A storm approaching the homestead, brothers and Jake and Henry Duncan Dalton try to sleep, but trouble is closer than they realise: an armed posse has come for the family and it is only through the intervention of Lester, a former slave freed by their father, that the boys escaped with their lives but not without scars, the image of their dead parents and their home in flames burned into their memories.
Now the leader of the infamous Dalton Gang with a $5,000 reward on his head of which he is defiantly proud, Duncan is a pair of hands short for a train job and Jake offers to stand in for one night; his elder brother is reticent to put him in harm’s way and with good reason: shots are fired, blood is spilled, nor is the haul what they expect, a young woman chained in a strongbox.
Directed by Aaron B Koontz from a script co-written with Cameron Burns and Keith Lansdale, The Pale Door boasts the involvement of Joe R Lansdale as executive producer, and steeped in the traditions of the Weird West it is familiar territory for the novelist and screenwriter who numbers horror, thrillers and Western among his prolific output as well as compiling the anthology Razored Saddles in which this story would comfortably ride.
Its title quoting The Haunted Palace by Edgar Allen Poe and with its UK premiere hosted at FrightFest, The Pale Door opens on a world of heartache, cruel and offering no reward to the upstanding or recognising kindness, Duncan wounded because Jake could not bring himself to kill a woman, but the rescued woman Pearl promises he will be seen by a doctor if she is returned safely home.
With Devin Druid as Jake and Zachary Knighton as Duncan, almost twenty years between them as adults though as children there was barely five years difference, Natasha Bassett and Melora Walters are Pearl and her mother Maria, generous but sinister madame of the brothel, the only inhabited establishment of Potemkin Township, her girls eager to greet the dusty and weary men.
The lumps of gristle floating unpleasantly in a stew in which the dashes of Event Horizon and Madonna’s Frozen cannot disguise the attempt to cook up an own-brand knockoff of From Dusk till Dawn, the images and ideas of The Pale Door simmer but never come to a boil, a pale imitation which lacks the meat of Bone Tomahawk or the spice and sizzle of Wynonna Earp, satisfying a modest appetite but generating no desire for second helpings.