Hey folks! Cobrak here with a review of The Pale Door. A horror-western out today in theaters, on Demand and Digital from RLJE Films/Shudder.
Horror-Westerns are few and far between. And usually not very good for reasons I don't really understand. They should be. What is better than cowboys and monsters? The old west just lends itself so well to horror. It's desolate, the cell phone service sucks, everyone has a gun, and the nights are as dark as a vampire's demeanor and spooky as shit. See?! Perfect for horror.
Which brings us to The Pale Door, from executive producer and legend Joe R. Lansdale, and directed by Aaron B. Koontz.
The Pale Door follows two brothers, who after being driven from their family farm after their parents are murdered by a gang, have chosen two very different paths in life. The older brother, Duncan (Zachary Knighton), is now the leader of his own outlaw gang, while the younger, Jake (Devin Druid), is living an honest life and trying to save the money to buy back the old family homestead.
When a showdown takes out one of gang, Jake sees an opportunity to join up with his brother for that proverbial one big score and finally have the means to get the family farm back.
During the robbery, things go wrong (surprise!) with Duncan getting shot, and the big score turning out to be a box with a mysterious young woman inside. The woman offers them a reward and medical attention if they return her to her home. But once they make it to her town things get weird. And much worse for our posse (surprise again!).
The town appears to consist solely of women who may not be as nice as they originally seem. To say much more would be spoiling the surprises the film holds, but needless to say, things quickly turn bloody as the outlaws try to uncover the secrets of this little town in the middle of nowhere.
So this brings us to the big question: does The Pale Door break the mold and actually succeed at being a good Horror-Western?
First off the good. I will say I enjoyed the film. I never found myself bored by it or looking at the clock. Koontz gets some pretty good performances out of most of the cast. Especially Zachary Knighton, and his fellow gang members played by Stan Shaw as the father figure Lester, Pat Healy who plays Wylie, the brains of the gang, and Bill Sage as Dodd, the asshole that you can't help but like. I grew to like these folks quite a bit by the time the credits rolled.
There are are also a few really memorable, and cringy (in a good way), scenes along the way. One involves a spur and someone's face, and another where a character is forced to eat glass. That one still makes my mouth hurt.
I think the thing that irked me the most was the sets. Someone went through the hassle of finding, or building, this really cool and authentic looking western town, then didn't bother to make it look lived in at all. Where there should have been dirt and road, there is grass that looks mowed and nicer than my front yard. It took me out of the film a bit. As did the costumes. Like the sets they looked way too nice. You know the costumes you wear with your family when you take those old timey photos at some lame souvenir shop when your dad takes the family on a trip to Branson, Missouri to try to bond and maybe save his and your mom's marriage? But then the trip is so terrible your parents end up splitting up and your dad has to move to a crappy one-room apartment, while you're sitting in the garage huffing paint at 14 years old while listening to death metal as loud as possible so you don't have to hear Carl, the town drunk, who always calls you "bud," bang your mom in the upstairs bedroom? Yeah, they look as clean and nice as those costumes. It really bugs me because I feel like that issue could have been fixed with just a little bit of dirt and wrinkles.
There's some bad acting here and there like most horror movies, but the only thing glaring was the token female outlaw. Almost all of her scenes seemed like they were written to say, "Hey, look at this woman! She acts just like a MAN! Isn't that hilarious!?" But it's not. It's just overacted and hammy. Thankfully, it's only a couple short scenes and didn't really impact the experience for me.
Unlike those damn costumes.
Overall, I'd say The Pale Door is worth a watch. It's fun, has some bits of touching family drama, a little bit of humor (the showdown scene shows the winner react exactly how I imagine I would in the immediate second after the shots are fired), and some good, bloody practical effects; and what little cgi there is isn't bad. I give it four out of six gore-covered spurs. If you like horror but are tired of the same old settings of a cabin in the woods, or a middle class neighborhood with a highschool full of good-looking teeanagers, then this horror-western might be for you. There are worse ways to spend a couple hours this weekend. Like taking cheesy family photos in Branson.