The Pale Door (Movie Review)

Two brothers with a traumatic past face down a coven of witches in The Pale Door, a Horror Western that arrives on DVD and Blu-ray on Tuesday, October 6, 2020 thanks to RLJE Films and Shudder.

After a failed train robbery, the outlaw Dalton Gang—led by Duncan (Zachary Knighton: The Hitcher 2007, Magnum P.I. series) and featuring his baby brother Jake (Devin Druid: 13 Reasons Why series, Greyhound 2020)— are left to make a quick decision: return the young woman, Pearl (Natasha Bassett: Hail, Caesar! 2016, Spy Intervention 2020), that they have surprisingly uncovered and hope for a handsome reward, or skip town and lose any chance of a pay day.

The Pale Door still

Once one of their own is shot and they are in dire need of a medic, they find themselves stumbling into a seemingly uninhabited town square in search of help. Inside the local brothel, Maria (Melora Walters: Dead Poets Society 1989, Magnolia 1999) and her beautiful ladies entice the group, promising them assistance as well as, ahem, relaxation. But everything is not exactly as it appears to be, and the Dalton Gang—including Lester (Stan Shaw: The Monster Squad 1987, Daylight 1996), Dodd (Bill Sage: We Are What We Are 2013, Hap and Leonard series), and Chief (James Whitecloud: The Only Good Indian 2009, Hell on the Border 2019)—are soon to find themselves involved in the timeless battle between good and evil.

The Pale Door was directed by Aaron B. Koontz (Camera Obscura 2017, Scare Package 2019), who co-wrote the script with Cameron Burns (Crypt TV’s Bishop Takes Queen short 2016, Camera Obscura 2017) and Keith Lansdale (Christmas with the Dead 2012, Creepshow series). The film also features the acting talents of Tina Parker (Breaking Bad series, Better Call Saul series), Pat Healy (The Innkeepers 2011, Cheap Thrills 2013), Noah Segan (Looper 2012, Knives Out 2019), James Landry Hébert (Stranger Things series, Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood 2019), Jonny Mars (A Ghost Story 2017, The Honor Farm 2017), and many more.

An intriguing blend of Western and Supernatural Thriller, The Pale Door has all the hallmarks of a low-budget flick, including a lack of attention to fine detail. Because of this, the film is meant to be a bloody good time and not a multi-layered commentary or work of historical accuracy. Which should be fairly self-explanatory considering the whole coven of immortal witches who look like goblins deal that’s going on, along with the 200+ year-old Maria who was burned at the stake in Salem, Massachusetts and then gave birth.

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Hitting somewhere square in the middle of the recent Horror pack, but certainly with some unique flourishes, The Pale Door is condemned by its lack of focus. A story that involves the love and loyalty between two brothers along with a coven who are searching for a pure sacrifice, it’s hard to be wowed by any particular thread within this overreaching tale. Though the botched train robbery adds some action and moves the first act along, it truly amounts to nothing as the train is stationary the entire time and the gun fight is lackluster. Meanwhile, there’s an entirely too lengthy scene inside of a church that merely appears to stall for time, and the inclusion of the brothel is going to be a huge letdown for some. So don’t get too excited: this is not 1996’s Bordello of Blood.

All these varying approaches meld together to create a story that, despite traveling from Colonial times to the Wild West (though it was actually shot in Oklahoma), is more heart-warming drama bathed in blood than anything truly terrifying. Certainly the decision to make the lovely ladies into goblin-like creatures is definitely bizarre, but we’ll give the filmmakers points for their creativity. That said, there is a positive in the cinematography of Andrew Scott Baird (We Love Paleo documentary 2016, Scare Package 2019), which is solid and, at times, utilizes some intriguing angles and unique approaches to spice things up. Meanwhile, the original score by Alex Cuervo (Bad Kids Go to Hell 2012, Last Girl Standing 2015) is well-done, subtle, and helps maintain the film’s mood.

The entire cast do well in their roles, though there are definite stand-outs. Knighton’s Duncan is calm and collected, a leader with heart. In this, Knighton sets the tone for the Dalton Gang and provides his co-stars with an excellent foundation for their own performances. The best of the lot being Parker’s Brenda, who is one saucy outlaw. Bold and brash, with notes of Melissa McCarthy’s hysterically obnoxious portrayal in 2011’s Bridesmaids, Parker takes her Brenda over the top in the short time that she’s allotted.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is Walters’ Maria, a refined Southern belle who is fully believable as a Wild West madam. Elegant in her delivery of her wicked character, Walters leaves an impression as she weaves a spell with each syllable that leaves her poisonous lips. And though he is not as prominently featured, Shaw’s character Lester plays a pivotal role in the tale of the two brothers and the actor carries himself with pride, delivering a man who might be in a gang but he has true heart.

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All of this said, it’s important to note that The Pale Door is not intended for the super squeamish: there is plenty of blood splashed all over, a partial Chelsea smile from a boot spur, as well as a charred corpse giving birth. If you’re one of those people that simply cannot handle rivers of red, well, this film literally has one.

At 96 minutes of plasma raining from the sky and bullets zipping around an abandoned town, the film never exactly overstays its welcome. All of its myriad elements add up to an experience that is entertaining enough to fill its runtime if you enjoy quirky Horror offerings, but certainly not something that is going to hold the attention of non-Horror freaks or Western aficionados. Simply meant to be a fun ride, The Pale Door isn’t rocket science but it certainly has its moments. For this, Cryptic Rock gives The Pale Door 3 of 5 stars.

RLJE Films/ Shudder

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