Movie Review: The Pale Door

August 24, 2020

Written by Joseph Perry

Joseph Perry is the Film Festival Editor for Horror Fuel; all film festival related queries and announcements should be sent to him at He is a contributing writer for the "Phantom of the Movies VideoScope" and “Drive-In Asylum” print magazines and the websites Gruesome Magazine, Diabolique Magazine, The Scariest Things, B&S About Movies, and When It Was Cool. He is a co-host of the "Uphill Both Ways" pop culture nostalgia podcast and also writes for its website. Joseph occasionally proudly co-writes articles with his son Cohen Perry, who is a film critic in his own right. A former northern Californian and Oregonian, Joseph has been teaching, writing, and living in South Korea since 2008.

The Pale Door is an independent, low-budget effort that strives to pull off a western/horror movie mashup successfully. Although its budgetary limitations often show seams and its western film tropes are plentiful, the film from director Aaron B. Koontz (Camera Obscura and a segment in Scare Package) is an ultimately fun effort boasting impressive practical makeup effects and an intriguing cast.

In the old west, Duncan and his younger brother Jake witness their parents murdered during a raid on their ranch. Duncan (Zachary Knighton) grows up to be a member of the Dalton Gang, and Jake (Devin Druid) leads an honest life sweeping saloon floors in an attempt to save up enough money to buy back the land on which they lived as children. When the two brothers meet up as the gang members travel through town on their way to a train robbery, Jake, against Duncan’s initial wishes, asks to help out after one of the outlaws is shot and killed.

The train is heavily guarded by Pinkerton detectives, but the gang members discover that the Pinkertons were not guarding a big haul of loot, but rather a lone young woman named Pearl (Natasha Bassett) bound in a trunk. Duncan was shot in the stomach during the shootout, and Pearl promises the outlaws a doctor and a big reward if they return her to the brothel where she lives. The madame of the establishment, Maria (Melora Walters), is actually the head of a coven, and the prostitutes are all witches. 

The first act focuses on establishing the bond between Duncan and Jake and introducing the hierarchy of the gang members, working toward the high point of the train robbery. It’s an earnest attempt at trying to capture the feel of a western film, but the act is heavy with tropes and cliches. The Pale Door is at its most successful when it lets loose and goes the B-movie horror route, including a wild attack from witches that show their crispy-looking hag sides, on which the makeup department did super work. 

Many faces familiar to fright-fare fans appear, including Knighton (Cherry Falls; Santa Clarita Diet), Druid (Cam),  Walters (Cam; Hurt), Bassett (The House by the Lake), Noah Segan (Scare Package; Camera Obscura; and Starry Eyes), Stan Shaw (The Monster Squad), Bill Sage (Teeth; We Are What We Are; The Dinner Party), and Healy (Velvet Buzzsaw; Starry Eyes; The  Innkeepers). Most of the cast members give terrific performances — though some chew the scenery a bit — with the screenplay from Koontz, Cameron Burns (Camera Obscura with Koontz and a segment for Scare Package), and Keith Lansdale giving the main characters some engaging dialogue and the actors extended segments in which they can stretch.

The Pale Door sets its sights on being an appealing slice of independent genre cinema and does its best to deliver that. Koontz does an admirable job at the helm, and he has crafted another solid horror outing. The film may try to outreach its effects budget limitations here and there, but viewers in the mood for a cowboy outlaws vs. witches romp willing to forgive that should find plenty to enjoy here.

The Pale Door, from RLJE Films/Shudder, is now available  in theaters, and on Demand and Digital. 



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