By MICHAEL GINGOLD
Starring Jeremy King, John Michael Simpson and Hawn Tran
Directed by Emily Hagins, Aaron B. Koontz, Chris McInroy, Noah Segan, Courtney & Hillary Andujar, Anthony Cousins and Baron Vaughn
Written by Emily Hagins, Aaron B. Koontz & Cameron Burns, Chris McInroy, Frank Garcia Hejl & Noah Segan, Courtney & Hillary Andujar & Ben Fee,
John Karsko & Anthony Cousins and Baron Vaughn
“I don’t know about all the meta stuff,” someone says early in SCARE PACKAGE, before this anthology feature goes on to demonstrate that its filmmaking collective has no issues with it. The recent Shudder premiere takes on the conventions of the horror genre in a several different ways, with varying degrees of success.
Among its cleverest inventions is Mike (John Michael Simpson) in Emily Hagins’ “Cold Open” segment. He’s the guy who sets things up behind the scenes for cinematic villains: adjusting the “ABANDONED INSANE ASYLUM 10 MILES” sign so it points the wrong way, cutting the power in a house where a couple of teen girls are babysitting on Halloween night, etc. But he aspires to be more than just a slasher’s flunky, and commiserates with Wendy (Haley Alea Erickson), a cop who’s always required to miss when she attempts to shoot zombies in the head. Through this pair, Hagins charmingly kids assorted fear-flick clichés, and “Cold Open” is SCARE PACKAGE’s best and most effectively referential segment.
It’s also the first one, and none of the stories that follow are quite as good, though a couple come close. Those include the framing story, “Rad Chad’s Horror Emporium,” directed by Aaron B. Koontz and written by Koontz and Cameron Burns, who also came up with the overall concept. The title refers to one of the last remaining video stores, where scary-movie buff Rad Chad (Jeremy King) oversees a stock of largely DVDs but also some vintage VHS tapes, and trains new worker Hawn (Hawn Tran). This occasions assorted discussions of different fright-film tropes, of varying levels of acuity. Then things get bloody with “One Time in the Woods,” in which filmmaker Chris McInroy takes a standard backwoods-horror situation to its ne plus ultra of extreme splatstick, courtesy of makeup effects creator Tate Steinsiek. There are amusing bits here, though if you’ve seen NIGHTMARE CINEMA, you can’t help but think that Alejandro Brugues did a similar scenario sharper in his similarly titled “The Thing in the Woods,” and this episode adds up to little more than the sum of its gore gags.
The same is true for the later “The Night He Came Back Again! Part IV–The Final Kill,” directed by Anthony Cousins and written by him and John Karsko. As a group of youths turn the tables on a 4th of July maniac and Ryan Schaddelee serves up a banquet of grisly prosthetics, there are moments that make you gasp and giggle, even as the only point seems to be showing off those effects. After SCARE PACKAGE’s eighth or ninth close-up of a blood-splattered face or spilling intestines, it feels like the movie wants to be congratulated for showcasing practical effects in the age of CGI, though really, that pendulum has long since swung back the other way.
More thematically oriented are “M.I.S.T.,E.R.,” co-written and directed by and starring horror regular Noah Segan, and “Girls Night Out of Body,” the directorial debut of genre production designers Courtney & Hillary Andujar. The former undercuts toxic masculinity gone literally monstrous (the title stands for “Men In Serious Turmoil, Establishing Rights”), and the latter comes labeled as “Post Modern Feminist Slasher Revenge Body Horror,” celebrating female agency in the face of a male threat. Both are potent ideas, and “Girls Night,” not surprisingly, is the best-looking of the SCARE PACKAGE entries. It’s just a shame that these two aren’t more fully developed on a narrative level, even in the short form; they play like sketches one would like to see more fully fleshed out.
Comedian Baron Vaughn (the voice of Tom Servo in the MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 revival) gets behind the camera for “So Much To Do,” which takes on spoilerism, though its supernatural and satirical components never quite gel. Finally, we return to Rad Chad’s Video Emporium for Koontz and Burns’ “Horror Hypothesis,” in which Chad finds himself trapped in a fear film of his own, and attempts to use his knowledge to figure a way out. This closing story is unfortunately the most problematic one, on two levels. As opposed to some of its predecessors in the lineup, it’s way too long, and the pacing goes slack (the first material to go should have been a couple of security guards debating GAME OF THRONES, to quickly diminishing returns).
More pertinently, its satire of the genre is pretty softball stuff, and gets muddled the longer it goes on. A surprise cameo briefly adds more life to the proceedings, but when this personage chides the trivia-obsessed Chad, “You are the personification of what the Internet did to film criticism,” it seems disingenuous, coming from a movie that has built its preceding 90 minutes lobbing reflexive daggers at cinematic terror tropes. Finally, the namechecking of SCREAM only reminds that that Wes Craven film–along with CABIN IN THE WOODS and TUCKER AND DALE VS. EVIL–also did this kind of meta horror/comedy better. Perhaps it’s unfair to base one’s judgement of a movie so closely against its predecessors, but when its primary goal is to demonstrate that it’s smarter than the genre’s run-of-the-mill, comparison with others of its type is unavoidable–and, in this case, unflattering.