Friday, 23 October 2020

The Pale Door

Coven Hoofed

The Pale Door
USA 2020 Directed by Aaron B. Koontz
 Paper Street Pictures

Warning: Some spoilerage ensues.

Okay, so the first thing I want to say here is, I can’t believe the unbelievably bad, bordering on overtly hostile, one and two star reviews The Pale Door has over at the IMDB. I mean, it’s like the people writing in have never seen a low budget movie before. Let me be clear, I’ve seen a lot of low budget movies prior to this and this one doesn’t even come close to the low production values and lack of basic competence that many of them have. Frankly, this one looks like a gazillion bucks when you compare it to a lot of the stuff out there.

Secondly... yes, it’s a fairly simplistic movie but I don’t understand why people are having a hard time with that. There are a lot of simplistic films out there which are pretty damned good and, frankly, I had a great time with this movie. I don’t understand why some people thought it might be trying to be a comedy because, honestly, I think there’s rarely a lick of humour in it so, yeah, this is one of those head scratching puzzles of a film where I can’t figure out why my response is just so out of kilter with the majority of the audience response so far.

Thirdly... and much to my surprise... this film has the great Bill Sage on it as one of the main, supporting roles and, frankly, he’s always worth watching. One of the great actors of our time and he also has an associate producer credit on this. Not quite sure what an associate producer does, to be honest but I guess that means he believed in the film enough to really get involved.

The movie has a nice set up, after a picturesque credits sequence of black magic/witchcraft books burning up... where two young brothers escape their home while witnessing the slaughter of their parents. Skip to years later and one of the brothers is a famous outlaw (this is a Western movie) and he’s about to hold up a train guarded by Pinkertons’ finest with his gang when, one of their number gets killed in a petty gunfight. So the younger brother volunteers to fulfill the missing gang role and... as you would expect... the heist goes wrong.

The valuable trunk on the train contains a bound and gagged young woman and the older brother is gut shot while the gang of outlaws are trying to get away. The puzzling ‘girl in the box’ takes them back to her home ‘town’ to help but, it soon becomes apparent when she takes them to the local brothel of her friends, that this is a coven of witches who plan on eating the outlaws.

So yeah, it a low budget Horror Western and, frankly, it’s a romp. The performances of all the main outlaws and some of the witches is great and although the thrifty attitude to the reuse of sets and stuff is... well, like I said, it’s thrifty... the production values are pretty good and it really doesn’t look as economical as you might expect. I’ll obviously single out Bill Sage here who I mostly know from his turns in the marvellous films of Hal Hartley and who plays a character who is somewhat against type, I think. He starts off as a quite ruthless and villainous personality (he does things with spurs you might not want to be on the receiving end of) but, of course, by the end of the movie he has a somewhat bonding arc and redeems himself in the eyes of the younger brother, whom the witches want for his innocent blood.

The other actor I liked in this was a guy called Pat Healy, who plays a quiet, somewhat authoritative member of the outlaw gang and brings a certain sense of confidence and weight to the rag tag group. Well, until something happens to him after the witches steal a lock of his hair, that is. Things get a little unfortunate for him after that.

However, if you are a fan of gory horror films where monstrous creatures are used as violent gun fodder and where life, mortal or supernatural, is cheap... then I reckon you should have a good time with this. Also, the cinematography is wonderful and, dare I say it, quite spectacular in certain shots where the outlaws are riding away from the scene of their crime.

There are lots of nice little set pieces and visual commas throughout the thing too... such as a rainstorm of blood, a nice 180 degree camera movement which I won’t spoil for you here and a nice sequence where a crow bursts forth, in a not too pleasant way, from an outlaw’s stomach... working it’s way up the throat and out the mouth, obviously killing him in the process.

My one complaint on this might be that the language of the characters, living in the Old West as they do, seems a mite modern and more naturalistic to contemporary times than, perhaps, it might have been back in the late 1800s. I’m guessing this was a deliberate ploy to help make it accessible to a younger audience but, yeah, I think the writers might have made more of an effort to make the dialogue a little more antiquated, to be sure.

Still, other than that one, minor flaw (as I see it), I thought The Pale Door was a nice little cross genre piece which deserves to find an audience. I think it’s more likely to appeal to horror fans than most other sections of its potential audience but, I suppose that’s why it’s been chosen for this year’s October FrightFest. Certainly not a great work of horror art, for sure but, nevertheless, a thoroughly competent and, it has to be said, somewhat charming entertainment. And that’s as good a thing to say about a movie as most, I believe. Definitely worth a watch if you like body count horror such as zombie movies and such like.

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