Film critic Samm Deighan mused on the Evil Eye podcast, "Why isn't there any Western horror movies? It seems like the perfect combination." I have wondered this myself. Some of the films that have been classified in the subgenre of “Horror Westerns” include Kathryn Bigelow’s vampire inspired Near Dark to S. Craig Zahler’s gory, violent landscape of Bone Tomahawk to name a few. But rarely do you find Western and the supernatural merge together. The Pale Door is one of those films that merge these two elements effectively.
Henry “Duncan” Dalton (Zachary Knighton), the head of the Dalton-Younger Gang, meets up with his younger brother Jake (Devin Druid) who is a cleaner at the town saloon. Due to one of the gang members getting on the wrong end of a gunfight with a bounty hunter, Jake decides to participate in a train robbery with the outlaws.
As the robbery takes place, the trunk they steal isn’t filled with gold, but a with a girl named Pearl (Natasha Bassett). In the process, Duncan is seriously wounded by a Pinkerton. Bleeding profusely and out in the middle of nowhere, Pearl guides them to the town of Potemkin where she assures the gang that there is a doctor and they will be given a huge reward for her return.
When they reach the town of Potemkin, they are greeted by Maria (Melora Walters), the Madame of the town’s brothel. The gang soon finds that Maria doesn’t run a brothel, but a coven and that the ladies of the night are of a different ilk entirely.
Director/Co-Writer Aaron B. Koontz helms a tale of Western marauders versus witchery and the supernatural in this well directed yarn. He combines the Western sensibility with the dark atmosphere of a cursed, Evil Dead-type environment. The outlaws are cursed and condemned for death with the innocent and pure Jake being the pawn in the game as he has never had pleasures and killing of the flesh. This makes Jake an appealing sacrifice for the coven as his blood can “keep them alive for decades”.
There is some interesting symbolism in this film which starts with a young Duncan giving his younger brother Jake a kerchief saying it’s “big brother magic” meant to protect him from the chaos that surrounds their house during a home invasion. During an intense battle with the coven of witches and its aftermath, Jake returns the “brother magic” kerchief to a wounded Duncan in order to protect him from evil. The kerchief is a symbol of protection between the brothers when they are at their most vulnerable. Not sure how the kerchief has held up through the decades, but it is an artifact that exemplifies the strong bond of love and sacrifice between the two brothers as they take turns protecting each other from outside forces.
The crow is symbolical to a person’s soul after a person is dead or dying. This is exemplified when Lester (Stan Shaw) is at the point of dying from a deadly assault by one of the witches and a crow emerges out of his mouth. A crow also symbolizes something at the end of the film, but you’ll have to watch to see for yourself. The crow trope is interesting despite being used in a film by the same name (I also have to come to the realization that The Crow is over 25 years old!).
Although this movie is entertaining, it is by no means perfect. This is evidence by some of the poor reviews this film has recently received. Are the outfits on the actors a bit too clean? Yep. Could the acting be better? Sure, but it’s not terrible. Could they have pumped more cash into the project? Maybe, but it’s a low-budget feature. Is the Western genre dead? That might be the case, but The Pale Door takes a step in the right direction for Horror Westerns.
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