Scare Package, Shudder’s latest must-watch, is an anthology so, even without knowing anything else about it, one’s guard is up. Anthologies are tough to get right chiefly because they’re only as good as the final instalment or, worse, the wraparound story – consider the wide, yawning chasm between the brilliant V/H/S/2 and its meandering, confused follow-up, V/H/S Viral which, shockingly, employed the talents of genre fan favorites Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson yet still managed to fall flat (hell, I couldn’t tell you what their short, or any of the others for that matter, was about without looking it up first).
In direct opposition to that and, arguably, most anthologies we’ve had to suffer through in recent years, Scare Package doesn’t have a dud in the bunch. In fact, the biggest complaint would be that we don’t get to spend enough time with one segment in particular, which is a wonderful complaint to have with this kind of endeavor. There are eight segments total, spread out over the course of 103 minutes, a lengthy running time for an anthology but thankfully not a moment is wasted here, with things kicking off at a sprightly pace with a short quite literally entitled “Cold Open.” The first glimpse of a signpost for an abandoned insane asylum sets the goofy tone right away. Scare Package is light on its feet, barely pausing for breath to ensure we’re never in danger of getting bored.
“Cold Open” showcases how poor Mike, a literal cold opener himself, is never allowed the opportunity to get involved in the real action in a horror movie. Naturally, once he does, Mike realizes it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Writer-director Emily Hagins pokes fun at well-known genre conventions without laying it on too thick while a Halloween-aping score fits the material perfectly. “Rad Chad’s Horror Emporium,” meanwhile, is essentially the movie’s wraparound story. Set at a super-cool rental store (the short was filmed at the beloved Vulcan Video in Austin), Aaron B. Koontz and Cameron Burns, who are also the masterminds behind Scare Package in general, focus on the titular owner (Jeremy King) as he goes about his business training a mysterious new employee while simultaneously dodging his store’s biggest fan and best customer.
An obvious play on MRAs, incels, and their ilk, Segan’s addition loses nothing by taking on a group everybody with any sense is already making fun of. A moment during a group meeting when each man is given the opportunity to air their grievances is genuinely laugh-out-loud funny, with one screaming “I don’t know where your keys are!” (fair), but the real strength of “M.I.S.T.E.R.” lies in how it doesn’t go at all where it’s expected. There are tons of clever details along the way too, including a strategically placed “Live Laugh Love” sign and a joke about chocolate being poisonous to dogs. By the end, even Segan’s young daughter has featured, credited as “The Baby.” Up next, Courtney and Hilary Andujar’s “Girls’ Night Out Of Body” employs the use of a delicious-looking fluorescent orange skull lollipop to horrifying effect, and, while it kind of looks as though their all-female cast is wearing Tori’s zombie make-up from that one episode of Victorious, the frothy, girly tone is well-established, including a post-murder pillow fight. This is the one segment, however, that feels rushed. The same is arguably true of Baron Vaughn’s quick, but no less effective, “So Much To Do,” which impressively relegates its action to a living room while losing nothing of its impact. This short also employs the use of a televised fight, in which the writer-director himself features, which avoids energy-sapping exposition – so important in an anthology, when a filmmaker has so little time to make their point.
“The Night He Came Back Again! Part IV: The Final Kill” meanwhile, takes on another classic trope in horror, with a killer who just won’t die even when dismembered or stuffed with fireworks. Anthony Cousins’ offering, which he co-wrote with John Karsko, showcases something that’s present throughout Scare Package; an intimate understanding of, and abiding love and respect for, horror movies. The tone is light, sure, and the references plentiful but there’s no smug, self-satisfied or oppressively meta attitudes here, the film is engineered to appeal to those of us who know what a title like The Night He Came Back Again! Part IV: The Final Kill is referencing, and to encourage those who think horror movies aren’t their thing to take a peek inside and see how much fun they can be. Scare Package may be light on scares, but the joke hit rate is insanely high and with this much brilliantly-done practical FX work on show, who really cares if it’s not frightening? Horror-comedy is a tough sub-genre to tackle, and Scare Package does it with aplomb, eight times over.
“Horror Hypothesis,” the final segment and the one that ties everything together, including the wraparound story at Rad Chad’s, exemplifies arguably even more so than any of the other shorts that this is a movie by horror fans, for everybody. Utilizing a setup similar to that in the risible Cabin in the Woods, a movie that preached about loving horror while going on and on and on about all the ways it’s dumb and for losers, “Horror Hypothesis” pokes fun at genre staples while simultaneously excavating them with razor-sharp skill. There are plenty of fun nods, of course, from the sound of the Alien tracker to a classic outfit pulled straight from A Nightmare on Elm Street, but the performances and, again, humor shine through. The always lovable Chase Williamson, fast becoming a horror hero in his own right following take-notice turns in the likes of Beyond the Gates and Victor Crowley, to name just two, pops up to play against type and does a wonderful job of it. Meanwhile, Chad finally gets his moment to shine and, naturally, it doesn’t go the way he’s expecting (or does it?)
Now, there’s a cameo in the final segment that journalists have been asked not to spoil. Once you know who it is, you’ll probably be able to guess why. All I’ll say is that “Cameo” is a terrible actor with a stiff, self-conscious delivery, but I can completely understand why the makers of Scare Package took a shot on including this person. There’s a huge swathe of horror fans who will be delighted to see “Cameo.” As a queer woman, I was not one of them. The presence of “Cameo,” who sticks around for a little bit too long, annoyingly, considering it’s a cameo, soured the whole experience for me. To that end, and to anybody else who watches this movie and feels annoyed by the presence of “Cameo”, allow me to present the real cameo to get excited about; WWE Superstar Dustin “Goldust” Rhodes as deformed, Jaon-esque killer the Devil’s Lake Impaler. Rhodes is a hilarious addition and does a great job, particularly in the flashback sequence to happier times for his character.
Overall, though, Scare Package is a remarkably effective, solid anthology movie. The tone is fun and light-hearted, similar to the recent Porno, with the emphasis on gooey, crunchy, splattery gore and solid, smart jokes. The requisite synthwave score, by Alex Cuervo, ties the whole thing together beautifully and, although the flick employs several demonstrably talented cinematographers, the combined look of the movie is terrific; rich, tactile, and colourful. A must-watch, horror fan or otherwise.
Catch Scare Package exclusively on Shudder from June 18, 2020
WICKED RATING: 8/10
Director(s): Emily Hagins, Chris McInroy, Hilary & Courtney Andujar, Noah Segan, Baron Vaughn, Anthony Cousins & Aaron B. Koontz
Writer(s): Courtney Andujar, Hillary Andujar, Anthony Cousins, Ben Fee, Frank Garcia-Hejl, Emily Hagins, John Karsko, Aaron B. Koontz, Chris McInroy, Noah Segan, Baron Vaughn
Stars: Noah Segan, Chase Williamson, Dustin Rhodes, Baron Vaughn
Release date: June 18, 2020 (Shudder)
Studio/Production Company: Paper Street Pictures
Run Time: 103 minutes