The Movie Waffler New Release Review [Shudder] - THE PALE DOOR | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [Shudder] - THE PALE DOOR

the pale door review
A group of Old West outlaws get a nasty surprise at a brothel.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Aaron B. Koontz

Starring: Devin Druid, Zachary Knighton, Bill Sage, Pat Healy, Natasha Bassett, Stan Shaw, Melora Walters

the pale door poster

If you asked me to name my two favourite movie genres I'd have to say horror and the western. In terms of quality, they're poles apart. As they tend to attract opportunistic hacks, the vast majority of horror movies are unwatchable, but the best horror movies rank with the very best of cinema as a whole. The western on the other hand is a genre with relatively few duds, likely because it requires a lot of work to pull off the period setting and so dissuades cynical filmmakers from dabbling in the form. With rare exceptions like 1959's Curse of the Undead and 2015's Bone Tomahawk, attempts to mash both genres have produced messy results. They're two great flavours that just don't seem to go together, and director Aaron B. Koontz's The Pale Door is but the latest genre-bending misfire.

the pale door review

Following a prologue in which we're introduced to young brothers Jake and Duncan as their parents are killed in a raid on their homestead, we cut to several years down the line. Oddly, despite there having been merely a few years between the pair as kids, Jake (Devin Druid) is now a wet-behind-the-ears teenager while Duncan (Zachary Knighton) appears to be pushing 40.

Anyhow, Duncan is now the leader of the feared Dalton gang, and reluctantly recruits his kid brother to take part in an upcoming train heist. As is so often the case, the robbery doesn't go to plan. Duncan is wounded by a bullet and the locked chest they expected to be filled with gold is instead revealed as housing a chained young woman, Pearl (Natasha Bassett), who claims the outlaws will be richly rewarded if they return her to her home.

the pale door review

Pearl's home turns out to be a high class brothel, much to the delight of the horny outlaws. But these are no ordinary ladies of the night - they're the reincarnated witches who were burned in the Salem trials, and the Dalton gang find themselves battling to survive the night.

Okay, here's my major issue with The Pale Door. The Salem witch trials led to the deaths of several woman and men who were (obviously) falsely believed to be carrying out the work of Satan. Yet we still get horror movies that take the side of their Christian fundamentalist persecutors in continuing the lie that they were actual witches. As soon as it's revealed that the hookers of The Pale Door are the victims of Salem we automatically assume that the movie is going to make them anti-heroes of a fashion, but no, the film asks us to root for the outlaws, who are a deeply unlikable bunch. You wouldn't cast Jews as the villains of a WWII movie, so why would you paint the women of Salem as horror antagonists?

the pale door review

Even if you can get on board with such insensitive victim-blaming, there's little here to satisfy fans of either the horror or western genres. On the western side, it looks the part, but Alex Cuervo's anachronistically modern score completely kills the Old West mood. As a horror movie, it's devoid of scares or suspense, and when the witches transform into their stake-burnt selves, the effect just looks silly. But chiefly, it all comes back to the film's tone deaf decision to ask us to root for a group of irredeemable men as they gun down the female victims of one of the darkest chapters of American history.

The Pale Door
 is on Shudder UK now.

2020 movie reviews