The Pale Door (2020)

A scene from the western-horror film 'The Pale Door' (courtesy RLJE Films)



Devin Druid, Zachary Knighton, Noah Segan, Stan Shaw, Pat Healy, Bill Sage, Melora Walters, Natasha Bassett, Tina Parker, James Landry Hébert

Directed by Aaron B. Koontz

Austin filmmaker Aaron B. Koontz blends the Salem Witch Trials with the train robbing-Dalton Gang for the western-horror mashup “The Pale Door.” With practical effects reminiscent of Nicolas Roeg’s 1990 film “The Witches” and a cast that includes the wonderful Stan Shaw and the always entertaining Pat Healy, the B-film is a fun ride that doesn’t take itself too seriously–Think “From Dusk till Dawn” rather than “Bone Tomahawk.”

The story begins with a quick prologue showing how Duncan Dalton (Zachary Knighton) and his little brother Jake (Devin Druid) were rescued by family friend Lester (Stan Shaw) after witnessing their parents’ murder.

Fast forward to the present where wanted posters promise a hefty reward for Duncan, the leader of the notorious Dalton Gang known for robbing banks and trains. Jake on the other hand, now a teenager, has managed to stay on the straight and narrow by making on honest living working as a custodian in a saloon. FYI, this is a fictionized version of the notorious outlaws and not based on the actual brothers who operated in Oklahoma and Kansas in the late 1800s.

When the gang loses a member right before a big train heist, Duncan reluctantly agrees to let Jake ride along to fill the void. The nighttime robbery goes off without a hitch, however, in place of the expected gold bounty the outlaws discover a large padlocked treasure chest containing a live young woman, tied and gagged Hannibal Lecter-style. Her name is Pearl (Natasha Bassett) and when they ask her why she was shackled in a guarded chest, the innocent-looking damsel answers, “I’m afraid I don’t know why” and explains “These men just took me from my home.” She promises the outlaw gang a handsome reward if they return her home, which happens to be a brothel in the small ghost town Potemkin.

Duncan was wounded in the train heist and since the robbery went bust with no loot, the gang decides to deliver Pearl home in the hopes of a doctor and a reward. Upon arrival, the group is welcomed by Maria (Melora Walters from HBO’s “Big Love”), the brothel’s madam who promises to get Duncan patched up while her ladies take care of the men.

Flashbacks show how Maria burned at the stake hundreds of years ago in Salem and the ladies of the night are actually witches in her coven who eventually reveal their true forms to the outlaws. With long pointy noses and little hair, the witch makeup effects resemble Jim Henson’s final work on Roeg’s 1990 film starring Anjelica Huston.

The film falls into familiar tropes, once again the witches are after virgin blood–Where are all the witches and vampires that want lascivious blood?–I guess that’s one way they live for centuries. “Better to protect rather than regret.” And while scares are as hard to find as accurate historical figures, the film does a suitable job at pleasing gore fans.

Written by Koontz, frequent collaborator Cameron Burns, and Keith Lansdale, whose father Joe R. Lansdale (“Bubba Ho-Tep”), fellow Texan and acclaimed writer, serves as the film’s executive producer, “The Pale Door” lacks the production value and frights of “Bone Tomahawk” and 2018’s chilling “The Wind,” but it’s a satisfactory B-movie entry in the genre that should please horror fans over those who favor a good ole western.

(3 stars)

In select theaters and available VOD.

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Joe Friar is a member of the Critics Choice Association (Los Angeles) and the Houston Film Critics Society. A lifelong fan of cinema, he co-founded the Victoria Film Society, Frels Fright Fest, and is a Rotten Tomatoes approved critic. 

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Joe Friar is a member of the Critics Choice Association (Los Angeles) and the Houston Film Critics Society. A lifelong fan of cinema, he co-founded the Victoria Film Society, Frels Fright Fest, and is a Rotten Tomatoes approved critic.

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