In Aaron B. Koontz’s The Pale Door, a gang of outlaws bite off more than they can chew after a simple train robbery turns sour. Seeking shelter and medical attention for their injured leader, the gang find themselves in a mysterious brothel run by a coven of witches. It’s a modern western unafraid to address America’s dark past but also a wicked and weird horror story that comes out guns blazing against an army of witches thirsty for blood. The Pale Door is a mashup of genres that fit so perfectly together it’s a wonder we don’t see more horror movies set in the wild west. It’s also an incredibly ambitious project for such an indie production, but one that never fails to deliver a good, gory witch. (And bonus points too for having one of the coolest posters ever!)
The Pale Door stars Devin Druid (13 Reasons Why), Zachary Knighton (The Hitcher), Noah Segan (Knives Out), Stan Shaw (Monster Squad), Pat Healy (The Innkeepers), Bill Sage (We Are What We Are) Melora Walters (The Butterfly Effect) and Natasha Bassett (Hail, Caesar!). The film marks the second release in 2020 from director Aaron B. Koontz who recently debuted his horror-comedy anthology Scare Package on Shudder’s The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs. The Pale Door is (without a doubt) a perfect indie horror to see at the drive-in, which is super convenient because you can see it in select theatres and drive-ins beginning August 21, 2020.
Jake Dalton (Devin Druid) and Duncan Dalton (Zachary Knighton), modeled after the real-life Dalton Brothers outlaws, are two brothers separated by the way of the gun. Orphaned at a young age, Duncan has turned to a life of stagecoach holdups and bank heists while his younger brother Jake hopes to one day earn enough honest money to buy back the family’s land. Short one man for the score fo a lifetime, Duncan reluctantly allows Jake to join the gang for a late-night train robbery. Everything seems to be going fine until the chest they expected to be filled with gold is, instead, hiding a young handcuffed woman. And things really go south when Duncan is unexpectedly shot with no hope for survival if they don’t get him to a doctor in short order. Trying to choose between options that are bad and worse, the gang reluctantly follows the mysterious lady back to her town where they are welcomed in by a coven of deadly (not to mention undead) witches masquerading as beautiful women.
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PS- These witches came to fucking play! Our ragtag band of misfits are in the brothel for maybe fifteen minutes before the ladies have them loaded with booze, separated, and ready for sacrifice. Not to mention the fact that they completely drop the lusty-prostitute facade in record time to terrorize the group in their true form. I could talk for hours about the design of these witches. They’re warty, long-noised, high-hunched look is reminiscent of Roald Dahl’s The Witches. You know, those ungodly creatures that haunted your nightmares as a child. They bath in blood, they crawl across the ceiling, and they shriek like banshees as they fly across the room. These witchy women, however, employ a lot of real-world horror into their look. They look less like pointy hat spellcasters and more like hideous, human-sized crows burned at the stake but back from the dead for revenge.
“I want to live a world with more western horror movies and I want them all to be as fun and freaky as The Pale Door. Yee-haw!”
The Pale Door is, first and foremost, a horror movie with blood-hungry witches but it’s also a self-aware western that seeks to fill some of the gaps in its own history. That choice adds an honesty to the story that throws weight behind some sobering confessions while the surviving members of the gang come to terms with a life of violence before meeting their own violent end. For a genre so obsessed with bank robbers and outlaw gunslingers, it’s really interesting that it rarely finds a reason to acknowledge the fact that America’s “good guys” fought, stole, and killed their way to success too. Western movies, particularly American-made Westerns have a reverence for “how the west was won” without ever really owning up to how the west was won. Those classic films are of a time where America was still creating its own mythology, unaware that the history books could be re-written years later no matter who declared themselves the winner a few generations prior.
I have a deep appreciation for classic westerns, but watching them has always felt like propaganda for a time that never really existed. Personally, I enjoy movies that play like time capsules of a different era because it’s as close as I’m ever going to get to time travel, but if there is never a reevaluation of these stories they will only continue to be treated as fact. If we never looked back, we would still assume the land was tamed by those brave men and women who defended it from the savages. We would still be patting ourselves on the back for building an economic system that was favorable to everyone regardless of race, color, or creed. We would still be praising a small group of scared men for saving us all from the evils of Satan-loving witches that threatened our ancestors.
I had a lot of fun watching The Pale Door but, like all indie films, it breaks my heart to think about what it would have looked like with a larger budget. Like every low-budget movie going-for-broke, it’s a little rough around the edges but it never loses itself. And, to be fair, more money can mean more compromises. There’s a strong chance that if production was magically handed a blank check, everything I love about the movie could have wound up in the waste bin. The Pale Door is a surprisingly sentimental movie that is trying to right the wrongs of not just an entire genre of film, but also generations of real-life horrors that are so grim and disturbing we’d rather believe it never happened than own up to such a dark past. What it lacks in sophistication (for lack of a better word), it makes up for in authenticity and a dust-covered coven of unrelenting witch creatures. I want to live a world with more western horror movies and I want them all to be as fun and freaky as The Pale Door. Yee-haw!
Presented by RLJE Films and Shudder, The Pale Door hits select theatres, drive-ins and VOD August 21, 2020. Let us know what you thought of the films and if you’re dying to see more Western Horror over on Twitter, Reddit, and Facebook in the Horror Movie Fiend Club! And be sure to check out our interview with director Aaron B. Koontz on the Nightmare on Film Street Podcast.