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Just Before Dawn (1981 film)

This article is about the 1981 horror film. For the William Castle film, see Just Before Dawn (1946 film).
Just Before Dawn
File:Just Before Dawn.jpg
Directed by Jeff Lieberman
Produced by Doro Vlado Hreljanovic
David Sheldon
Written by Jeff Lieberman
Mark Arywitz
Jonas Middleton
Starring George Kennedy
Chris Lemmon
Gregg Henry
Deborah Benson
Music by Brad Fiedel
Cinematography Dean King
Joel King
Edited by Robert Q. Lovett
Distributed by Picturmedia
Release dates
  • October 14, 1981 (1981-10-14) (U.S.)
  • November 25, 1981 (1981-11-25) (FR)
Running time
90 min.
102 min. (uncut)[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget Unknown
Box office Unknown

Just Before Dawn (also known as Survivance in France) is a 1981 independent slasher film directed by Jeff Lieberman, and starring Chris Lemmon, Gregg Henry, Deborah Benson, Jamie Rose, and George Kennedy. The film follows a group of hikers who travel into the Oregon mountains to visit property inherited by one of them, only to be hunted by a ruthless backwoods killer.

Shot on location in the Silver Falls State Park in Silverton, Oregon, the film has often been praised for its eerie atmosphere and lush cinematography; despite not being a commercial success when released, the film has gained a cult following over the years.


Two men named Ty and Vachel are hunting in a forest and come across an abandoned church, which they go in to explore. After Ty sees their truck being crashed into a tree, Vachel is stabbed through his groin with a sawback machete by a laughing murderer, who then takes Vachel's hat and jacket. Ty, seeing the murderer come out of the church, Ty quietly flees off into the forest. Meanwhile, forest ranger Roy McLean (George Kennedy) is at his home, where he encounters a van of five college-aged adults heading to rural property which one of them has inherited. Despite his insistence that they not venture up the mountain, the five continue along. Among them are Warren (Gregg Henry); his girlfriend Constance (Deborah Benson); Jonathan (Chris Lemmon), and his girlfriend, Megan (Jamie Rose); and Daniel, Jonathan's brother (Ralph Seymour).

On their way up the mountain, they hit a deer, and encounter Ty stumbling through the woods on his way down the mountain; they dismiss his warnings of "demons," as he is visibly drunk. After reaching a point where the van cannot drive any further, the group set out and foot and make a campsite; at night, while around the fire, Constance, Megan, and Daniel hear noises around them and become frightened, only to find that Jonathan and Warren are playing a joke on them. The next morning, they hike along Silver Creek to a waterfall, where they see a young girl named Merry Cat Logan (Kati Powell) singing before noticing their presence and running into the woods. Megan and Jonathan go skinny dipping at the bottom of the falls, unaware that someone else has entered the water. Megan does not realize that Jonathan has got out of the water, and feels hands touching her. She assumes it's Jonathan, until she sees him on shore, upon which she panics and swims to safety.

When the group splits up to go exploring, Jonathan spots Merry and chases after her. She runs to a clearing before backing up towards the trees, visibly frightened. Jonathan assumes it's the rope bridge over the waterfall ahead, and begins to go across, only to be confronted by the murderer, who cut his hand with his sawback machete. The murderer severs the bridge and Jonathan plummets into the water below. He attempts to climb up a ledge, assuming the murderer is coming down to the water. When he reaches the ledge, the murderer kicks him in the face, and he falls to his demise.

Meanwhile, Megan and Daniel are taking photographs in the woods, and come across the church and a graveyard. Daniel, who has lost his glasses, sees a figure coming through the woods, and thinks it's Jonathan. He and Megan pretend to kiss as a joke, but as the figure comes closer, Daniel realizes it is not his brother. The figure stabs Daniel through the stomach, and Megan flees into the church, where she watches through the window as the murderer plays with Daniel's camera. Suddenly, another man emerges behind her inside the church (who is identical to the one outside), realizes that the two are identical twins; she is murdered in the church while the other twin photographs her death from outside the window.

Warren and Constance return to the camp, but cannot find anyone else. While wading through the river, they encounter Jonathan's body floating downstream, and pull him out. As night approaches, Warren leaves Constance at the campsite to retrieve the car keys from Jonathan's body, which he finds has disappeared; nearby, he finds Daniel's body positioned standing against a tree, wearing sunglasses. Meanwhile, Ty finally encounters Roy in the woods and tells him about the murderous twins at the church, and Roy goes out on his horse to find the teens, and comes across Merry's family, who consist of a crazy father, and silent sister/mother. They tell him that the twins were actually theirs and that their mother died during childbirth, so he mated with his daughter and had Merry.

Left alone, Constance is attacked by one of the twins, who chases her up a tree. The twin cuts down the tree, and just before he is about to kill Constance, Roy shoots him and he tells the couple to go pack their things. They go back to camp, as Merry runs through the woods to find them. At camp, the other twin stabs Warren and tries to kill Constance, who rams her fist down his throat, choking him to death. She then stands up (with a menacing look in her eyes and does a few giggles), disturbed from the events as Warren begins to sobber and Merry watches from the trees, as the sun rises in the forest.




The film's original script, based on a story by Joseph Middleton, was titled The Tennessee Mountain Murders, and later The Last Ritual, and had heavy religious themes behind the twin killers' motives, which director Jeff Lieberman felt were awful[2] It also included a sixth camper named Eileen and a different fate for Megan, which entailed her being tossed to her death over a cliff.[2] It also included a climax involving Connie being forced to handle rattlesnakes by the inbred villains before becoming one of their wives; this version of the script also had more involvement from the Logan family, who were part of the scheme.[2][3] Lieberman rigorously rewrote the screenplay from page one by himself to eliminate all the religious overtones in favor of a more thriller-based plot. Lieberman was heavily influenced by Deliverance (1972) while writing the film.[2]


Silver Falls State Park served as the primary filming location

The film was shot on location in the spring of 1980 at the Silver Falls State Park in Sublimity, Oregon, just outside of nearby Salem, and an hour away from Portland, Oregon. Due to the film's low budget, filming time ranged from 14-15 hours per day.[2] The 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens occurred during filming; according to actor Chris Lemmon, he and the rest of the cast were gone for the day on a trip to the Oregon coast when the eruption occurred.[2]

Despite its authentic, weathered appearance, the church used in the film was actually built for the production. Director Jeff Lieberman said that countless strangers showed up at the filming location on the day that the scene with Jamie Rose swimming topless was to be filmed. Lieberman said that word of this shoot had apparently gotten out among the local forest rangers.[4]

Several odd occurrences happened during the shooting of the film; particularly, while shooting in the woods one evening, the lighting went out without explanation leaving the cast and crew in complete darkness. After several minutes the producer yelled out 'let there be light!', and the lights immediately returned without explanation.[2] According to director Lieberman, despite the numerous reviews of Just Before Dawn that implied it was inspired by The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) or The Hills Have Eyes (1977), he had not seen either film at the time of making Just Before Dawn. Lieberman also stated that he was influenced by Ingmar Bergman when assembling some of the film's compositions.[5]


The eerie whistling motif heard in Brad Fiedel's music score is a reference to the rescue whistle that Warren carries in the film. According to composer Brad Fiedel many of the ominous sounds in the music score were actually electronically altered audio clips of himself vocalizing droning noises.


Initially, Universal Pictures expressed serious interest in purchasing the film, but eventually backed out.[2] Instead, the film was distributed by Picturmedia, a small independent company. Just Before Dawn was released theatrically in October 1981 in the United States. It debuted the following month in France, where it was released under the title "Survivance", as if to emphasize a connection with John Boorman's Deliverance.[6]

Critical reception

AllMovie's review of the film was favorable, writing, "anyone lucky enough to fish out a copy of director Jeff Lieberman's Just Before Dawn will certainly find themselves richly rewarded."[7]

Home media

Just Before Dawn was released on DVD on July 26, 2005 from Media Blasters in a 2-disc special edition, and features a director commentary as well as a documentary on the making of the film. Shriek Show's rights to the film then expired, and it was released on Blu-ray and DVD by Code Red in late 2013; this release is completely uncut and also features the longer overseas version with additional dialog and twelve minutes of additional footage.


  1. ^ Barton, Steve (2013-11-05). "Voices From Beyond, Just Before Dawn, and Nightmare City Hitting Blu-ray". Dread Central. Retrieved 2014-07-03. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Just Before Dawn: Lions, Tigers and Inbred Twins Documentary [DVD]. Shriek Factory/Media Blasters. 2005.
  3. ^ "An Evolution of Fear: An Interview with Mark Arywitz - August 2002". The Terror Trap. 
  4. ^ MattFini's Halloween Top 10 Lists: Overlooked Slashers
  5. ^ Just Before Dawn (Closed-captioned, Color, DVD, NTSC (Commentary)). Lieberman, Jeff. All Regions: Media Blasters. 2005 [2005-07-26]. 
  6. ^ Review of the French edition of the DVD (French)
  7. ^ Buchanan, Jason. "Just Before Dawn - Review - AllMovie". AllMovie. Retrieved 2012-07-24. 

External links