Joe R. Lansdale on the Screen: “Cold in July”

Dog bites man, man bites back and puts dog down. That’s just the way of life for these Texans in 1983. There’s no need to involve the law. Scores are settled with guts and bullets. There’s no time for pity or for words. Gut-up, grab your shotgun, and get the job done.

Cold in July is the first novel by Joe R. Lansdale to be adapted to the screen. Anyone familiar with Lansdale’s writing (especially the mysteries involving Hap and Leonard) will recognize the blue-collar, working-man’s wit in the film. The character nuances that take you out of the story for a brief, quick second and force you to glance at other audience members to see if they recognize the absurdity is part of the world that Lansdale’s characters inhabit. And let’s not forget the violence and mayhem, the total disregard for order and nobility and the maniacal glee of letting gun shots and shotgun blasts ring out and cover the walls with blood. It’s always a cold day in July in the world of Joe R. Lansdale and there will be Hell to pay, you can bet your bare-bottom ass on that.

Cold in July
Three vigilantes seek vengeance & truth in Cold in July

What starts as a man fearing for the safety of his family after shooting a burglar that breaks into his home in the middle of the night, turns into a story of a man righting his wrongs. In the first thirty minutes of the film we are lead to believe one thing: this is a thriller and a game of cat and mouse in which a man and his family are being stalked by a convicted killer. But then the story is twisted and the plot spins us in a new direction. And then, just when we think that we’ve got it all figured out and we know which way this story is headed, another plot point happens and we’re spun further into a downward spiral, following the path of a different character. That’s three plot points in one film and a transition from one character’s goal to another character’s goal….rather ambitious for any filmmaker or screenwriter, but necessary for a story that is a straightforward action and crime film. There is a bit of a mystery, but it’s not the mystery that kept my attention through Cold in July. It’s the dark places that a man is willing to go in order to right a wrong and the bloody chaos that he creates in doing so.

Michael C. Hall shoots a man in Cold in July

I enjoyed the location and time period of Cold in July. These are Texans in the year 1983 with mullet haircuts and pleated pants. I remember the style of dress from my youth and it was as silly then as it is now. But the film does not point a finger at it. The filmmaker reminds you that your back in 80’s with a synthesizer score, a video rental store, and goof-ball clothing worn by the characters that’s considered too hip to be cool, but it’s not the primary focus of the film. The 1980’s is an additional element that makes the film all the more fun and pays homage to those drive-in thriller/horror movies that Joe R. Lansdale is so fond of. Regardless of the setting, the story of a man tending to his duties as a father and protecting his family is there, on the screen. It could’ve been explored further, and we could’ve dove deeper into the psyche of Russel (played by Sam Shepard) and the torment and pain that nearly ate him up inside when he was forced with the decision of killing his son, but that was overlooked by the filmmakers and instead attention was focused on the grittiness and rawness that is the world of Joe R. Lansdale.




2 thoughts on “Joe R. Lansdale on the Screen: “Cold in July”

  1. This movie sounds great. I’m excited to see it. Total side note: I saw “Prisoners” recently and thought all the performances were incredible

    1. Just read “The Bottoms” and loved it. Three days later I ordered an
      On Demand Movie called “Cold In July”. Great movie, and what
      a coincidence that it was based on a book by Joe R. Lansdale.
      I will definitely read more by Mr. Lansdale, and watch out for other
      films that are based on his books.

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