Western/horror, not rated, 96 minutes, Comcast, Apple TV, Amazon Prime, Vudu, and other streaming services, 2 chiles
Years after his parents were killed in their home, kindhearted Jake (Devin Druid) works diligently in a local saloon to raise enough money to buy back the family farm. But when his older brother Duncan (Zachary Knighton), leader of the Dalton Gang, is passing through town, Jake inexplicably turns outlaw and seemingly abandons his lifelong dream. It’s just one of many head-scratching moments in this trifling entry in the Western/horror genre directed by Aaron B. Koontz (Camera Obscura).
In a botched train robbery, the brothers and their gang come upon a young woman possessed of beguiling beauty, who is locked in a trunk. In hopes of receiving a substantial reward, they endeavor to return her to the brothel from where, presumably, she was kidnapped by a rival gang.
That’s the setup for an endless night of horror. See, Pearl (Natasha Bassett), the woman in the trunk, is a member of a coven of witches. The whole train stunt was a ruse to lure the gang to a mysterious town where nothing is as it seems. They’re picked off one by one, as revenge for the burning of coven’s high priestess Maria (Melora Walters) centuries before. When they discover that Jake is a virgin, they hope to use his blood in a ritual to further prolong their unnaturally long lives.
There are some great ideas here, such as a chimeric setting in the middle of a dark Western forest where buildings evaporate into mist. But The Pale Door, which takes its title from a line in Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “The Haunted Palace,” makes a mad dash to get to the good stuff — action, blood, and gore — logic and story be damned.
Jake finds shelter in the local church. If the town itself is an illusion created the witches, why there’s a church is anyone’s guess. But at least Jake and the others find a momentary respite. The witches can’t enter but they have a bargaining chip in the form of Duncan, who disappeared during a violent mêlée at the brothel. They use Duncan to lure Jake.
The premise is fun, but The Pale Door lacks suspense and emotional weight. It’s hard to care about these characters, and no amount of scenery-chewing can make up for that. Walters tries gamely, but her performance edges into camp. Too many things just don’t add up. How did the rival gang even know the Daltons would be lying in wait for the train? They could have just kept going but, instead, they stop and get out with their guns drawn. Were they in on the plot?
In a better film, the love between Duncan and Jake could provide The Pale Door with a real emotional core. Here, it amounts to little more than repeating their ritual childhood salutations: “Hey, little brother” and “Hey, big brother.” There’s just no post to hitch your heart on, let alone your horse. — Michael Abatemarco