At the Death House Door is an insightful look into the life and career of Carroll Pickett who was the chaplain at a prison in Huntsville TX where he presided over the execution of 95 inmates. The film intercuts the story of Pickett’s life with the case of Carlos DeLuna, a man sentenced to death despite some rather dubious evidence.
The film is equally thought provoking and moving. By revealing Pickett’s evolving thoughts about the death penalty, the film avoids any didactic temptations. The film allows Pickett to drive the narrative as he struggles with a way to understand and deal with what he had been asked to do. The film opens with the fascinating revelation that he recorded his thoughts into a tape recorder after every execution, which his family knew nothing about until the making of the film.
Lending complexity to the story was Pickett’s involvement with the prison prior to becoming chaplain. The prison was the scene of a hostage drama where a couple members of Pickett’s congregation were killed.
The parallel story follows a couple of Chicago Tribune reporters who investigate the Carlos DeLuna case. The two storylines cross by the end of the film as Pickett reveals the details of DeLuna’s botched execution.