Q: I read in the BFI Companion to Horror that JUST BEFORE DAWN was a 'for-hire job' which you 'rescripted.' How drastic were the changes you made to the original script? And how did the changes go down with the people who employed you?!
Basically the producers hired me because I made Squirm and Blue Sunshine which meant I was acceptable as a director to guarantee their foreign sales. The script was God awful, a thing called 'The Last Ritual' I took the job on the provision that I could change it and they gave me carte blanch with the provision that it was the basic 'kids go into the woods and get terrorized' movie. I made sure to keep the main characters names the same so a quick skim through wouldn't freak out the buyers. But to give you an idea of how drastic the changes were, there were no mountain twins in the first script. It all centered around some back woods snake ritual. It really sucked. So, I made up Just Before Dawn as I went along, using 'Deliverance' as my model. Incidentally, one of the writers of the Last Ritual script teaches SCREENWRITING at NYU! And this was his only 'produced' script. Those who know....
Q: Every time I've seen JUST BEFORE DAWN people always comment on the film's climatic confrontation between one of the killers and the 'final- girl'. This scene, where the killer chokes to death on the girl's fist, is so unexpected that, on first viewing, it always elicits gasps of disbelief from the audience. It is undeniably a very effective moment; one that I've always assumed was you taking the, by then, stereotypical situation of final girl vs. killer to new levels of shocking absurdism. Is that right?
That's right. Gotta keep thinking up different ways to skin the same cat. Don't remember what I was smoking when I dreamed up that one, but it sure as hell wasn't in the original script.
Q: Presumably when the film was being made you were well aware of the current trend in horror movies at the beginning of the 1980's. Other films of the time seemed to gleefully embrace slasher cliché, without any attempt to divert from the generic bandwagon; however, although JUST BEFORE DAWN includes many of the elements you would expect of a genre film of that time- namely teens 'n' machetes, it always seemed to me that you were striving to make a very individual film. That although the tried and trusted framework was in place the film was imbued with a sense of the arcane; that there was always something unseen, and unpredictable, lurking beneath the surface- a quality it shares with your 1976 movie SQUIRM. Was this your intention?
As I mentioned, I was very impressed with 'Deliverance' and process of man being reduced to animal to survive. I wouldn't relate that to Squirm though. Sometimes a worm is just a worm. Let me say this for the first time in print, or cyber print, I never SAW either The Hills Have Eyes, NOR 'Texas Chain Saw Massacre' That's right, not on film, video, or any other way. But critics insisted I drew heavily from both these films (I think you said it too) for Just Before Dawn. Deliverance yes, but that's it.
Q: Did you find any of the other slasher movies of that time interesting?
I never liked 'slasher movies' with the exception of Halloween.That's why I never really made one. I figured, they certainly don't need me to do this stuff, plenty of directors out there to film girls running away knife wielding maniacs. The end of JBFD was the first and last time I did it and it made me very uncomfortable doing it. I have two daughters which could be the reason.
Q: JUST BEFORE DAWN appears to be the last horror film you made, was this through choice or through circumstance?
Both. I needed material that fit my style and never found a way of coming up with any without writing it myself. Then,the idea has to spring on me. It never did.
Q: Do you have any plans to return to the genre in the near future?
I would love to do another horror movie if I had a good original script. If anyone has a good one, and I mean ORIGINAL and one that fits my style, send on through!