I’ve got just enough cash for them, I think. Down the list a ways is THE EVIL, and the new DC Animated flick, BATMAN/SUPERMAN: APOCOLYPSE. Not sure if I’ll have the cash for them, but I’m gonna try and get it.

  7. Shawn Francis Says:

    I forgot to mention, TERROR TRAIN is a good slaher flick, too.

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