Nobody expected Scare Package to be as much of a hit as it was – not least co-creator Aaron B. Koontz who, alongside collaborator Cameron Burns, re-energized the horror anthology in a time when many of us were wondering whether it was dead for good. Koontz and Burns’s lively, frequently laugh-out-loud collection of shorts, most of which were presented by up-and-coming filmmakers rather than established names, and shepherded by Joe Bob Briggs wannabe Rad Chad (Jeremy King) was a massive success for streaming service Shudder and a sequel seemed inevitable. And now, Scare Package II: Rad Chad’s Revenge has been unleashed upon the world.
Wicked Horror sat down with Koontz to discuss horror sequels, the incomparable star power of returning lead King – so powerful, in fact, that Chad dying in the previous movie didn’t stop him coming back – why the Saw franchise was so ripe for lampooning, and lots more. Mild spoilers to follow for both movies.
WICKED HORROR: You have the Rad Chad puppet!
AARON B. KOONTZ: I do! That was one of the ones I kept myself, because it was an expensive prop to have made. We had Tate Steinsiek, who made the puppets for the Puppet Master movie, the new one [The Littlest Reich], so I was like I need somebody who can make this little animatronic thing. And then I ended up voicing the puppet, so we kind of forged a little connection, and so I keep him and then he creeps me out because in the middle of the night I forget he’s there and then I see this thing sitting on a windowsill and he gets in your dreams and it’s not good but anyway [laughs].
WICKED HORROR: Your narration is so deadpan and soft, and not really creepy at all. It just cracked me up so much.
AARON B. KOONTZ: Yeah, it’s very odd, it’s just like “okay, moving on” [laughs].
WICKED HORROR: So, I guess the first thing I really want to ask – puppet aside – is how did this movie come about? The last time we talked, you were telling me how frustrated you were making your first movie and how you just wanted to do something fun with your friends. Did you feel like there was more story to tell, or was it because of the demand? How did Scare Package II: Rad Chad’s Revenge happen?
AARON B. KOONTZ: I definitely did not think this was gonna happen. This was really… Like you said, I just had this idea to do something with my friends, and then all of a sudden, wait, people beyond this little circle of friends that I have are laughing at these jokes!? And other people think this is a fun world to play in? So, we just had to continue. We just had so much fun doing it, that we were like oh my god there’s gotta be something, so we definitely had an appetite for it. But we didn’t think that the rest of the world was going to notice, and then they did! People did all the fan art, people got tattoos, they dressed up as Rad Chad for Halloween, all this crazy stuff happened, and it just was so special. But then I was like oh no, but we killed some of my favorite people in this [laughs]. So, like, what do you do, you know? I had to find the right way of bringing them back and the right angle for that, too, but thankfully when you’re making a movie about tropes, there are no bigger horror tropes than in the horror sequel, where there really are no rules, anything can happen – Jamie Lee Curtis can cut off Michael Myers’s head in H2O and he can show up in the next movie – and, at the time, the new Saw movie was coming out, Spiral, so I was watching all those movies. Cary Elwes shows up at one point and you’re like what the hell is going on here. They’re so absurd, and I’m literally trying to write down like, okay, so this is this, but then how – just trying to understand the cannon of it, I got so into it, and I was like wait a second, this is it. This is what the movie’s about. Going into the absurdity of horror sequels, that’s what this should be. So, then we kind of had our hook and Shudder was onboard right after the release, like I would say a week after, they were like “the numbers are fantastic” and I was just like “what?” and then the Joe Bob [Briggs] thing was huge, and all this, so I was just like okay, and we were off and running.
WICKED HORROR: On that note, do you see this becoming a franchise and just getting more and more convoluted along the way?
AARON B KOONTZ: Convoluted is such a nice way of putting it, right? ‘Cause it’s just like convoluted on acid, like spit in the blender… Yes, I will say that Cameron [Burns], who created this with me, and I have a Google Doc spreadsheet that has about twenty Scare Package movies – just the names of all the Scare Package movies is fun enough to play with. This was originally called 2 Scared, 2 Packaged, and then Craig [Engler], who unfortunately is no longer there, was like “no,” so we had to go with something else.
WICKED HORROR: Aw! That would’ve been amazing!
AARON B. KOONTZ: Right?! But yeah, we definitely have ideas, and now we’re just keeping our fingers crossed that people still like it and if they do and there’s still an appetite, we definitely… In particular, I have a “Rad Chad trilogy idea” that’s really important to me. But beyond that, we have so many absurd ideas.
WICKED HORROR: Since you mentioned Rad Chad, we have to talk about Jeremy King, because I just think he’s such a star. Were you always intending to bring him back for the sequel, or did you ever consider letting Bo Buckley lead the charge? And also, what the hell is that character? ‘Cause as soon as he popped up, I was like “I love this” but also “what is going on?”
AARON B. KOONTZ: Oh my god, I’m glad you do, because it’s so… I have to kill Jeremy King in every movie I make, so I had to bring back some form of a Buckley – even in The Pale Door, there’s Bill Buckley, in Camera Obscura there’s Tad Buckley – there’s this whole Buckley Universe that I wanna do, and it’s just this challenging little rule that I have, so that was always gonna happen. But also, I knew that Rad Chad was so integral to what Scare Package was all about, and he just had this really optimistic view of horror, and the way he was looking for friends and all this, and that’s when it became fun to play around with, like what happens when that becomes desperation and people are making fun of horror and talking about toxic fandom – I have actual commentary within this completely stupid movie! [laughs] Anyway, I kind of envisioned him appearing posthumously either way, either just on the video screen just kind of talking, he would have left tapes of what he had done, it just felt very Rad Chad to me, so I knew that was going to be in there. Now, the level at which that became a thing kind of grew as we were moving along and figuring that out. But Bo was just because I had to bring another Buckley in, ‘cause I gotta kill one. And then, all of these characters have to feel unique and do something specific, so I was thinking what can we have Bo do? He can’t be boring, it has to be something weird, and I was looking up the oddest jobs that people still have that you’d be surprised they still have, and I came across a chimney sweep and was like what? That’s still a thing? Even when Kelli Maroney was like “that’s still a thing?” that was me, researching, and being like “that’s still a thing?” Then it was Alex Euting, my editor, who was like “Give him a cockney accent” and initially I was like “what? Why!?” but then I thought “wait a second, you’re right.” Because I thought that was absurd meant we had to do it. And Jeremy was so dedicated, that guy researched so much stupid stuff. We had to do a huge number of takes though, ‘cause Jeremy kept losing the accent [laughs]. Totally absurd, so yeah, a very, very silly character.
WICKED HORROR: I think the fact the accent is so bad just makes it funnier. Like, I put in my review “purposely(?) bad accent” ‘cause I assumed it was part of the joke but wasn’t quite sure.
AARON B. KOONTZ: It’s so bad. We world premiered at Frightfest, too, in London and then I realized, like, “oh no.”
WICKED HORROR: The Brits! You know they have zero sense of humor about it, too.
AARON B. KOONTZ: I was like great, this is going to go over just wonderfully, our world premiere, I’m already nervous enough. But, yeah, we definitely leaned into the things that he got wrong, because so much of Scare Package is literally like – and it happens on set too – if it’s making me laugh, just point the camera there and do more of it, you know? Just keep going. We kind of create a schedule that allows some freedom to do that, and to improvise, because you get a bunch of funny people in a room together and it just becomes something. There are entire set-pieces in this that were just a line to me that was funny, like one in particular was, I wrote down when I was in Jigsaw writing style day – I had a day where I was just writing parody dialogue while watching the Saw movies – and then this one line came to me: “You call horror a B-movie, well the real horror is the 10,000 bees I just put inside of you.” And I had no idea what that was going to be, we weren’t trying to make a Wicker Man thing, I just thought that line was so stupid and funny so when the time came, we just leaned into it and wrote an entire piece around it because I couldn’t get that line out of my head. And that’s how things like this start.
WICKED HORROR: And that’s what makes it so special, really.
AARON B. KOONTZ: Yeah, ‘cause even Cameron was like “Wait, what? We’re going to put bees inside of people? This is insane, it doesn’t make any sense” and that, to me, means we have to do it.
WICKED HORROR: But even the Saw wraparound itself, it’s so dumb and doesn’t make any sense but it’s also perfect for this movie. I know you said you were on a real Saw kick at the time, but did you ever consider using another movie franchise instead? Or did you just know immediately this one would be perfectly stupid?
AARON B. KOONTZ: Because the Saw movies are – no offense to the people who made them – stupid and nonsensical, like there’s a moment when Dwight’s character, Graham Skipper, asks everyone else “Do you know what’s going on?” And that was me, watching Saw 7 you know? Just going like, what is happening? So that was immediately very funny to me. I will say, though, the other one that I did think about was more of a Ring style thing, because there are tapes and someone coming out of the TV, and I was thinking there might be something fun in there that we could play with it, but that just didn’t really land because, number one, writing Jigsaw’s silly dialogue was so much fun and then, two, you get to create these escape room type things, which I was really into escape rooms and I was also in lockdown at the time, writing this, and figuring shit out. But, most importantly, to me, was that I now get to come up with the dumbest Saw traps of all time, and that became… I just felt like this is great, this is so much fun.
WICKED HORROR: What about the filmmakers you collaborated with on this, was it a case of reaching out to people or were you just inundated with requests after the first Scare Package?
AARON B. KOONTZ: We definitely had a number of people who were reaching out, and we were talking a lot, but each of these were folks that I went and talked to. I will say, Jed [Shepherd], in particular, who did “Special Edition,” he did petition. He was helping me contact another person and then their schedule fell through, and I was like I have to find somebody else now, and then Jed was like “I’m right here, can we please talk about this?” And then he started petitioning me, like, “I’m Filipino, I’ve got the Host girls, I’ve got all this,” so eventually I just gave in, and it was great. And as for the others, like, Alex Barreto, who did “Welcome to the ‘90s,” she’d made a short that I loved called “Lady Hater” and she was also a good friend of my producing partner, Ashleigh Snead, and she was a horror fan, so that worked. And then, I had this desire, I really wanted to make a sequel to a segment because I’d never seen that done before and if I’ve never seen it before, I wanna do it, and Anthony Cousins was already living in the sequel world ‘cause he made a sequel in the first one. So, it just became this story that felt like it needed to continue, so that one just kind of naturally fit in. And then Rachele Wiggins, who did “We’re So Dead,” which Cameron and I wrote, I met her at the world premiere of Scare Package, oddly enough, in Sitges, where we almost got arrested together because Jeremy King – Rad Chad – was driving the wrong way down a one-way road in Spain, got us pulled over, and they thought he was drunk even though he wasn’t.
WICKED HORROR: Well, to be fair, it’s Jeremy King, so it’s kind of hard to tell [laughs].
AARON B. KOONTZ: You can’t take the Rad Chad out of Jeremy, you know? I’ve known him for so long, I wrote these characters for him, knowing that. I can also speak in such a Rad Chad way now that it just becomes… It’s almost annoying when he and I get together, and he’s in character, and we can riff back and forth, it’s a weird thing. But yeah, all these filmmakers are just wonderful. One of the best things about this is that I love producing, I’ve produced a lot of movies, and I love working with different directors and seeing their craft and helping them develop their story. And Scare Package is just the best of all those worlds. I get to direct something that’s my baby, that I’m writing and producing, and kind of overseeing these other segments, and working with these other super-talented directors and just putting this all together, that’s Scare Package, you know?
WICKED HORROR: Totally. You mentioned “We’re So Dead,” which I think is probably my favorite short this time around, I laughed pretty much the whole way through. How did you guys get involved with that one? And did you want to do more, or were you content to just sit back and help everyone else to flourish?
AARON B. KOONTZ: We were, basically, again during the pandemic I just couldn’t go anywhere so at one point Cameron and I had written a couple features and I was like “I wanna write Scare Package stuff.” We didn’t know exactly what we were doing, but we had written the main wraparound idea, so we just started writing segments. And we actually wrote three different segments just in case, because of everything going on at the time. But honestly, I didn’t want to direct any more of them, my vanity had already reached such a level – I directed too much of this movie anyway [laughs]. I was like, I gotta settle down, ‘cause it’s just fun and I love staying in this world. The idea there really came out of this trope of kids in these adult movies where the adults have no clue what’s going on, and the kids are just doing the most absurd shit, and that just made me laugh. I re-watched The Goonies in particular, and the kids are just saying “shit” the whole time, they’re running around doing whatever they want, and it just made me happy and I just wanted to have a bunch of kids standing around cursing and doing shit they shouldn’t be doing, and I gradually leaned into the Pet Sematary and Stand By Me of it all, and it just became – Stand By Me became a linchpin, in particular, because that was such a fun narrative device on how to write this. I’m really proud of it, and the ending came at the very end, it was the last thing we did. We’d written the segment and I was like we need a punch, we need a bigger hit, at the end and then I was like oh my god, the cat and The Fly, and that just made me laugh. Of course, then I’m editing it all and my fellow producers are like “Aaron, you’re a producer, you understand we now have to make this thing at the end of this, and this is not an easy thing to do.” And I’m like “yeah, but that means we have to do it.” ‘Cause I’m ridiculously ambitious with these little films. But that’s also my favorite gag, when he shows up at the end. That kid too is so funny. He actually has my favorite line delivery, when the other kid with the glasses asks, “was climbing Mount Everest a bad idea?” and he says, “for some people?” Just the way he says that kills me. I think Rachele did such a great job directing that and it has such wonderful performances. And it wasn’t written to be an Australian thing, Cameron and I just wrote that for us, which is why there are Sunny Delight jokes – there’s no Sunny Delight in Australia but that’s a commercial that I remembered as a kid, and I was like we have to keep that in. But then I let her Aussie it up a bit and have some fun with it. And Rachele and Helen [Tuck], her producing partner, just did a wonderful job.
WICKED HORROR: There was no child actor obnoxiousness about them either, which I always appreciate. You know, when they just seem like real kids and they’re not performing for the camera?
AARON B. KOONTZ: Yeah, I mean, again that’s credit to Rachele because she was able to get kids who knew each other. They’d all worked on commercials together, it’s a really small community of actors there, so for the bigger child actors they’re always auditioning for things together, so for them to all be working on the same thing was really, really special for them. They already had this sense of camaraderie, and that shows even in that little segment, the inter-connectivity between them really shone through on the screen. And again, credit to Rachele for putting them together because we were going through the videos – and it was one of the easiest casting processes, even though I was so worried about it – and I was just like “That one, that one, that one, that one” and Rachele was like “Yup, my top ones as well. Perfect, let’s go.”
WICKED HORROR: Before I let you go; I have to ask you – there’s CGI in this movie. There was none in Scare Package, it was all so wonderfully practical, and I feel like it must be a deliberate choice because of the time period in horror that you’re making fun of in this movie?
AARON B. KOONTZ: Yes, there are specific things – you’re good, you’re good, you get it! – in late nineties and early 2000s horror, there was this interesting mix of – I think of Ghost Ship is one in particular that does this – but there were these movies that it was all practical and then there was this one kind of janky effect, but mixed with a practical element, and I was just like “no, leave it because this feels like a 1998 horror movie right now,” you know? And that’s what I wanted. Kelli Maroney’s death, for instance, which we do CGI and then we do practical, and I remember we were doing it and it was like oh no, they didn’t fall the right way, and I was like no, no, no, they did, that one fell in an eighties style way and this is kind of like a nineties style way, and that’s funny to me. It’s hard for people to understand what I’m trying to do, but everything is kind of a reference, and we definitely put a lot of time into little things like this. Even certain performances at certain times that go a little heightened, and different things, it’s all deliberate, and I think a lot of people don’t get that, and that’s okay, I don’t blame someone not understanding why certain performances are a little crazy or certain effects are a little shoddy – that’s supposed to be the charm of it. It’s very deliberate, but that’s okay, I mean, it’s not for everyone. It’s really for… folks like yourself that get it and understand what this era of horror was about. From the first Scare Package to the second one, it’s been a transition now.
WICKED HORROR: I think it was the chains that tipped me off. I was just thinking why would you CG chains, it seems needlessly complicated for a relatively simple, small moment. But then once you realize it’s supposed to look dodgy, it just makes it even funnier.
AARON B. KOONTZ: Well, it’s funny ‘cause if you watch the later Hellraiser sequels, that’s exactly what they look like. They’re not always using real stuff, especially in the third and fourth movie, that’s just what they do, and I was like well that’s what we need to do. And we used real chains in other places, but there’ll be these moments where it’s just like “what?” We even have blood dripping on one of the chains at one point, which doesn’t even make sense, because it’s coming from a direction where there wouldn’t be blood dripping down, but it just makes me laugh. Little things like that.
WICKED HORROR: There are tons of great practical gags throughout anyway, so I feel like even if someone is getting annoyed by the CG and doesn’t understand why it’s there and why it looks the way it does, there’s enough other stuff that it shouldn’t really matter. But for hardcore horror fans, I’m sure it’ll really tickle them.
AARON B. KOONTZ: Yeah, it is subtle, and it is still, like, 95% practical effects. And we do go full bore into all of them, like Dwight is in a bloody skin suit the entire time, there’s no CGI on him whatsoever, the cat kid is zero CGI, a lot of these things are just as is. That’s the beauty of Scare Package, you never know what you’re gonna get.
Catch Scare Package II: Rad Chad’s Revenge streaming exclusively on Shudder now
** Interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.