While, like a rapid, ghastly river,
Through the pale door
A hideous throng rush out forever,
And laugh — but smile no more.
Those are the last lines from Edgar Allan Poe’s 1839 poem The Haunted Palace but they’re also the very first lines to appear on screen in director Aaron B. Koontz’s witchy Western, The Pale Door. It’s fitting, not only because the title is taken from that work but also because it connects Poe’s literary mastery with another giant in horror fiction, pulp novelist and legendary Texan, Joe Lansdale. Koontz, writing partner Cam Burns and Joe’s son, Keith Lansdale, wrote The Pale Door together with Joe overseeing as an executive producer offering up his suggestions wherever he felt necessary. The Lansdale’s know horror and they know how to lasso an untamed script until it’s molded into the shape of a tried and true Western. Joe Lansdale, especially, knows the legacy of the Old West and that level of respect and reverence comes through in The Pale Door, even when they’re battling half burnt witches that author Roald Dahl would happily endorse.
Playing the character Truman, an outlaw in cahoots with the infamous Dalton Gang, actor Noah Segan (Knives Out, Starry Eyes) is practically an expert in the Western genre as well, as you’ll read in our conversation below. Segan is often the guy behind the guy in movies and, because of that, he’s become somewhat of an actor’s actor who cares more about the final product and not whether he’s going to get his close-up. Dread Central spoke with Segan about his favorite Westerns, how his past working relationships with Koontz and some of the other actors brought more onscreen authenticity to the Dalton Gang, and whether he’ll be directing a story about another classic monster in the future. Interestingly, Segan has a connection to another Poe, the X-Wing Black Squadron leader, Poe Dameron. Appearing as starfighter Stomeroni Starck in The last Jedi, Segan served as Blue Two (a nod to his character Kid Blue in Looper) so we did talk a little Star Wars, too.
Synopsis:The Dalton gang finds shelter in a seemingly uninhabited ghost town after a train robbery goes south. Seeking help for their wounded leader, they are surprised to stumble upon a welcoming brothel in the town’s square. But the beautiful women who greet them are actually a coven of witches with very sinister plans for the unsuspecting outlaws – and the battle between good and evil is just beginning.
Dread Central: I know you have the Kid Blue connection, but is this one of the first Westerns that you’ve done?
Noah Segan: I’ve been lucky enough that I’ve worked on a few Westerns in my day. Nothing as wild and crazy and big that has this kind of material. I’m such a big Western fan that I’ve found the opportunity to do it before but, like I said, never to this extent. I got a lot of really good training up to this point.
DC: Do you have some favorite Westerns that you grew up with?
NS: Do I have some favorite Westerns? Yes, I do. I’ll go with the bigger hits, obviously Kid Blue, I’m a big Peckinpah fan. I’m also a big fan of Long Riders which is Walter Hill’s entrée to that Western New Wave world. But then going back, I’m a big Budd Boetticher fan. In terms of specific stuff, Johnny Guitar is a big one for me in terms of trying to push the genre a little bit. Going even further back, the Tom Mix stuff, I just love that. And [Gene] Autry, the singing cowboy goes back even further to the kind of stuff that my grandfather took photos of during the Depression going around the country and seeing how the West was influencing culture and music and art.
DC: You mentioned Tom Mix. I actually stayed at a house that was his first house in L.A. He was one of the first people to put his hands into the concrete at Chinese Theater, I think.
NS: Really? He was one of the first real movie stars. I’ve always found that really fascinating because I think it comes across in his work. It comes across in those movies that you’re like, Oh wait, this is a brand.
DC: All the stunts and action he was doing, too. With your character Truman, did you want to have some quieter acting beats that someone like Stan Shaw got to have in the film? Or were you just excited to go out and get to do all the action and witch fighting?
NS: On a picture like this which is sort of that classic Western ensemble, you want to play the instrument that you’re assigned to and you want to play it as best you can so that the whole orchestra sounds good. I was super lucky that Aaron [Koontz] and I had a relationship so, that going into it, we could talk about what would be fun and what would work the best with everybody. There’s a great story about how on the set of Magnificent Seven, Steve McQueen would always, no matter where he was in the frame, always tried to do the biggest thing so that he got the most attention. I tried to make that my funny and useful vibe.
DC: It worked because you do pop out, especially because you’re always framed with Pat Healy. Did you and Pat bunk together at the old west town you guys filmed at in Oklahoma? It was good to see both of you together again after Starry Eyes.
NS: (laughs) We did not bunk together, luckily.
DC: I just like that fantasy.
NS: We did all spend a lot of time together. I’ve worked with Pat before but I’ve also worked with and become very close with Zack Knighton. There were a lot of personal connections already there in terms of building that team. The camaraderie was not hard to find.
DC: It’s easy to connect you with Rian Johnson’s stable of actors but now I’m starting to associate you and Aaron together with Starry Eyes and Scare Package and Pale Door. Are there any plans to work with him again? I know that he really want’s to adapt Joe Lansdale’s The Drive-In, maybe that’s the opportunity.
NS: And you missed one, I was in his first film Camera Obscura so this is number four for us. I hope that there are no signs of letting up. He didn’t know how big a fan of Joe’s I was before we made this movie so that’s also another huge connection. I love Lansdale’s work so, yes, I would love to work with Joe again, I’d love to work with Aaron. I’ve definitely been beating that drum and trying to let him know you have my number, now check my schedule buddy. Let’s do this.
DC: I’m a massive Star Wars fan so maybe we could talk a little Stomeroni Starck…I was going to my first Star Wars Celebration this year. Were you in Orlando for The Last Jedi? Would you do Star Wars cons in the future?
NS: I have not had the pleasure of attending Celebration but I would love to — even as a fan! No one has ever invited me a to a convention, but I’d also be stoked to do it, if not just to hang with other fans and be with pals. When it’s safe, I want to make up for lost time in terms of that stuff.
DC: Are you looking to direct again when all this is done? Between M.I.S.T.E.R. the segment you directed for Scare Package and Pale Door at least you’ve crossed off werewolves and witches, so that’s a banner year!
NC: Yes, I am out here on these mean streets, hawking my wares, trying to add to the mix… I hate to be obtuse but you’re on the right track in terms of ticking off the boxes; after werewolves and witches, I’ve got a script I wrote about another classic trope!
The Pale Door is available in theaters, On Demand, and Digital August 21.