2019’s Scare Package was a fabulously gory and hilariously funny revelation from creative duo Aaron B. Koontz and Cameron Burns that made V/H/S look like the pretentious waffle it is while further emphasizing ABCs of Death’s vital lack of cohesion. Both series are inherently nasty, but Scare Package aimed to entertain and scare. It was a nice surprise in a wasteland of horror anthologies, at a time when it was starting to feel like we might never get a good one again (funnily enough, the equally brilliant The Mortuary Collection also dropped on Shudder the very same year). A sequel to Scare Package was inevitable, but as we’ve learned from V/H/S in particular, sometimes it’s better not to keep flogging the same (un)dead horse. Thankfully, with Scare Package II: Rad Chad’s Revenge, we’re very much in fun, defiantly tongue-in-cheek, and gleefully meta territory so even when it doesn’t soar like its predecessor, there’s still plenty to enjoy.
The action kicks off at Rad Chad’s poorly attended funeral–the spaces for his family are all empty aside from Chad’s inexplicably British cousin, Bo Buckley, who’s quite literally dressed like Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins (and does about as good of an accent). Also in attendance is poor Jessie (Zoe Graham), the final girl from the first movie, who’s understandably suffering from severe PTSD after everything she’s been through. And, in a clever nod, Kirk (Kirk C. Johnson), aka the loquacious melting man from Scare Package’s all-timer segment “One Time in the Woods,” is there too and happily signing autographs of his liquefied form for eager fans. Before too long, Chad himself appears on a screen and, much like Jigsaw, he wants to play a game. Or rather he wants to torture his mourners while also making them watch his favorite horror movies. In other words, not much has changed for Chad, even in death.
The first segment, “Welcome to the 90s,” finds a group of final girls all happily living together in a sorority house next door to the Sure to Die sisters. They’re menaced by a serial killer named Tony but don’t take his threats too seriously since, duh, they’re the final girls–look at “our androgynous faces, khaki pants, and button-up shirts,” quips one–but then Tony turns his attention to them instead and suddenly the group has to come up with a plan of action. Hilariously, one chick suggests dressing up like Tony’s mom and shaming him (if you know your slasher movies, you’ll know which one). There’s a lovely, grainy texture to writer-director Alexandra Barreto’s winningly incisive short, which effortlessly evokes the feeling of an old-school slasher even without naming characters Nancy, Ginny, etc. The women’s idea of partying is truly iconic, but “Welcome to the ’90s” also features some sharp commentary on how the idea of the final girl can be perceived as patronizing and sexist.
Moreover, through the character of Buffy (a spirited Steph Barkley), the group learns that they don’t have to be pigeonholed to survive (let’s leave aside that character’s problematic ties to virulent misogynist Joss Whedon and take the point as it was meant to be taken). Barreto’s segment owes a lot to Carol J. Clover’s seminal text “Men, Women and Chain Saws”–particularly a rousing monologue about the fake progressiveness in classic slasher movies, all of which were helmed by men apart from Halloween (since, obviously, without producer and screenwriter Debra Hill there would be no Laurie Strode). The performances are all terrific, and the gore is great, with even some vomit acid thrown in for good measure. Barreto is definitely one to watch going forward. Next up, Rad Chad informs the group that “sequels are the lifeblood of the horror genre” with the biggest wink wink, nudge nudge look to camera imaginable as poor Daisy (Chelsey Grant, returning from the first movie) battles her brother/tormentor once more in “The Night He Came Back Again! Part VI: The Night She Came Back.”
Michael Paul Levin does a wonderfully on-the-nose Dr. Loomis impression as Dr. Castle (surely a nod to Nick Castle), the violence is gloriously splattery once again, and a tombstone knowingly reads: “Beloved brother/psycho killer.” If you thought they couldn’t possibly wring any more insanity out of this one, ludicrously threadbare premise, prepare to be proven wrong–I’d happily watch fifty more of these in every subsequent Scare Package installment. “Special Edition” sees Host director Jed Shephard trying to earn back some of the goodwill he lost with the spectacularly misjudged Dashcam, which was released earlier this year. It’s an uneven, underwritten story with some very fine performances from its all-female cast, who were notably involved in Host, too. The premise surrounds a creepy on-set photo of a shadowy figure in a window, which comes to life and starts terrorizing a group of friends sequestered in a lighthouse. The guy is a weird Channel Zero-esque creation with swords for arms, essentially a creepypasta writ large, and the knowing reference to Slenderman suggests that’s exactly what Shepherd was going for, even if the jokes land harder than the scares–an inane conversation is presented using slo-mo footage with a plaintive score to give it undeserved gravitas. This particular segment feels hurried and unfinished, unlike the others, which are all self-contained stories with satisfying beginnings, middles, and ends. It’s a shame, but Shepherd and his crew of go-to performers are demonstrably talented regardless.
Last, but certainly not least, “We’re So Dead” finds a group of goofy Aussie kids discovering a body, Stand By Me-style, before reanimating the corpse much like, well, Re-Animator all while one child’s mother shouts disapprovingly from the top of the basement staircase–crucially, her face is obscured, recalling tons of nineties kids’ shows. Things quickly get out of control, and the fact the group actually uses the Day-Glo-green Re-Animator serum just makes the whole thing even funnier. There are also some dashes of The Fly thrown in for good measure. The humor is very silly, What We Do in the Shadows-style, everybody-talking-over-everyone-else stuff, but filmmaker Rachele Wiggins, who has a muscular background in special effects, keeps things super gory too. Likewise, there’s some makeup late in the game that’s jaw-droppingly convincing as well as being a great payoff for an earlier joke. The kids are all brilliant and there isn’t a hint of child actor obnoxiousness about them either. This is notably the only short on which co-creators Koontz and Burns have writing credits, so it stands to reason that it’s one of the strongest.
In fact, Scare Package II is book-ended by two great shorts. “Welcome to the ’90s” and “We’re So Dead” are the clear standouts, which may sound like damning with faint praise considering there are only four shorts overall–five including the wraparound–compared to the original movie’s eight. The wraparound itself sags ever so slightly, but it likely had to be meatier to accommodate all of the big names involved, including the always welcome Graham Skipper, who endures a Hellraiser-aping incident but keeps going anyway, Summer of ’84 star Rich Sommer, and eighties icon Kelli Maroney. Burns and Koontz still lean heavily on Jeremy King as Chad throughout, and rightly so, since his name is in the title and, let’s face it, the man is a star whether he’s (purposely?) adopting a terrible English accent or simply cackling from behind a desk. The original movie found a more satisfying balance between the wraparound and the shorts but, here, the comparative lack of mini-segments necessitates more padding in the main story.
There’s also a prevalence of CGI in Scare Package II, which initially feels jarring after the triumph of the first installment’s awe-inspiring practical FX. However, it’s evidently a deliberate choice on the part of the filmmakers considering, in Scare Package, they were predominantly sending up ‘80s slasher movies, but here the focus is on early to mid-2000s horror, which relied heavily on truly terrible computer-generated effects. There’s a moment when chains are digitally rendered, which is a dead giveaway, because why would anyone choose to do that rather than just using actual chains? There are plenty of wonderful practical gags too, including one character being stuck in a TV, and even a Rad Chad puppet (voiced by Koontz) that’s just as creepy as its Saw counterpart. Likewise, much like Scare Package, the references are bizarre and varied, with everything from Ghost Ship to My Girl to Saved by the Bell getting a nod. It’s never boring either–even when something doesn’t necessarily work (which is rare) there’s another great moment almost immediately after it. Throwing everything at the screen to see what sticks has tripped many a filmmaker up in the past, but Koontz and Burns have made a goddamn art-form out of it. Long may Rad Chad’s reign of terror continue.
Catch Scare Package II: Rad Chad’s Revenge exclusively on Shudder from December 22, 2022
WICKED RATING: 8/10
Director(s): Aaron B. Koontz, Alexandra Barreto, Anthony Cousins, Jed Shepherd, Rachele Wiggins
Writer(s): Aaron B. Koontz, Cameron Burns, Alexandra Barreto, John Karsko, Jed Shepherd
Stars: Zoe Graham, Jeremy King, Rich Sommer, Shakira Ja’nai Paye, Kelli Maroney, Graham Skipper
Release date: December 22, 2022 (Shudder)
Run Time: 108 minutes