Review: The Pale Door (2020)

Joe R. Lansdale is one of the best writers of horror/western hybrids. So I took it as a good omen to see that he was “presenting” The Pale Door. Another good omen was the talent involved, director Aaron B. Koontz (Scare Package, Camera Obscura) and co-written by Koontz his frequent collaborator Cameron Burns and Joe’s son Keith Lansdale (Creepshow, Christmas With the Dead). And a plot the pits the Dalton Gang against a coven of witches in a ghost town brothel certainly sounded like fun.

After one of their number gets himself killed Duncan (Zachary Knighton, Magnum P.I., Hot) is forced to bring his little brother Jake (Devin Druid, Cam) along on the gang’s next job. However what should have been a simple train robbery goes becomes complicated when it turns out the chest contains a woman, Pearl (Natasha Bassett, House By the Lake).

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To further add to the problems Duncan takes a bullet forcing the gang to look for a doctor. Pearl says her home is nearby, there will be a reward for her rescue, and the town has a doctor. It doesn’t, but it does have a coven of witches.

The Pale Door starts out nicely as a conventional western before gradually sliding into the Twilight Zone. And then just as you start to ask yourself why there would be a brothel in the literal middle of nowhere, all hell breaks loose. The result is a mix of jump scares, atmosphere and action scenes that keep the film moving along at a nice pace.

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The film accomplishes a lot on what appears to have been a modest budget. Apart from the western setting, there are flashbacks to Cotton Mather (James Landry Hébert, Dylan Dog: Dead of Night, Carnage Park) and the Salem witch trials. There are also a lot of effects. We see plenty of the witches in their true, burnt form. They also have abilities that include running across ceilings like lizards as well as the usual spell casting. This means we get an inventive mix of bloody deaths. There’s even a rotating church. And you know what happens to crosses when they’re turned upside down.

The film’s publicity states The Pale Door is about the Dalton Gang, but I don’t remember them being called that in the film. Nor do any of their names match the actual Dalton brothers. But honestly, who expects historical accuracy in a film like this? I came in expecting a fun time, and that’s what I got.

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Keith Lansdale previously adapted one of his father’s stories for the film Christmas With the Dead. After seeing The Pale Door I’d love to see them bring Dead in the West to the screen. It would be a great follow up.

RLJE Films will release The Pale Door in theatres, on Demand and Digital August 21st. Blu Ray/DVDs will be available on Oct 6th. It will be available on the streaming service Shudder at an unspecified date. You can check the film’s Facebook page for more information.

Jim Morazzini

Movie buff, gym rat and crazy cat guy

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