Warning: spoilers for The Pale Door are in play. If you haven’t seen the film yet, you’ll want to turn back before reading what we’re about to divulge.
One of the many keys to delivering a good horror movie has to be in the quality of the death scenes. There’s almost always an expectation that when you see an ensemble as broad as the one gathered for director Aaron B. Koontz’s horror-western film The Pale Door, some of the people on screen are there to become fodder for whatever forces are afoot. Which is one of the reasons why I had to agree with actor Noah Segan, one of that particular film’s cast members, when he told me the key to a good death scene in such a picture.
You’d recognize Mr. Segan, as he’s not only a constant collaborator with writer/director Rian Johnson, but that distinction gave him the role of Trooper Wagner in last year’s comedy whodunnit Knives Out. In a similar vein, Noah Segan’s character in The Pale Door, an outlaw by the name of Truman, is one of the standouts in an ensemble that also includes the likes of Station 19’s Pat Healy and Magnum P.I.’s Zachary Knighton.
Another one of the big reasons Noah Segan stands out rather well, besides his screen presence as a comic relief, is in the fact that Truman is one of the victims of the witches coven at the center of The Pale Door. That's what prompted me to ask him what he feels are the ingredients in a good horror death scene, leading to the following insights:
I think what goes into a great death scene is a great death itself. Westerns obviously are known for their great action,I wanna believe that we kept that tradition alive; and horror movies are known for their great gags. In the case of sort of that overlapping venn diagram you’ve just gotta go, ‘Hey, I’m gonna break my back, and it’s gonna look gory as all hell when I do it.” … You’ve gotta really lean into it, because that’s what you’re there to give the people. Give the people what they want.
Noah Segan not only understands how crucial a proper death scene is to a movie like The Pale Door, but he also gets the traditions of both genres that make the film’s collective DNA. Westerns swing for the prairie when it comes to the action on display, while horror movies know that likeable characters are also a good source of on-screen blood, if only to prove how serious the situation is.
Truman’s big death in The Pale Door definitely qualifies as a back breaking extravaganza. Without spoiling too many details, when it came time for Noah Segan to die on screen, the man really sold the moment. Taken out during a second act bloodbath that sees the outlaws of the Dalton gang attacked by a bunch of witches with a purpose, Segan’s demise comes after you’ve really gotten to like the cut of his jib. Even during the phase where he starts to see that something’s amiss with the nice woman offering to give him a bath, Truman merely blinks it off and slugs some more whiskey.
Playing into his belief of giving the people what they want, Noah Segan’s character helps tie The Pale Door’s cast together. As the noble and the nasty enter this film’s plot looking to get rich, the Dalton gang winds up struggling to survive to the ending of this particular ride into the sunrise. So of course, when someone like Truman enters the picture, as loyal as he is funny, you don’t want to see him die. That feeling only intensifies if you’re a fan of Segan’s, as his charming but goofy smile lures you into a false sense of security. Surely he has to survive, right?
Whether it’s a horror movie or a Western adventure, there are expectations that both genres carry with them every time they hit the screen. Noah Segan knows those preconceptions, as a fan and a professional, and he plays them to the hilt in his role of Truman in The Pale Door. Which is a good thing, because not only does it have you rooting for his character up until his supposed death, it’s also enough to convince a viewer that he might not have died in his tussle with a witch. After all, if it’s a true horror movie, there’s one rule that definitely plays in this scenario: characters are never truly dead, unless you see a body; and even then, there’s always room for interpretation.
You can get in on the debate yourself by watching The Pale Door, which is currently available at select theaters, as well as through VOD purchase and rental. Though should you want a physical copy, the film will be out on Blu-ray and DVD on October 6.