Right off the bat, Scare Package makes no excuses for its comical meta nature. The film begins with a cold open that is fully aware of the fact that it’s a cold open. It follows the hilarious exploits of Mike (perhaps you can guess his last name), whose job it is to get a horror movie started. He can cut the power, fuck with the direction of a road sign — any of a number of things that could potentially put horny teens into the path of your standard horror tropes. The thing is, he wants more. He wants to be a part of the story. Tonight, his dreams just might come true — he’s going to insert himself into a horror movie and give himself more to do than just being a faceless plot motivator.
And as these things go, his efforts are far from successful. From here Scare Package pulls back the metatextual lens one layer further to reveal that what we’re watching is part of a script that Mike wrote, called Cold Open (It’s actually written/directed by Emily Hagins). We’re multiple winks and nods past a fully coherent framing device, but it’s ultimately to the film’s strength. By abandoning the logic to which so many horror anthologies wed their wraparound story, Scare Package gives itself free rein to do whatever its collection of filmmakers wish to do. What do they wish to do? In a word: Party.
Here the wraparound story follows a day in the life of Rad Chad, the owner of a VHS rental store, and a self-proclaimed horror aficionado. He just brought in a new hire, much to the chagrin of a regular customer/applicant who, despite being well-qualified, generally sucks. This soon devolves into a horror plot that I shan’t spoil, but can happily say is a funny, consistently clever tale. It honestly could have been a whole movie on its own. As it develops, Chad exhibits some of his favorite tapes, each of which makes up a segment of the anthology.
These individual shorts are a mixed bag, as is standard with any horror anthology, but what sets it apart is the overall tone. The winking nature of the wraparound bleeds into each short film, allowing the filmmakers of each to play fast and loose with the minimal connective tissue they otherwise share.
This best of the bunch is by filmmaker Chris McInroy, whose filmography consists of a bunch of banger shorts that could all be described as goopy and splattery (I interviewed him many moons ago). As the first proper segment in Scare Package, his One Time In the Woods sets the stage quite nicely for what’s to follow. It’s appropriately hilarious and colorful, but it’s also absurdly gruesome and dark. The downside is that it goes so hard so early that some of the following shorts pale in comparison. That said, placing the segment closer to the middle would rob the film at large of such a strong opening. It’s a no win situation for the editor, but a big win for everyone who can stomach McInroy’s brand of slimy fun.
Another high point is Anthony Cousins’ The Night He Came Back Again IV: The Final Kill, which presents as a mid-franchise entry in a Friday the 13th-esque series involving a killer that simply will not stay dead, if he even dies in the first place (or is he undead? We’ll never know…). Jason Voorhees keeps coming back, but we stopped asking why a long time ago. Conversely, in TBHCBAIV:TFK, the unkillable nature of the antagonist is the focus of the story, and it is played for raucous humor and extreme violence that’s very much in tone with the anthology.
Courtney and Hilary Andujar’s Girl’s Night Out of Body, Noah Segan’s M.I.S.T.E.R., and Baron Vaughn’s So Much to Do each have aspects worth celebrating individually, but feel noticeably less of a piece with the film as a whole. All three have a killer idea at their center, but feel a bit undercooked in execution. They feel less like they were made for this anthology and more like they were already made and inserted after the fact. Again, Scare Package is able to get away with such tonal variety on account of its established chaotic goals — which is not something any horror filmmaker should work to avoid. Plus, it speaks to a diversity of style and form that the best anthologies will work to include. One of the things that makes the V/H/S franchise so enduring is the way it invites all different types of filmmakers to the party. Scare Package has the same admirable goals, and it succeeds at being a showcase for some tremendous talent, but without a strong connective tissue (in the case of V/H/S, the short films are bound to a found footage style), it can feel a bit disjointed.
But this is a small quibble considering how much fun the experience of watching Scare Package proves to be. The fact of the matter is that you really don’t know what you’re going to get with each new entry, and if one doesn’t happen to work for you, the next one is right around the corner. There’s something by and for everybody here, which is indicative of why horror is having such a moment right now: it’s not the niche genre that many wrongfully believe it to be. There really is something for everyone, and films like Scare Package are propping the door open for anybody who wishes to be drenched in karo syrup.
Directed by Courtney Andujar, Hillary Andujar, Anthony Cousins, Emily Hagins, Aaron B. Koontz, Chris McInroy, Noah Segan, Baron Vaughn
Starring Jan Michael Simpson, Jeremy King, Stephanie Thoreson, Atsuko Okatsuka, Joe Bob Briggs
Not Rated, 107 minutes