Tag Archives: Noah Segan

Bullets and Broomsticks

The Pale Door

by Hope Madden

The horror Western is an under-explored subgenre. There have been some great ones. In fact, just two years ago filmmaker Emma Tammi took a look at isolation and outlaws from a female perspective with her effective nightmare The Wind.

Co-writer/director Aaron B. Koontz (Scare Package) pits a bunch of women against some scurrilous train robbers in a Wild West ghost town for his latest, The Pale Door.

The title is a Poe reference, a line from his poem The Haunted Palace. Poe wasn’t much of a gun slinger, but that doesn’t matter because the title has nothing to do with anything. Just go with it. You’ll enjoy Koontz’s odd concoction more if you do.

Little brother Jake (Devin Druid) and big brother Duncan (Zachary Knighton) grew up on opposite sides of the law. Duncan runs the Dalton Gang, a bunch of quick shootin’ and hard drinkin’ outlaws. But that’s not the life Duncan ever wanted for his bro, who sweeps up at a saloon and saves his nickels to buy back the old farm.

Until the gang is one man down with a big payday coming on the next train. Jake steps in, the gang robs the train, but this score is not what they expected and next thing they know, wouldn’t ya figure it? Witches.

I am all in for a ghost town full of witches—it’s like a Scooby Doo episode gone wonderfully off track. Production values do not evoke a period and the props are hardly authentic, but the atmosphere is fun and the cast has a good time.

Pat Healey is the wrong-headed good choice he always is. Noah Segan (who directed one of the shorts in Koontz’s Scare Package) is basically playing Noah Segan, but luckily that character is always so entertaining.

Veteran character actor Stan Shaw is mainly saddled with exasperated entrances and hypermasculine melodrama (because this is, after all, a Western). Meanwhile, Bill Sage (We Are What We Are) charms as a kind of poor man’s Bruce Campbell. (That’s not an insult. We can’t all be Bruce Campbell.)

So the gang finds themselves in a sort of Wild West Titty Twister (let’s assume you’ve seen From Dusk Till Dawn), and young, wholesome Jake may be their only hope for survival.

Does the leap from Salem to Western ghost town make sense? It does not. How about the basic internal mythology, the blood ritual, the sex, the ending? Not really. And no one will accuse The Pale Door of taking a female perspective.  

But for a witchtastic Western, is it fun?

Edgar Allen Poe couldn’t have made it any more fun.

Handle with Care

Scare Package

by Hope Madden

Has there ever been a place as glorious as the video store? The brain trust behind the horror anthology Scare Package clearly understands the secret joys of the independent VHS retailer and their beloved horror wares.

“This weekend is all about no rules, no clothes, and no cell service,” begins Emily Hagins’s surprisingly fresh meta-horror Cold Open. It sets the stage for a really funny way to spend about an hour and 40 minutes.

Chad Buckley of Rad Chad’s Horror Emporium (directed by Aaron B. Koontz) is training a new employee, covering the ins and outs of the VHS game and dodging that creepy regular customer. Periodically we get a glimpse at the store’s rentals, taking shape as the set of horror shorts that make up the anthology.

Chris McInroy’s consistently funny One Time in the Woods plays like a good natured Troma flick. So, it’s a bloody, gooey, gore-soaked, viscera-saturated mess with a bright disposition.

Noah Segan (Knives Out) makes his directorial debut with M.I.S.T.,E.R., which boasts the great casting of Noah Segan (how’d he get him?!) as well as Jocelyn DeBoer (Thunder Road, Greener Grass). You wouldn’t call it inspired, but a nice sleight of hand and one subtly creepy bartender are enough to keep you guessing and entertained.

Anthony Cousins’s The Night He Came Back IV: The Final Kill doesn’t offer much in the way of a fresh perspective and feels especially tame compared to the two other meta-horror episodes in the package. The two shorts that bridge sci fi and horror—Courtney and Hilary Andujar’s Girls’ Night Out of Body and Baron Vaughn’s So Much To Do—don’t answer nearly as much as they ask, but they do keep your attention.

The collection is weaved together with love and a lot of nerdy horror know-how. Was it destined for Shutter? Well, that Jo Bob Briggs cameo couldn’t have hurt.

Scare Package sports an excellent use of budget for a fun, campy set of horror-loving films—the kind of short movies that lovingly mock the genre. Most of the episodes offer a knowing lampooning, and each ends abruptly enough to avoid wearing out its welcome.

Parasites

Knives Out

by Hope Madden

It’s interesting that three of the most deliciously watchable films of 2019 exist to question the societal value of the rich. Earlier this year, the action-comedy bloodbath Ready or Not pitted one regular schmo in a bridal gown against a mansionful of one-percenters looking to end her life.

Too bloody for you? How about Joon-ho Bong’s masterpiece of social commentary, Parasite? Who, exactly, is it living off the blood of others?

Rian Johnson follows this path with the hoot and a half that is Knives Out.

If you only know Johnson for his brilliant fanboy agitator The Last Jedi, you should give yourself the gift of every other movie he’s ever made, Looper and Brick, in particular. This guy is an idiosyncratic storyteller, one who balances style and substance to create memorable worlds you aren’t ready to leave when the credits roll.

Knives Out is his own Agatha Christie-style take on the general uselessness of the 1%. And it is a riot.

Christopher Plummer is Harlan Thromby, the recently and mysteriously deceased mystery novelist whose family is in a pickle. Though they believe their gregarious patriarch offed himself, the notion seems unlikely however clear the death scene seems to make it.

Renowned gentleman detective Benoit Blanc (that’s a name!), played by a priceless Daniel Craig, joins two police detectives (LaKeith Stanfield and Johnson go-to goof Noah Segan) to dig into the affair.

As little as possible should be said about the plot, as it is a whodunnit, but at the very least it’s appropriate to acknowledge this cast.

The spoiled and entitled are played by Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, Jaeden Martell (from It), Toni Collette as well as Michael Shannon and Chris Evans and their sweaters. Each finds a memorable character and each clearly has an excellent time doing so.

Credit also Ana de Armas as Marta, the homecare nurse and anchor for the story. De Armas has previously been cast primarily for her looks (Blade Runner 2049, War Dogs, Knock Knock), but proves here that she can lead a film, even a film with this strong an ensemble. Her Marta is wholesome but funny, gullible but smart. Her chemistry with Craig is enough to generate some interest in their next collaboration. (Well, that and the writing.)

Johnson proves that you can poke fun without abandoning compassion. More than that, he reminds us that, as a writer, he’s shooting on all cylinders: wry, clever, meticulously crafted, socially aware and tons of fun.