Posts Tagged ‘underrated

29
Jul
18

(NSFW) Just Before Dawn (1981): Rise and Die

just before dawn

a Primal Root written review

“There’s nothing out there but God’s little creatures, more scared of you than you are of them.” – Warren, Just Before Dawn

Tales of backwoods hicks slaughtering city folks is as old as the hills themselves. Freshly showered kids in their L.L. Bean disco survival boots, shaved vaginas and cans of Pringles head off to hike and pitch their tents fully exposed in the elements and figure, oh yeah, nothing’s going to happen to me out here among the trees, wildlife and lack of of immediate assistance from someone who knows what the Hell they’re doing. From The Hills Have Eyes, to House of 1,000 Corpses, to Deliverance, Friday the 13th and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre; white-bread, Nike wearing, pink, privileged idiots with six figure incomes load up their campers and right into certain death despite there nearly ALWAYS being some old coot standing by the side of the rarely traversed, nearly grown over dirt road saying the same old speech “You’re doomed if you stay the night up that road!”

And what do those idiots do? Crank up the Def Leppard and rush forward into painful, bloody oblivion. It’s an old yarn always looking for an invigorating new take, or at least a competent hand to at the very least, make it interesting.

Enter the forgotten 1981 backwoods camping slasher gem, JUST BEFORE DAWN, and film that I’d heard a few people mention in decades past, but never in the same sentence as well worn genre fare. Upon finally getting a chance to watch it, I was not only blown blown away by how solid it was, but I would put it among my all time favorite slasher films of this backwoods sub-genre.

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Our pre-credit inciting incident takes place in a rotten, weather worn church where two older hikers are joking around and acting like goofballs trying to make one another laugh as they wonder through this holy relic. By the way, one of these old hikers is none other than Mike Kellin who played Mel, the owner of Camp Arawak in another excellent summer slasher film, Sleepaway Camp from 1983. When one man notices a freakish inbred redneck peering through a hole in th church’s roof and eerily backlit by the sun, he steps out slowly from the church, and in a real dick move, doesn’t mention it to his friend who is too busy being a comedian to notice. Well, as you might imagine, the man left in the church ends up getting possibly the most brutal death in the film and has a massive, multi-pronged machete stuck though his pee hole and right out his poop chute. And the film doesn’t cut away once this happens, oh no, we see the poor hikers horrified, pained reaction to suddenly find his cock and balls forcibly filleted in half and probably shoved right out his own asshole. He reached behind himself to feel the machete blade sticking right out through his jeans…it’s a nightmarish moment and one where the viewer cannot help but imagine the unfathomable agony that bastard must be experiencing as he slowly begins to bleed to death amongst the pews of stink, mildew encrusted old church.  This poor bastard’s bud, Ty, who just left him to die, runs off into the woods and down the side of the mountain with the giant, massively overweight bloodthirsty mountain man in hot pursuit.

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From left to right: Constance, Jonathan, Daniel, Megan & Warren. Who will survive and who will inherit the R.V.?

 

We are then immediately introduced to our core group of young folks headed up the side of the mountain in their camper to spend a long weekend hiking, skinny dipping, and mellowing out in the woods. There’s the fun loving couple Jonathan (Chris Lemmon, son of Jack Lemmon) and Megan (Jamie Rose, from Chopper Chicks in Zombie Town and a billion TV Shows), the nerdy photographer who didn’t bring a date and will probably be spending the majority of the trip, when not taking photos, masturbating into the bushes, Daniel (Ralph Seymour from Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, Killer Party, Meatballs part II) and our main course couple, our blonde alpha male and guy steering the RV, Warren (played by none other than Greg Henry who starred in James Gunn’s Slither and Guardians of the Galaxy flicks) and his worry wart, uptight, girlfriend, Constance (Deborah Benson from 1941, 2 Days in the Valley).  On their way up, they are warned by none other than the late, great, George Kennedy as Roy McLean, an old timer plant doctor and horse whisperer who knows there’s something terrible up in them mountains. Not only that, but the kids bust the shit out of a deer with the R.V., and run into Ty, who at some point came across a massive jug of whiskey as he was fleeing for his life, drank three quarters of it, and slurrily begged the kids to take him down the mountain before he is turned into a dick and ass kabob by some horrifying fat fucks in the woods. The kids leave him some food and head up the mountain, as they go, Ty watches as the Mountain Man hops from a nearby tree onto the back of the camper to pursue more nubile and fuckable victims.  Ty laughs his ass of and continues stumbling down the mountain.

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Soon our rag tag group of fresh faced youths have set up camp, hiked behind waterfalls, and noticed some peculiar whistling coming from the woods…the crew even noticed a young woman singing beautifully down by a stream, when they approach her, the girl goes running into the woods. All these strange omens mean little to the young folks as they starts letting loose. The most notable is Constance, who ditches her waist high khakis and long sleeve denims short, and slips on some tight fitting daisy dukes that let her butt cheeks hang out and the ties her button down shirt up to expose her mid-drift and tease at the subtle breasts bouncing around underneath. It’s a transformation that doesn’t go unnoticed by her camping buddies and seems to coincide with the five friends descending deeper into the woods, as if she is becoming a bit more wild herself. She even paints her toenails while sitting on a long. It’s cute, it’s hot, and it’s a little weird, but you know me, I’m down with weird female transformations, especially the wild and sexy kind.

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Before long, the kids find themselves down at the base of the waterfall where Jonathan and Megan decide to go skinny dipping and fool around a little bit while the other’s make breakfast. It’s all fun and games as Megan splashes water around and giggles while Jonathan goes under water, gropes her and floats up pretending to be dead, but soon the scene becomes one of the creepiest in the damn film, as we see one of the filthy, gigantic mountain men descend into the water in the background and go under… Jonathan dips under the water again and vanishes. Megan, assuming Jonathan is playing around, continues to giggle and call out to him. That’s when a filthy big old pair of hands start groping at her above and under water. She assumes Jonathan is playing around and getting frisky and it is really uncomfortable as these hands slide across her skin, and are most certainly poking ad probing some intimate places just below our field of vision. Soon, Jonathan surfaces and walks out of the water at the shore line and waves at Megan as she is being molested. As expected, she begins screaming and running out of the water. It’s a truly freakish moment brimming with suspense and unease, we know what these nasty backwoods killers are capable off and how perverse their methods of dispatch can be. The terror of the moment is only made right by the sight of Megan’s lovely body running out of the water, sopping wet, nekkid, running and beautiful. The moment was absolutely horrifying, but he coming out of the water surrounded by the lush forest sure makes you contemplate the beauty of nature.

just before

Now, what blows my mind, is the next time we see these kids they’re dancing all sexy like by fire light RIGHT AFTER THIS INCIDENT! Let me tell you, if my wife or anyone I was comping with came to me hysterically crying about being molested, I’d be loading up the camper and booking it down the side of the mountain. But even Megan seems to have gotten overt her trauma in no time and is clapping her ass cheeks on Daniel the nerd boy’s wang doodle like it’s Spring Break at Panama City Beach. Everyone is gyrating the love bits and shaking their money makes when a three piece family of rednecks (Papa, Mama, and the little singing girl from earlier)  bash the fuck out of their radio, emerge from the darkened woods and are now the THIRD people to warn these kids that they’re going to die.  You kids are “Gonna wake up THE DEVILS!”  Time to load up the camper and head to civilization right?

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Of course, the kids don’t listen, and the next day decide to go messing around in the woods in separate groups which leads to some of the most horrifying and suspenseful shit in the movie, with each murder being set up masterfully and pulled off with maximum suspense, which is not exactly the hallmark of the slasher genre. Nine times out of ten I find myself bored to pieces as someone is walking down a dark corridor, or walking around the woods calling out for a friend. But Just Before Dawn knows exactly what TO show us and what NOT TO show us in order to actually give us that sense of dread, or knowledge that something terrible is occurring. What’s also impressive is that the film doesn’t rely on gore effects to sell it’s shocks and scares, instead leaning on it’s actors to make us feel the fear, the pain, the struggle they’re in, which, again to my amazement, the cast fully delivers. Not only do they create characters we believe and genuinely like, but the film take the time to let the actors deliver what they need to in order to bring the audience with them into the horror they’re going through. Also, the score composed by Brad Fiedel is far eerier than most genre entries ever get and creates a nightmarish atmosphere of solitude and doom.

Jeff Lieberman wrote and directed this lean, mean, fucking slasher film which relies on subtlety, allowing the terror to build, and once the shit hits the fan, doesn’t shy away from laying it on us with harrowing set pieces, nail biting suspense and making us witness to some nasty fates. Lieberman’s a name I never hear mentioned when it comes to cult horror film makers, but the brother directed another fantastic down home horror fest, 1976’s Squirm, the LSD shock fest Blu Sunshine in 1977 and even directed the vastly underrated Halloween horror film, Satan’s Little Helper. Also, looking at his IMDB page, the guy directed a documentary about the mysterious death of boxing legend Sonny Liston and wrote, of all thing, The NeverEnding Story part II… Huh…

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Just Before Dawn is a slasher film that NEEDS to be recognized and HAS to be seen by fans of the genre. It’s a standout among a genre that was just at the beginning of going stale, even as early as 1981. Lieberman and company made a flick that pulls no punches and creates a real nightmare scenario. The killers themselves are a little goofy when you finally get a good look at them, but the actors trying to escape from them do a damn good job of selling their menace, even when the killer’s goofy unibrow and giant beer bellies, do not. The final battle at base camp is fucking astounding and in it’s execution, and in it’s final moments, just before dawn, we see a new dawn and the final transformation. It has to be seen to be believed.

I award Just Before Dawn FIVE OUT OF FIVE Dumpster Nuggets.

You have got to see this sucker!

Stay Trashy!

-Root

14
Mar
13

Brain Damage (1988): Just Say “Aylmer!”

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a Primal Root review

edited by Bootsie Kidd

“Whenever you want the pain to stop, I’ll be here. Whenever you want to stop hurting, you come to me.” -Aylmer, Brain Damage

Let’s take a moment to discuss the Reagan Administration’s poorly schemed “War on Drugs”, shall we? On October 13th, 1982, President Ronald Reagan declared illicit drugs to be an imminent threat to U.S. National Security, while First Lady Nancy Reagan promptly flooded the talk show circuit advising the children of our nation to “Just say NO!”. Because, you know, becoming addicted to narcotics or not is as simple as just saying “no” to your local pusher. Obviously, Nancy Reagan and the War on Drugs, itself, were more than a tad naive when it came to the nature of addiction and its beginnings.

Thankfully, 1986’s “Brain Damage”, Frank Henenlotter’s stellar follow-up to his classic 1982 debut,”Basket Case”, doesn’t cut corners when it  comes to the discussion of drug use. From its depiction of the initial orgasmic rush that launches its user into a life bent around being steeped in a state of euphoria where problems are forgotten, to the sudden meteoric plummet that follows once the high is wears thin. In his usual brilliant insight, Henenlotter creatively portrays to viewers how addiction winds up taking its toll not only on users, but those closest to them, as well. Despite the laughable oddity of the seductor, Aylmer, ‘Brain Damage’ manages to tell it to us straight with a dark, horrifying, even often comical story in the realm of fantasy-horror providing a truly masterful message film about the dangers of drug use and the nature of addiction.

We meet Brian, a nice enough average guy who lives with his brother Mike in an apartment in New York. Brian even has a caring, sweet-natured, if mildly bland girlfriend he’s dating named Barbara. One evening while sick in bed, Brian blind-sided by seemingly inexplicable visions of a blood-shot eyeball where his ceiling light used to be experiencing, pulsating bright lights, blue water flooding his bedroom, and a powerful feeling of euphoria. It’s a feeling the young man has never encountered before, and as you might imagine, and one he’s eager to experience again. Only thing is, he soon discovers that what he felt was due to a small, slimy, blue-hued, phallic, turd-like creature named Aylmer (or Elmer), but, bizarrely enough, that doesn’t seem to throw Bryan as much as you might think it would.

The precise origins of Aylmer are unknown, though it is revealed through its previous users that Aylmer has a sordid centuries-old past that can be traced back to countless now-fallen civilizations. Aylmer, a creature with friendly, sleepy eyes and palsy voice of John Zacherle (yep, the host of Shock Theater, Zacherley, himself) is quite willing to inject Brian with a mysterious bright blue fluid procured from a syringe-like appendage protruding from Aylmer’s enormous, sharp tooth-filled gob. Aylmer simply jacks his juice directly into Brian’s brain stem, injecting a little “Aylmer juice” which allows Brain to, once again, experience the unique pleasure of becoming unattached from the world and embracing visions of glorious lights in junk heaps, all the while laughing his ass off in chemically-induced glee. If Aylmer is anything, he is one helluva saleman, as he perfectly pitches to Bryan saying, “This is the start of your new life Brian, a life full of colors, music,light and euphoria. A life without pain, or hurt or suffering.” I mean, really, what could possibly be the drawback?…

Artwork by Marc Palm

Aylmer artwork by Marc Palm

Well, turns out Aylmer feeds on brains. Sure, animal brains are okay, but to become powerful he must munch on the human persuasion. So, the deal becomes clear to Brian after several night’s of blacking out under the influence, and waking to find blood stains in some pretty alarming locations on his person, that for each “fix” he must pay by hooking Aylmer up with a human brain to scarf down. And let me just say, Aylmer is one very sloppy eater and NO ONE has a quick and painless death at this parasite’s merciless bite. There’s no discrimination here, either. Folks of all race, gender, and class have their skulls bitten open and brains sucked out by Aylmer. From the security guard at the junk yard, to the man taking a dump in a bathroom stall, even the slutty girl with the enormous knockers ends up getting an Aylmer down the hatch in a disturbingly violent, yet rather hilarious sequence that has since been dubbed “The Blow Job Scene”. Trust me, it’s a must-see, classic, Trash Cinema moment.  And as Brian’s dependency on Aylmer grows, so does the threat to his family and friends. No one is safe from the destruction Aylmer can cause.

Henenlotter handles Brain Damage’s odyssey of a boy and his parasite with a great sense of grotesque comedy to lighten the load of an otherwise deeply dark and unsettling cautionary tale. There is one sequence in particular that is both hysterically funny and soul crushingly bleak as Brian has finally realized the dire cost of his  addiction. He decides he needs to pack up Aylmer and hold up in a derelict hotel room where he can quit Aylmer long enough to think straight and come up with some sort of solution to his problem. In short, he tries to quit Aylmer cold turkey. The sequence features Brian clinging to a radiator, quivering, practically swimming in his sweat, puking and sobbing as Aylmer laughs and cracks jokes at his host’s expense. For good measure, Brian even has a grotesque nightmare wherein he picks meaty, gore glazed chunks of his own brain out of his ear and horrified reaches for more and begins pulling a long, drippy, unending piece of tissue and literally unravelling his brain. No joke, this scene will have your stomach churning while you laugh at this graphic, gory take on the classic magician’s gag. Finally, Brian is reduced to a convulsing, filth-and-sweat-drenched shadow of his former self lying on the hotel room’s concrete floor in the fetal position. The pain of withdrawal is too intense for the young man to bear. And in desperation, in tears, Brian agrees to Aylmer’s demands. Someone must die so that Brian can get his fix. Aylmer chuckles with delight. He has won.

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Again, it’s that perfect blend of humor and downbeat terror which gives ‘Brain Damage’ its substantial power to both entertain and completely repulse. By the film’s end many people have fallen the voracious hunger of Aylmer, and Brian’s need to satiate his own need for Aylmer’s juice, including people Brian loves and cares for.  And in ‘Brain Damage”s pitch perfect, unconventional, ending, we are left with one of the most haunting and surrealistic images from Trash Cinema, as Brian’s glazed over eyes look through us, the screen fills with the brightest white light and crackles with electricity. It’s an audacious ending  and one that still gives me chills to this very day. I have often called Brain Damage the “Requiem for a Dream” of the Trash Cinema genre. I still feel this is an appropriate description of this film’s nature and intent. This is one example of how powerful Trash Cinema can be, and in my opinion, this is Henenlotter’s masterpiece.

‘Brain Damage’ is the kind of sleazy, down trodden horror film that’s unafraid to point the mirror back at society and has an eagerness to push buttons, tackle difficult subjects and shove your nose into the down and dirty details. It’s unabashedly gross, over the top, and even silly at times. But the core to ‘Brain Damage’ is one that steeped the horrors of our own world. The darkness of despair and the nightmare of addiction. The unsettling, dreadful feeling that you cannot function normally without first feeding this need that has become more powerful than your common sense, rational thought, even your own sex drive. It’s more important to you than your loved ones and their well being. Suddenly, this stuff is your drive. This is what keeps you alive. This is what gives your life meaning.

Gang, I can think of few things more horrifying. And Brain Damage handles the subject with creativity and respect.

Stay Trashy!

-Root




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