23rd Oct2020

Frightfest 2020: ‘The Pale Door’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Melora Walters, Zachary Knighton, Stan Shaw, Noah Segan, Bill Sage, Natasha Bassett, Pat Healy, Devin Druid, James Landry Hébert, Tina Parker, Alexandra Harris, Peggy Schott, Da Leigh, Jeremy King, Jennifer Rader | Written by Cameron Burns, Aaron B. Koontz, Keith Lansdale | Directed by Aaron B. Koontz

After gang leader Duncan reluctantly recruits his straight-arrow younger brother Jake to participate in their next great train robbery he’s seriously wounded when the heist goes sideways. Finding shelter in a seemingly uninhabited ghost town, Jake seeks help for their wounded leader and is surprised to stumble upon a welcoming brothel in the town’s square. But the beautiful women who greet them are actually a coven of witches with very sinister plans for the unsuspecting outlaws, especially the virgin among them.

If we’re honest, horror westerns are VERY difficult to get right. On one side there’s dross like Umbrage and Gallowalkers, both of which played Frightfest’s of the past; then on the other hand there’s brilliant films like 2014’s Brit horror Blood Moon, the time-travel horror High Noon and Emma Tammi’s The Wind, which screened at Frightfest last tear. Though, honestly, the bad often outweighs the good in this particular genre, which is why – I think – it takes a brave soul to even attempt a horror western.

Thank god then Aaron B. Koontz is a brave soul…

Starting very much in the vein of a traditional, if low-budget, western, The Pale Door pretty swiftly takes a left turn into the weird as Duncan and his gang find a girl, Pearl (Natasha Bassett) in chest they’ve just robbed. It only gets more horrific as they’re tricked into a brothel in the middle of nowhere and The Pale Door goes all From Dusk Till Dawn! Yes our gang of cowboys find themselves in the middle of a witches coven only these witches – in a superb display of grotesque effects work – aren’t as gorgeous as they first appear, slowly revealing their crusty, burnt out bodies to Duncan and his gang. The shit then pretty much hits the fan and it’s cowboys versus witches, with the witches clearly with the upper hand!

And explanation for these witches? Well it harkens back to the Salem witch trails – which are also shown in graphic flashback – with these undead ladies (for that’s what these witches are, undead), hiding out in the Wild West, awaiting passers-by like an army of sirens calling men into their fold.

In terms of the men here, Duncan and his gang, The Pale Door has a fantastic cast. Zachary Knighton is fantastic as Duncan, as is Devin Druid as his younger brother – and eventual “hero” of the film – Jake. Meanwhile Pat Healy chews the scenery and a whole lot more as gang member Wylie (he’s also the centre of one of the films goriest moments); and Stan Shaw (Harlem Nights, Daylight) is the patriarch of the gang whose encounter with this gaggle of witches is literally stomach-churning!

Packed with memorable, grotesque imagery and with an ending that feels more solemn than you’d expect from this kind of balls-to-the-wall horror, The Pale Door is hands-down one of, if not the, best example of the horror western to date!

**** 4/5

The Pale Door screened today, October 23rd 2020, as part of this months Frightfest Digital Edition.


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