Posted in: by Robert Horton, Contributors, Film Reviews

Film Review: ‘Cold in July’ (RH)

Michael C. Hall and Sam Shepard

Midway through this movie, a junky old Pinto backs into a shiny red Cadillac. A fight results and a piece of plot is revealed, but the memorable thing about the moment is the collision. How did we get to the point where a pale blue, half-wrecked Pinto should occupy the same space as this gaudy, mint-condition Cadillac? That disconnect is actually at the heart of Cold in July, an uneven but densely packed new drama from a prolific young director, Jim Mickle. His previous films, Stake Land and We Are What We Are, delved into horror, but with wry detachment and flickering humor.

The genre of Cold in July is the modern-dress Western, drawn from a novel by Joe R. Lansdale. Richard (Michael C. Hall), a mild picture-framer in a Texas town, shoots a home intruder in the opening scene.

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Posted in: by Richard T. Jameson, Contributors, Film Reviews

Film Review: ‘Cold in July’ (RTJ)

Michael C. Hall

One night in 1989, an East Texas couple (Vinessa Shaw and Michael C. Hall) wake to the sound of someone prowling their house. Husband Richard gets the pistol out of the shoebox on the bedroom closet shelf and loads it. Down the hall, a flashlight beam is dancing in the livingroom. Richard steps in to surprise the masked intruder. Masked intruder is duly surprised. So is Richard when the gun he just loaded goes off in his hand, not quite on its own, but almost. (It didn’t help that Richard’s wife Ann stepped up behind him just then and asked what was happening.) Now the intruder sits/falls on the livingroom couch, his blood all over the couch, the wall behind it, and that nice painting of a summer landscape hanging there. It takes him only an additional second to die.

Despite ordinary citizen Richard’s discomfiture with having shot and killed somebody, local law enforcement assures him all will be well. True, the victim turned out to be unarmed, but he was a known scumbag and Richard acted out of “fear of life.” Besides, the guy was the son of a previous-generation scumbag (“The shit don’t fall far from the tree”) serving a long sentence in Huntsville. Except, oh, it seems that that fella just got out on parole. And there he is, standing at the edge of the cemetery watching the perfunctory burial of his offspring, and wishing Richard a nice day.

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Posted in: Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, Contributors, DVD, Film Reviews, Horror

“Stake Land” – Welcome to the Vampire Apocalypse

The similarity in the title of the indie vampire drama Stake Land (Dark Skies/MPI) and the 2009 comic zombie road movie horror Zombieland is coincidental but fitting, as much for the differences in the films as for the similarities. There’s a plague turning humans into undead creatures out for blood, an orphaned boy (Connor Paolo as Martin) learning to survive, a father figure (Nick Damici) with an unspoken past (he’s simply known as Mister to one and all) and rumors of a safe place far away. And the vamps here are a lot more like zombies (by way of feral carnivores) than the social creatures we associate with vampire cabals.

But the similarities end there. This is no gallows comedy, it’s a survival drama that has more in common with The Road or George Romero’s late Dead films, but without the soul-crushing bleakness of the former or the horror-as-spectacle of the latter. The cabal here is a fringe Christian sect turned authoritarian cult that thinks the bloodsuckers were sent by God to cleanse humanity and they figure anyone who doesn’t tow their line needs a fatal cleansing. Quite frankly, they are scarier than the vamps.

The symbolism isn’t all that subtle and the backwoods fanatics tend toward hysterical stereotype—neo-Nazi nightmare by way of survivalist nutcase—but director Jim Mickle and co-screenwriter Nick Damici keep the film focused on the people and the relationships. There’s a scruffy immediacy to the direction—low budget production, practical locations and shooting on the fly—but also a grace to the imagery and a commitment to the performances. These characters don’t break loose and confess all, but the sense of comfort they find in one another warms the film.

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