As always when I tackle horror, I come at it from an “intrigued by the genre but certainly not an expert in the minutiae” stance (there are sites which focus solely on horror and do so wonderfully). And, stating that, I still know that poking fun at various horror tropes isn’t exactly new. Even so, just because the basic idea behind “Scare Package,” the horror anthology hitting Shudder this week, has been seen before is no reason in and of itself to dismiss it. There are other reasons to dismiss this loosely connected series of tales, and that’s mostly in how they’re connected.
Like any such endeavor, some tales are stronger and others weaker. Although this is to be expected, the problem with the movie as a whole is that it starts on a very high note with “Cold Open,” which is written and directed by Emily Hagins and deals with people who play stock characters in horror films, and then “Scare Package” begins a march downhill. Things do rebound with the closing “Horror Hypothesis” directed by Aaron B. Koontz and written by Koontz & Cameron Burns—the two are also responsible for “Rad Chad’s Horror Emporium,” which provides the main spine of the anthology—but by then it is too late.
The various tales here, as noted, explore different aspects of the horror genre (and various subgenres) and there is a purposefully downmarket aesthetic to all of it. That is, when bodies are ripped apart or heads pop off or a chest is impaled or people turn into goo creatures, it all takes place with a distinctly, and purposefully, low budget feel. There are no scares in “Scare Package,” it is as all done with a knowing wink and a smile. There is nothing wrong with that, the question is whether the filmmakers simply wink and smile at the audience, or if those watching return the gestures.
That said, “Rad Chad’s Horror Emporium” is the biggest obstacle the film faces. This tale of video store clerk, Chad (Jeremy King) training his new employee, Hawn (Hawn Tran), while a would-be employee, Sam (Byron Brown), makes his distress at not being hired known, is the one to which the film constantly returns. Many of the other tales are films at the video store and the conceit becomes old quickly, particularly after the handoff from “Cold Open” to “Rad Chad” introduces a different, better, way to move from one story to another.
Despite our seeing the “Rad Chad” tale the most, it doesn’t offer up great insights into the horror genre nor into its characters. Chad is the most well drawn and he is little more than a horror know-it-all, happy to explain to everyone the rules of the genre. Also appearing in “Horror Hypothesis,” we see that Chad is well aware of his personality, but the film chooses to do little beyond offering up the insight. Every time we return from another tale to “Rad Chad,” “Scare Package” loses momentum as it forces the audience to wonder why we have to keep coming back to the store.
In the most simple terms, “Scare Package” is a series of brief potential amusements where any viewer’s individual mileage will vary. So, for example, if you’re a fan of the slasher genre, “The Night he Came Back Again! Part IV – The Final Kill” may be right up your alley. There are also tales of possession and bad things in the woods and more. And, while there are elements of the overall film that don’t work no matter what, but most of the stories have some sort of redeeming quality.
As long as the horror genre exists, it will continue to (deservedly) be lampooned and “Scare Package” hits a few good ones. However, a joke based upon the number of genres available knocking “post modern feminist slasher revenge body horror” as only containing one movie (we do get to see the entry, “Girls’ Night out of Body,” which is directed by Courtney & Hillary Andujar and written by the two along with Ben Fee) feels more like a cheap shot at feminism than anything else. A generous interpretation of the empty shelves in the section would be that we need more of the subgenre, but it doesn’t read that way.
As a whole, “Scare Package” uses its low budget feel in its favor and has a lot of fun in its depictions of demons and monsters and covens and blood and guts. What it doesn’t do is spend enough time making the characters we see most often interesting. Every time we return to them, the film loses a little more momentum. It is regrettable in a series of stories, and an idea, with such potential.
photo credit: Shudder