Producer turned director Aaron Koontz has really been on a role this summer. He produced Scare Package and directed what’s arguably the most memorable segment of the horror anthology, and now, he’s assembled a stellar cast for his dream project – a horror western cut from the same cloth as From Dusk Till Dawn 2. Taking the real-life outlaws, the Dalton Gang, and squaring them up against a coven of Salem witches sounds like it would be pure action filled to the brim with goo and gun powder but, surprisingly, The Pale Door has more character moments than over-the-top set pieces.
When Dread Central spoke with Koontz, who’s known as one of the nicest Texans you’ll ever meet in the industry, we spoke about how important the sentimentality of this story was to him and the film’s impressive ensemble of actors featuring Stan Shaw, Pat Healy, Zachary Nighton, Noah Segan and Melora Walters. And yes, we also talked about the rich and sometimes tragic history of witches throughout the ages. The great Texan pulp writer Joe Lansdale (Bubba Ho-Tep, Cold In July), who worked alongside the production, came up as well and Koontz sounds determined to adapt one of his most famous novels.
Be sure to check out The Pale Door in theaters, On Demand and Digital on August 21. Scare Package will also be available on Video On Demand, Digital HD, DVD & Blu-ray on October 20.
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: Can you talk about the Texas connections of the movie and have you always wanted to film a Western?
Aaron Koontz: Actually when I moved to Texas, my ex-girlfriend and I would take these road trips to random towns and I just loved the desolate look. It reminded me of the Westerns I loved growing up and watching. There were all these local places that had horses and outfits and wardrobe and I thought it could really be something. Being an indie filmmaker and doing a period piece is really tough and you have to put the dollars on the screen.
I went to a film festival in Nacogdoches out in East Texas and Joe Lansdale, Keith Lansdale and myself were all on a screenwriting panel together which was kind of surreal. I was honored to be there. I was asked to pitch a witch movie at Universal falling off of [Robert] Eggers success of [The Witch]…Universal didn’t like it. They were like, wait we just want normal witches, whatever that means. Then it sat on the shelf for awhile until I was on that panel with Joe and Keith and they looked at me and said, ‘Hey! That’s a good idea, you should make that.’ Joe was pretty busy so he couldn’t be a full on writer so he advised us and gave notes throughout. His son Keith is a fantastic writer as well, he’s about to be a superstar. Joe and Keith really get the Western vibe.
DC: I heard on location you guys had a lot of weather challenges. You had floods and a Category 5 tornado?
AK: Yes, all of the above, it was complete hell. They go to the town, they reach hell figuratively and we kind of did the same thing. It was in Guthrie, Oklahoma which is about 30 minutes North of Oklahoma City. It’s called Rollins Creek, it’s an escape wedding town. I had searched ghost towns all over the place…I found this and what I loved about was it was so contained. Because of the destination wedding place, a lot of people go there because they want to do these Old West style weddings. So, there are places for people to stay so we all literally lived in that town for two months. It helped us immerse us into this whole world in every possible way that we could.
DC: I wanted to talk about the drive-in release. Are you guys still planning on giving bandanas out to everyone as masks? I thought that was pretty clever.
AK: Yes we are. We just got those created. I’m going to do a little bit of a road tour with some posters and stuff. It’s such a new world for everyone. But there’s definitely going to be a number of drive-ins and we’ll be sending out masks. We’ll have that as a fun thing but it will also keep people safe which we thought was a great way of doing it.
DC: Let’s talk about witches. I really liked the witch make-up in the film, I thought it was very Halloween mask inspired. I like the very traditional look of the crooked nose and the protruded chin. Did you go through a lot of looks before you settled on what we see in the movie?
AK: Yeah, it was so much fun to research all of this background of potential witches. There’s so much lore and folklore that exists. I had so much fun digging into that and taking an amalgamation of all these different aspects. I wanted the, like you said, the Roald Dahl look of The Witches when they kick their masks off in the convention center. I wanted that kind of look. I was really into the Salem witch background and what happened and these people that were zealots. What if there were real witches and there was a way, because of the atrocities that happened at that time, that maybe they created these real witches. The idea of taking that look and then having them be burned at the stake, even in Salem when they were more hanged or stoned.
There was a real story about a woman who fled Salem and she was pregnant and she just wanted to give birth to her child. They tracked her down and then burned her in this town. It’s just so horrific, I was so aghast by reading that. If you’re creating that level of hate, what would that create for the people who witnessed that and were a part of that? What if someone in the crowd watching that dabbled in some kind of black magic? And then they were able to create this coven of witches. So then the idea of doing that old style look but then mixed with being burnt and having the charred skin was really fun and I’d never seen that before. It’s over four hours of makeup per witch which on an indie film is A LOT.
DC: I loved seeing Melora Walters in the cast, it’s obviously a great cast. She already has a great name for a witch, I’m surprised you didn’t just call her Melora in the film.
AK: (laughs) Even Devin Druid, there’s fun stuff there too, he played Jake. I did write the part for her. Melora Walters is legitimately the reason why I make movies. The idea that I got to hire Melora Walters for this is still completely and totally surreal. She is my muse, I love her to death.
DC: Were you a big fan of Joe Lansdale? Is there anything that you’d want to adapt? Have you guys had any conversations about that? Maybe The Drive-In?
AK: That’s exactly what it is, I want to do The Drive-In. (Laughs) I want to do The Drive-In, I’ve told him that. I know a little bit about where the rights are. It would be a massive movie to make. I think The Drive-In is one of the greatest horror pulp novels of our generation.
The Pale Door is available in theaters, On Demand, and Digital August 21.