12/14/2020

The Pale Door (Review)

Director: Aaron B. Koontz
Writers: Cameron Burns, Aaron B. Koontz, Keith Lansdale 
Cast: Melora Walters, Stan Shaw, Pat Healy, Zachary Knighton, Noah Segan, Bill Sage
Year: 2020
Min: 96

We open by meeting two brothers, Jake and Duncan, whose house gets raided by a group of armed men. They are rescued by Lester (Stan Shaw), but their parents are gunned down and killed. Years later, Duncan (Zachary Knighton) is the leader of group of wanted outlaws named the Dalton gang. Jake (Devin Druid), meanwhile, earns an honest living working at a bar. where the Daltons hang out at. When one of their members ends up at the losing end of a gun fight, they are short one man for a big train robbery. Jake volunteers to take his place. Duncan eventually, but very hesitantly, ultimately agrees to this. 

Things quickly turn weird when the chest they are to steal from a train doesn't have money or gold, but instead a beautiful, young woman named Pearl (Natasha Barrett). She is wearing a Hannibal Lector-type mask that covers half her face. The gang are to bring the contents of said chest, to get paid by for the job. But, when Duncan gets shot in the gut, they realize that he needs medical attention. Pearl tells them that if they take her to her town, not only will they be handsomely rewarded, but that they can get help for Duncan there. They eventually take her to the brothel that she calls home. There they are greeted by Maria ( Melora Walters) the head of said brothel, which is inhabited by a bunch of gorgeous and sexy women. But, they soon reveal themselves to be in actuality hideous, burnt, and murderous, hag-like witches. The witches try to kill the outlaws and have a need for Jake's pure and untainted by sin blood.

Writer Joe (Bubba Ho-Tep) R. Lansdale serves as the executive producer on this horror/ western/ action movie. Directed and co-written by Aaron B. Koontz (who earlier this year gave us the wonderfully entertaining anthology flick Scare Package), this genre-bender is really cool and a lot of fun. The movie remined me of From Dusk Till Dawn, in the way that it starts off as one genre (in this case western) and then becomes something completely different, an action/ horror movie (much like Dusk, itself).

I absolutely love the score by Alex Cuervo. It manages to really capture the varying feelings that the movie goes for. It's driving for the exhilarating action scenes, and yet becomes tragic whenever the moment calls for it. It's honestly one of my favorite scores that I have heard this year. Also excellent is the editing, which was handled by Koontz, himself, along with Greg MacLennan. One of my favorite examples of this is the fun scene which cuts between the various outlaws with the different ladies from the brothel.

Another highlight is the fact that the film has some real good gore. One scene involving a spur is particularly brutal. Aside from this the movie also has headshots, blood squibs, flesh ripping, immolation, impaling, throat slitting, and more. The practical FX by Ryan Schaddalee, which includes the aforementioned splatter FX, as well as the hideous look for the witches, are excellent.

The ladies who inhabit the brothel are absolutely gorgeous. They help to add a bit of sexiness to the proceedings, well before they turn ugly, anyway! We even get a little bit of topless nudity. All of this is a nice little welcome bit that isn't as common in the horror genre as it may have been in the past. The gorgeous Melora Walters makes for a great leader to the witches, as Maria, as her portrayal feels dangerous, evil, and seductive. I also really loved the heartbreakingly beautiful Natasha Knighton as Pearl, who is my favorite from the witches in the film.

But, then everyone is excellent in their roles. I especially loved Bill Sage, who as the badass member of the Dalton gang named Dodd, is my absolute favorite character in this flick. The relationship between the two brothers, Jake and Duncan, are the heart of the film. Both actors, Devin Druid and Zachary Knighton, respectively, are great in these rules. This is most especially true of Druid. He puts his heart and soul into the role and helps to add a great deal of emotion to what is going on. 

Another thing that is cool about the protagonists is how diverse they are. Black, Native American, gay, and female are represented amongst them, making for a nice bit of diversity in the characters. This is something you would never have seen in a true, old school western, but it is a nice idea. That is done well enough to never feel forced but natural and works within the the context of this story is to be applauded.

The Pale Door is well made, fun, and wonderfully acted. It is a great mix of western, action, and supernatural horror. Sexy, exciting, and bloody, it makes for an action packed and engaging viewing. But, what really makes it work and stand out so well is the heart that comes from the story and relationship between the two brother characters. It manages to tug at your own heart and makes you care more for them. The flick begins streaming exclusively on Shudder this December, Thursday 17th. 


3 out of 4

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