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Featured DVD Review: A Cold Day in Hell

June 12th, 2011

A Cold Day in Hell - Buy from Amazon

Michael Madsen is just shy of the $1 billion mark for his career. He's so close that it would take just one film opening in wide release to get him over the top. However, while he's made countless movies in the past several years, none have opened wide, while most have been low-budget direct-to-DVD affairs. This is the case with A Cold Day in Hell, a low-budget Western that is hitting the home market this weekend. Is it worth checking out, or is Michael Madsen's name the only reason the film was made in the first place.

The Movie

A Cold Day in Hell takes place in a small town called Paradise Junction and features two separate stories which eventually intertwine. The first involves William Drayton, a sharpshoot in the civil war whose wife and daughter were killed 12 years ago. After getting revenge on the men responsible, he moved into the mountains to live in seclusion. At the beginning of the film we learn his daughter, Elizabeth, survived and was living with an Indian tribe for a while. However, when she learned her father might be alive, she traveled from Kansas City to find him. The other story is about Horrace Scarsdale, the banker / Robber Barron of Paradise Junction. He's trying to get a railway built into town, which will turn the small town into a booming city, and make him rich at the same time. Meanwhile, Michael Madsen plays U.S. Marshal Stallings, who knows Scarsdale is corrupt and wants one of his deputies to infiltrate the gang.

The two stories meet up when Elizabeth Drayton is being escorted along the last leg of your journey by a local sheriff, Thomas, and a preacher, Travis. The trio are surrounded by several of Scarsdale's men, but before any of the men can hurt the three travelers, William Drayton appears and saves the day. However, even after hearing what Scarsdale has been doing, he still just wants to live his life in peace, so it will take more to get him involved. But when he sees it first hand, he has to act.

So how is this movie? Well, the DVD cover says Michael Madsen in big red letters at the top, but he's in the movie for only a handful of scenes, several of which he doesn't interact with any of the characters. They are selling the film using an actor making a cameo appearance in the movie, and frankly I don't blame them. It's not a very unique story and the film was made with an obviously low budget, which hurt its execution. (This is especially true with the climatic train crash scene.) It also looks low-budget in other ways. There is an early scene in a general store, and there was obviously not enough money in the budget to stock the store with enough period goods. The low budget also hurt the quality of the stunts, and there were enough of those that it was a significant problem.

The film also has some pacing issues and drags at times. While many of the actors were inexperienced. In the end, Michael Madsen's short role was clearly the best part of the movie.

On a side note, the film is a sequel to All Hell Broke Loose, which starred David Carradine in a similarly short role.

The Extras

There is an audio commentary track, but it's in the set-up menu, not the special features menu. I hate that. The only extra in the special features menu is an image gallery. There are quite a few participants in the film, but even so, there was still too much dead air.

The Verdict

While True Grit showed the Western genre is still alive and can connect with audiences today, A Cold Day in Hell shows it takes a lot more resources to pull off than other genres that can thrive in low-budget. The DVD isn't devoid of extras, but it's still not worth a rental.

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Filed under: Video Review, A Cold Day in Hell