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Joe Lansdale Wrote the Cult Pulp Thriller 'Cold in July'

Which has now been turned into a film, so we asked him what he thinks of it.
June 25, 2014, 5:28am

Photo via Wiki Commons.

American author Joe Lansdale is a prolific guy. He’s written 43 novels spanning genres from horror to science fiction, penned numerous comic books and short story collections, and has won (or been nominated) for so many literary awards that it would be grotesque to name them all. He’s also a leading martial arts expert.

To add to Joe’s hefty list of accomplishments, one of his novels has once again been adapted into a film. Based on Lansdale’s 1989 book of the same name, Cold in July is a pulp crime thriller starring Michael C. Hall (Six Feet Under, Dexter) and legendary playwright and actor Sam Shepard (Days of Heaven, The Right Stuff).

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The story begins when regular Texas family man Richard Dane (Hall) shoots dead an unarmed burglar in his home, a split-second decision that turns him into small-town hero. Richard, understandably, is rattled by the event, and that’s before he's even had to contend with the father of the man he killed – murderous ex-convict Ben Russell (Shepard), who loiters outside his home and threatens his family, hell-bent on revenge.

It’s a masterful exercise in suspense – a classic pulp narrative unfolding with violence and intrigue. We were curious to know what Lansdale thought of the film and the way in which the original incarnation of the story played out on screen, so we called him up for a chat.

VICE: How did Cold In July come about when you first wrote it?
Lansdale: When I wrote the novel I had just become a father for the first time. My son was the same age as the character Richard Dane’s son in the novel. It started with a visit to look at a new house where there happened to be a bullet hole in the ceiling. That night I went home and dreamt this sequence – every hour or so I’d wake up and have to wash my face down. It was a strange gift handed to me. All these factors must have been boiling in my subconscious. I never tell anyone stories while I’m working on them, but this time I told my wife.

It's strange that it literally came to you in a dream.
It was probably the most literal dream I’ve ever had. All of the strange, oddball characters were already there – all I had to do was give them dialogue and add a few odds and ends.

A still from Cold In July.

Were you involved with the production on the film?
Yeah, I was a co-producer and had a lot of involvement. I’ve been on a lot of sets and it was the best set I’ve been on. The director, Jim Mickle, handles the set nicely.

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Were you happy with how the film was adapted?
Of course, as an author, there were a few quibbles, but overall I was very happy with it. I’ve seen it 11 times and enjoyed it every time. I was really excited about the performances of Michael C. Hall, Don Johnson, Sam Shepard and Vanessa Hall. I think Michael was amazing because he’s in every scene and has to gradually change throughout the film.

Was the film gory enough?
I’m not necessarily fond of gore per se, but I think a story sometimes needs that to make it more realistic. They didn't pull that back, which gave it a buzz and made it hyper real.

You say you’re not fond of gore, but you’re regularly referred to as belonging to the Splatterpunk movement.
I hate that name. I’ve written stories that sit within [that movement], but I’ve written so many other stories. I wouldn’t want to say I was part of any movement. I felt splatterpunk was a limited label.

A still from Cold In July.

As a writer, how do you feel about your story being turned into a film?
I was glad that the film is pretty faithful to the story. The first time I saw the film as a writer I was looking for what they changed or hadn't changed. The film had to be condensed to fit into 90 minutes. The book’s got more layers because I had more room. The novel is fast paced but the film is even more so. It’s almost like a nightmare, a strange horrid one. Once it gets started it’s like a dream that makes a certain kind of sense. Momentum is important for the film. And the film doesn't just take an expected path – that’s one of the things I was most pleased with.

Did you like the seediness of the soundtrack?
It reminded me of an 80s movie, but it also reminded me of 70s films like Taxi Driver. It had this feel with it, like “to hell with Hollywood; I’m doing this, I’m going for it”. It’s terrific.

It’s almost unnerving.
I would say it is unnerving. It starts building. It's like, “Hell, man!” It’s like Chinese water torture but more melodious.

Cold In July is out in the UK on the 27th of June