The independent miners barely scratching out a living in a canyon outside LaHood, California, are terrorized by the businessman (Richard Dysart), for whom the town is named. Hull Barret (Michael Moriarty) tries to stand up to this persecution, but his efforts are uninspiring. Megan (Sydney Penny), the 15-year-old daughter of Hull's fiancée Sarah (Carrie Snodgrees), prays for help. As she recites from the Bible, "And I looked, and beheld a pale horse, and his name that at on him was Death, and hell followed with him," a preacher (Clint Eastwood) arrives in the makeshift mining community.

Although the mysterious stranger eventually reveals himself to be a gunslinger, his presence compels the main characters to come to terms with the meaing of love, justice, community, and the fight against Evil. In this sense, his mission in LaHood is very moral indeed. He is a man of God who has come to spur others to define their values and stand up for them.

Pale Rider is a Western with a religious undertow and as such is entirely appropriate to the 1980s These are the times when the public prefers to see good and evil defined in stark terms. Clint Eastwood conveys the sturdy self-control and cool confidence we like in our leaders. When LaHood realizes he cannot defeat the stranger with his own henchmen, he calls upon Stockburn (John Russell), a ruthless county marshal with six deputies. The outsider has an old score to settle with Stockburn, and the fight to the death turns out to be a Manichaean struggle. Clint Eastwood as both director and protagonist once again proves himself to be a master of stylized drama, depicting the powers of the flesh and the spirit.