Shudder’s upcoming Scare Package is a love-letter to genre obsessions inked in blood by horror-loving filmmakers. Any anthology comes with ups and downs, but thankfully the “ups” here swing bigger than expected. Seven directors submit a collection of meta-spoofy spooks which share a collective heart that is forever in the right place. The bigger the horror fan, the harder the jokes land as recognizable structures or archetypes are roasted over an open flame. Sometimes to a charred, smokey Texas flavor that is worth drool-dribble reactions, other times overdone and burned to a bitter aftertaste that’s easier to forget.
So, let’s talk “package.”
Together, shorts double as old-school bites of horror nostalgia that populate a VHS rental joint owned by the film’s Randy Meeks replicant. As a new employee learns the ropes, titles are “explained” by either “Rad” Chad (Jeremy King), regular horror-bro customer Sam (Byron Brown), or play on the store’s television. It’s a wraparound that keeps us engaged and connected, and also represents the project’s strongest material at any point. Translation? The film’s crowning achievement is what we see the most of, and what becomes the film’s last and longest feature as “Rad” Chad closes Scare Package with a reasonably respectful Cabin In The Woods riff. The only problem is in doing so, I could barely recall some of the previous segments that are so quickly overwritten and pushed from memory.
Emily Hagins’ “Cold Open” initiates the metaness to follow with an unfortunate killer origin story. It’s a commentary on filling the blanks in horror movies like, who cut the power? Who planted the cursed artifacts in the attic? That’d be mild-mannered Mike Myers (Jon Michael Simpson), who’s following written orders received at random – but Mike wants more out of life! He yearns for a named credit, to save the teens, and to be more than an off-screen helper. His insecurities lead to a series of mishaps when he tries to play hero with two babysitters, which ends violently and unfortunately. A sweet, poppable horror-comedy morsel that earns points for trope skewering and performances that walk a fine line between actual horror archetypes and outside observations.
Next is Chris McInroy’s “One Time In The Woods,” my favorite faux rental segment. It’s got everything from neon green goo à la Troll 2 to backwoods slashers to penile mutilation. The commentary? A bullseye takedown of “don’t go into the woods” movies where motivations aren’t subtle, and twists are abundantly clear. Effects get *super* gross when “transformations” freeze mid-morph, as plies of flesh and stomach-turning viscera speak a calm human voice. McInroy dives head-first into his grotesque goofball satire and has so much damn fun dispatching of mindless pawns that practical butchery sells with capable absurdity. Guts-nasty, body-meltin’, gutter-sludge subgenre gold.
We then transition to Noah Segan’s “M.I.S.T.E.R.,” which envisions Al Bundy’s “NO MA’AM” with a creature-feature twist. There’s a comment on toxic masculinity in here as whiny dudes complain about their stolen “manhood” in private, but it’s more an idea than an executed message. Enter the first stumbling point in Scare Package, despite a “hunter” scene that includes a rolling prosthetic head after monsters reveal themselves. Sadly, there’s more implied than said – which equates to nothing more than a passing glance on otherwise hot-button cultural advocation.
Hillary and Courtney Andujar’s “Girls’ Night Out Of Body” brings the “Post Modern Feminist Slasher Revenge Body Horror” vibe as a shelf classification label teases, but it’s mostly an aesthetic-only victory. Vacationing ladies swipe a skull-shaped lollipop from some random convenience store, and the sweet treat alters their facial structure. At the same time, a slasher is peering through their window, ready to strike. The Andujars flip the script on gender victimization for visual representation, and the short is striking in terms of candy-bright colorization. Still, once again, themes feel more one-note than fully explored.
Anthony Cousins’ “The Night He Came Back Again! Part IV: The Final Kill” regains momentum by lambasting the idea that slasher villains can never die, once again highlighting practical deaths. A final girl straps down her always-living pursuer, sequel after sequel, and attempts to end “Mr. Smiley’s” reign of terror so she can finally romance boyfriends without dangerous circumstances. What results is more slasher killings despite the short’s antagonist being handily restrained – intestinal choke-outs, explosions, etc. – and quite possibly the most exceptional line reading of Scare Package (“Daisy, he’s dead…”). Angry boyfriends, friend-zoned hopeful suitors, and the loveless curse that is being a slasher franchise’s final girl. Cousins nails all these hormonal frustrations with a comedic voice, while throwing a few punches at ridiculous villain backstories.
Baron Vaughn’s “So Much To Do” is a commentary on binge-watching and cretins who spoil popular television shows online. It’s also hollow and has trouble vocalizing its point. Hooded figures bury a man (branded with an Omega symbol) whose spirit possesses a woman (through fog) and tries to watch her favorite TV program in her body, which enrages her soul because, again, spoilers? They fight, smash some furniture, and it’s all very silly. Although, not “silly” in the way that other segments address horror-specific topics. Sigh.
Circling back around to Aaron B. Koontz’s “Rad Chad’s Horror Emporium, Horror Hypothesis,” Koontz utilizes Chad and first-dayer Hawn (Hawn Tran) to cycle through a comprehensive knowledge of horror that, once again, ends very Cabin-In-The-Woodsy. Chad is the kind of character who worships Joe Bob Briggs as a deity, relishes the opportunity to find himself within his very own horror movie, and rattles off 80s references like a Tommy Gun fires bullets.
Koontz cheekily creates his hallmark killer and notches memorable slayings (poor Chase Williamson), but sometimes tries to get away with a little too much in terms of finger-pointing tropes. “Who dies first” kind of stuff, or when troll-boy Sam shows his true colors while aggressively belittling Hawn. It’s all in the name of remembering how predictable and iffy horror morals used to be, but also lives in those moments at the same time. A delicate tango that I find favorable, but select fumbles (cowboy-hatted cameo included) reveal an unsteadier juggling act. That said, Scare Package ends with a bang (I spy professional wrestler and horror diehard Dustin Rhodes).
All things considered, Scare Package is a slapstick, splatter-sticky comedy guilty of genuine horror adoration. No journey is complete without a few bumps in the road, and that’s no different here. I’m able to focus on the good times, the gurgling mounds of Cronenbergian body disgust that beg to be clumped back together. Others might focus more on the downslopes, which are briefer than the upswings (in my opinion). The one constant? It’s a horror satire made by horror devotees who want to laugh alongside fans who’ve dedicated entire lives to a genre that’s self-admittedly not without its faults. I think that makes Scare Package a little more special than your graveyard-garden-variety anthology.
Scare Package, like the horror genre, might have some flaws, but it also has plenty of satirical slasher in-gags that'll slice through your funnybone like a machete through camp counselors.