SCARE PACKAGE (2019)
Directed by Emily Hagins (“Cold Open”), Aaron B. Koontz (“Rad Chad’s Horror Emporium, Horror Hypothesis”), Chris McInroy (“One Time In The Woods”), Noah Segan (“M.I.S.T.E.R.”), Courtney Andujar and Hillary Andujar (“Girls’ Night Out Of Body”), Anthony Cousins (“The Night He Came Back Again! Part IV: The Final Kill”), Baron Vaughn (“So Much To Do”)
Written by Emily Hagins (“Cold Open”), Cameron Burns and Aaron B. Koontz (“Rad Chad’s Horror Emporium, Horror Hypothesis”), Chris McInroy (“One Time In The Woods”), Frank Garcia-Hejl and Noah Segan (“M.I.S.T.E.R.”), Courtney Andujar, Hillary Andujar, and Ben Fee (“Girls’ Night Out Of Body”), Anthony Cousins and John Karsko (“The Night He Came Back Again! Part IV: The Final Kill”), Baron Vaughn (“So Much To Do”)
Starring Luxy Banner, Haley Alea Erickson, Jon Michael Simpson, Chris Bowlsby, Christine Hall, Cassandra Hierholzer, Sydney Huddleston (“Cold Open”), Jeremy King, Chase Williamson, Zoe Graham, Byron Brown, Josephine McAdam, John Bloom, Dustin Rhodes, Hawn Tran, Justin Maina, Les Best, Holt Boggs, Spencer Greenwood, Gregory Kelly, Dan Magaha, Logan Magaha, Avery Moore, Kelsey Pribilski, Tristan Riggs, Peggy Schott, Elizabeth Trieu, Brian Villalobos, Andre Williams (“Rad Chad’s Horror Emporium, Horror Hypothesis”), Mac Blake, Jon Copp, Will Elliott, Kirk C. Johnson, Carlos Larotta, Stephanie Thoreson, Jessie Tilton (“One Time In The Woods”), Noah Segan, Allan McLeod, Jocelyn DeBoer, Johnathan Fernandez, Frank Garcia-Hejl, Don Fanelli, Jon Gabrus, Kale Hills, June McCool Segan (“M.I.S.T.E.R.”), Melanie Minichino, Gabrielle Maiden, Emily Andujar, Ben Fee, Atsuko Okatsuka, Manuel Taylor-Alcocer (“Girls’ Night Out Of Body”), Chelsey Grant, Tommy David, Jack Hartwig, Julie McCarthy, Jameson Pieper, Nicolas Sulivan (“The Night He Came Back Again! Part IV: The Final Kill”), Toni Trucks, Baron Vaughn, Aaron D. Alexander, Jules Gonzalez, Billy Hedgecock, Travis Michael Keller, Candice Thompson (“So Much To Do”)
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SCARE PACKAGE can best be described as a spattering of in-joke humor for those who love the horror genre. It’s made by up and comers in the horror genre, who have seen all the films we have, love them, and want to have fun with the tropes in imaginative and gory ways. SCARE PACKAGE is an anthology of sorts, with the connective tissue being a retro-video store. You know the kind of store. It thrived in the eighties, somehow survived through the 90’s and 00’s when all of the other stores collapsed, and is now barely gets by and seen as a niche store for a select few customers. We have maybe one or two of those places in Chicago and I imagine other bigger cities have something similar as well, but for the most part, the video store is a relic and a film centering on such a place makes it a rather niche subject in its own right. That said, if you’re a lover of 80’s horror and the video stores that would shovel that stuff into our innocent brainpans with a no fucks given attitude, then SCARE PACKAGE is going to be a must see for you.
I’m going to be checking out each story in this anthology, so strap in, this is going to be a lengthy review.
SCARE PACKAGE begins with Emily Hagins’ “Cold Open” a self-referential and meta-commentary on the first five minutes of a horror film where we get a snippet of the horror and the characters are quickly introduced with hardly any personality or depth, only to be quickly offed by the killer/monster/threat. When a bit-part character named Mike (Jon Michael Simpson) refuses to simply be a background player anymore, goes off script, and tries to intervene in the main story, things start going very bad. “Cold Open” is the kind of in-joke horror I’m talking about. If this isn’t your thousand and one-th horror movie, you might not get the jokes as Hagins has fun with well-worn tropes. Seeing Mike, the eternal background player, have an inner-battle with his duty to play his part versus his desire to matter in the world is a meatier character than one usually sees in these types of short stories, but Simpson pulls it off and Hagins creates a hilarious story that makes you want to root for the underdog to do well. Considering this is the cold open for SCARE PACKAGE itself, “Cold Open” is a meta-fun treat that will have those in the know about horror tropes rolling and a fantastic way to prep the viewer for the mayhem to come.
It’s at this point where we are introduced to Chad (Jeremy King) of “Rad Chad’s Horror Emporium,” the aforementioned connective tissue between all of the short stories of SCARE PACKAGE. Chad is king shit of this turd mountain of a store, where he has to deal with annoying customers like Sam (Byron Brown) whose life goal is to one day work at the store. When Chad hires newbie horror-phile Hawn (Hawn Tran), Chad and Sam try to indoctrinate him with a series of grueling tasks to prove he can make it in the video store biz. This usually means directing him to videos that end up being the stories of this anthology. Derivative of CLERKS, these connecting segments move quick and tightly through the one-liners, quips, put-downs, and sight gags, making one viewing to absorb all of the laughs impossible. If you laugh too hard, you’re going to miss the next and I have to say, I did so quite a few times as I got to know these characters. While usually the wraparound is the weakest part of these anthologies, a strong sense of comedy and a plethora of retro-classical video in jokes make this one stand out as one of the best ways to sew the anthology together. The bits also lead into the last segment, which I will get into in due time.
SCARE PACKAGE peaks early with my favorite installment in the bunch with “One Time in the Woods,” a short that mixes body horror, camping horror, slashers, and a ton of other subgenres to make a gleefully gory barrage of madness and mayhem. Everything starts out pretty calmly until someone steps in some goo. The random comments reacting to the craziness going on makes this short solid gold. I don’t want to ruin too much, but this one really goes over the top with effects and keeps the ball rolling at a frantic pace from beginning to end. The final beats of this segment make for some of the grossest and funniest parts of the film. I loved this rapid-fire bloodfest segment by Chris McInroy, the twisted mind behind the popular festival short “We Summoned a Demon.”
“M.I.S.T.E.R.” is up next from STARRY EYES’ Noah Segan who directs and stars in this segment that riffs on FIGHT CLUB. It’s cleverly written and there are some really fun swipes at modern masculinity, just as FIGHT CLUB does, but the issues they talk about are extremely first world and delivered with a rollicking un-PC fervor. It all makes for a fun social commentary making light of some of the issues men complain about today trying to fit into the world. There are some unexpected turns that end up paying off pretty well and there’s an appearance by GREENER GRASS’ Jocelyn DeBoer, all of which elevates this one to something devious and utterly endearing.
“Girls’ Night Out Of Body” by Courtney Andujar and Hillary Andujar is a pretty straight forward moralistic tale about taking something that isn’t yours and immediately paying for that crime. This one moves rather quickly and boppy. The gals featured are likable and it was fun listening to their banter as the horror looms. If you’re a fan of the SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE flicks and films like that, then you’re going to like this one a lot. There’s cursed suckers, creepers, and all kinds of body horror at play in this one. It’s not one of my faves of the bunch, but it’s got a slo mo pillow fight set to cool music, so there’s still a lot to like about it.
Being a huge slasher fan, I found “The Night He Came Back Again! Part IV: The Final Kill” one of the better ones of the bunch. The film manages to be meta and self-referential, like many of the other installments, but the film takes many of the tropes to the extreme nth degree. You know that moment where the killer is killed and there is no way he’s going to come back…until he does. Well, this one is about a killer whose victims are savvy to that fact and go to extreme lengths to make sure there is no coming back. There is a whole lot of blood sprayed in faces in SCARE PACKAGE, but this one does it over and over and over and over again. It makes for a gory good time. Again, if you’re a fan of this genre of film, you’re going to love what filmmaker Anthony Cousins offers up here. The final moments of this one are completely insane.
“So Much To Do” by Baron Vaughn couldn’t be more topical at the moment as it taps into that anxiety everyone people have when they have a full cue on their watch list and the pressures of having a show spoiled online or by friends before you are able to watch it. Somewhere along the way, there is a battle to the death between Fran (the gal who hates spoilers, played by Toni Trucks) and an assailant who wants to spoil the shows series finale for her. This one is Carpenter-esque right down to the awesome retro-synth music, the foggy atmosphere, and the extremely long and hilariously drawn out fight scene. Trucks delivers a really physically demanding performance is proves herself to be a true badass against her assailant. This one is much more stylistic than the rest, but fits in nicely for fans of Carpenter’s best years in cinema.
Finally, everything comes together in one messy, gory, and action packed (scare) package with Aaron B. Koontz’s “Horror Hypothesis.” Koontz directed the criminally under-seen CAMERA OBSCURA and again delivers an awesome finale to the film. He also does the wraparound segments which lead right into this final story. The horror equation is finally determined by a lab full of scientists and a group of horror movie clichés are put together in order to defeat an incoming threat (another slasher, of course). With the help of Chad’s knowledge of old, bad cinema and a little more help from a special guest star (who I won’t spoil), our pack of young tropes try to make it to the end of the movie before being murderized by the man-monster. While some of this is territory we’ve seen in CABIN IN THE WOODS, Koontz makes every joke work and of course covers everything in a thick coat of blood and guts. “Horror Hypothesis” really plays like the culmination of what all of the other installments were working towards and sticks the landing.
Like all anthologies, some of the installments are better than others, but overall, I think each of the short stories deliver solid laughs, top notch and gross effects, and a deep love and respect for horror that you don’t often see in this cynical age. If you know and love your horror genre, you have no business missing SCARE PACKAGE!