Some horror films manage to seamlessly meld different genres into one magnificent mashup, and Shudder Exclusive The Pale Door is a perfect example of this.
The Pale Door recently began streaming on Shudder, and it joins the very small ranks of a sub-genre we’ll call Western Horror. It’s a sub-genre I quite enjoy, and if you liked The Pale Door, I am happy to present you with a couple of other films that have the same feel.
The Pale Door opens with brothers Duncan and Jake. Their home is attacked in the middle of the night, and their parents are killed, but they are saved by a family friend named Lester. Years later, Duncan and Lester are part of the Dalton Gang, and teenager Jake works in a saloon.
When one of the gang members is killed, Jake steps in to fill his spot, and they set out to rob a train they believe holds a chest full of gold. The heist happens, men are killed, Duncan is shot and seriously wounded, and the chest contains not gold, but a young woman named Pearl. Pearl says she would be happy to escort the men to her home town, where there will be not only a doctor, but also a reward for her return.
The men are happy to find that the only apparent business in Pearl’s town is a brothel, what luck! But, as it turns out, these girls and their Madam are witches. The scene that shows the girls true colors is bloody and action-packed, and it quickly amps up the story-telling speed.
As it turns out, the witches are very interested in Jake as a blood sacrifice, since he is pure of heart…and also a virgin. He’s exactly what they need to stay alive, but since the remaining members of the gang promised Duncan they would protect his brother with their lives, the chase is on.
The Pale Door has plenty of blood and horror, but there is also a lot of heart behind Jake and Duncan’s story. Standout performances are delivered by Devin Druid (13 Reasons Why) as Jake, Stan Shaw (The Monster Squad) as Lester, and Bill Sage (We Are What We Are) as Dodd.
2004’s Dead Birds also features a group of thieves, a gang of Confederate deserters turned bank robbers. Led by William (played by The Haunting of Bly Manor’s Henry Thomas), they hide out in a deserted plantation house with their stolen gold. While making their way through the surrounding cornfield, the group encounters a very odd-looking scarecrow and a terrifying unknown creature, which they shoot.
They soon find out that the house they are sheltering in was owned by a man who practiced black magic, and each of the characters has their own experience with the demonic creatures who now inhabit the plantation. Was it one of these demons they encountered and killed in the cornfield?
Dead Birds is currently available to stream for free on Tubi.
The third and final Western horror film on this short list is my personal favorite, Bone Tomahawk. This 2015 gem stars Kurt Russell (The Thing), Patrick Wilson (The Conjuring), Matthew Fox (Lost) and Richard Jenkins (The Cabin in the Woods).
Don’t expect Bone Tomahawk to run furiously out of the gates. It’s what we refer to as a “slow burn,” and we know how divisive these films can be amongst the horror community. Anyone who has participated in a discussion about movies such as The Witch and Hereditary knows what a hot-button issue slow moving films can be.
Two murderous thieves, played by David Arquette and the late Sid Haig, hide out in a Native American burial ground. One of them is killed, and the other makes it to the town of Bright Hope, where Sheriff Franklin Hunt (Russell) resides. When the drifter is seen burying his stolen loot, he is taken into custody and jailed.
Since he was shot in the leg while being apprehended, and the town doc is drunk, the doctor’s assistant Samantha is called in to treat him. The next day, the jail is empty, and the drifter, Samantha and the deputy are missing.
Samantha’s husband (played by Wilson) is recuperating from a broken leg, but insists on accompanying the Sheriff, deputy Chicory (Jenkins) and Brooder (Fox) as they set out to find the missing trio. The men are tipped off by a Native American resident that it appears the kidnappers are a cannibalistic troglodyte tribe.
The first two-thirds of Bone Tomahawk move along slowly, but the character interaction is so entertaining and the actors are incredibly adept, so we just go along for the ride and enjoy it. Then, quite suddenly, the troglodytes show up, our heroes are taken, and the action gets up to breakneck speed.
Up to this point, we could be watching any good Western, but a single very graphic scene instantly takes us into horror territory. I watch a lot of horror, but this scene literally made me gasp in shock, and it took me the rest of the film’s running time to recover.
There is plenty more gory horror to come, and the rest of the story keeps us completely engrossed (and grossed out). Bone Tomahawk is available to rent on Vudu and Amazon Prime Video.
I hope you enjoy these Western horror selections; maybe we can band together and insist that film makers work towards adding more films to this underused genre!
Do you like Western horror films? Do you have any recommendations not on this short list? If so, tell us all about them in the comments section.