I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.
Preston Barta // Film Critic
Not rated, 107 minutes.
Directors: Courtney Andujar, Hillary Andujar, Anthony Cousins, Emily Hagins, Aaron B. Koontz, Chris McInroy, Noah Segan and Baron Vaughn
Cast: Jeremy King, Hawn Tran, Noah Segan, Toni Trucks, Chase Williamson, Baron Vaughn, Byron Brown, Chelsey Grant, Josephine McAdam, Aaron D. Alexander and Jocelyn DeBoer
The anthology horror movie stretches back to the silent era and was popularized in the 1960s to great effect. The genre follows a formula: a series of self-contained narratives are linked by a framing device, like the once-upon-a-time approach in The Princess Bride. The star-studded, often campfire tales of the undead, vampires and ghouls are an essential ingredient of the horror genre. As unique as they can be, unloading buckets of blood and terror, anthologies can also be fuel of nightmares. Naturally, some stories are better than others — such is the case with the Shudder original horror short collection Scare Package.
Bringing together seven self-aware genre helpings from up-and-coming filmmakers, Scare Package is a fun (albeit shaky) stirring of gruesome effects, dark humor and genre references. Worked up from a script penned by creatives that include Aaron B. Koontz, Courtney Andujar and Knives Out’s Noah Segan, the film assembles a host of stars (Jon Gabrus, Baron Vaughn and Boyhood’s Zoe Graham, to name a few). They face off with werewolves, melting corpses and skull lollipops. Although the promise of Scare Package and the actual movie itself is quite different, there are some gems within that would make Stephen King smile.
The wraparound story takes place at the humorously titled video store Rad Chad’s Horror Emporium. It’s there that Jeremy King’s store owner character is hard at work, training new employee Hawn (Santa Jaws’ Hawn Tran) and dodging the walking zit that is horror fanboy Sam (Mustang Island’s Byron Brown). Between all the Clerks-style banter and amusing hat tips to the genre, one of the characters generally encounters a VHS playing one of the seven stories.
Scare Package commences with a cold open that is not far off from the tone of 2006’s Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon. A background horror movie character (Jon Michael Simpson) is fed up with his current purpose as if he’s Wreck-It Ralph. He desires to be the kind of character that would save the day every so often as opposed to being the evildoer that sells haunted real estate to sweet couples or unleashes cursed dolls on poor souls. The beginning is so quip-flavored and bright that it could warrant its own feature to keep prodding at the genre’s clichés and shortcomings. At the same time, perhaps it’s the perfect amount to leave more to be desired and possibly produce more works in the future (which I am all for).
From there, we move onto stories like “One Time in the Woods” (a slimy and comical riff on horror movies set in the woods), “M.I.S.T.E.R.” (a cult parody of sorts that plays with toxic masculinity like The Art of Self-Defense and Fight Club), “Girls Night Out of Body” (a neon-splashed feminist slasher), “The Night He Came Back Again! Part IV: The Final Kill” (a horror trope tour of the Friday the 13th franchise) and “So Much to Do” (a jab at spoiler culture).
The last short, “Horror Hypothesis,” is the one that brings it all together, and that’s about as much that needs to be revealed. It’s the longest of the bunch, but the killer gags and committed cast (and one fantastic cameo) make the segment a worthy period at the end of the sentence.
The concepts for each narrative have a solid foundation for the filmmakers and performers to dance on. The best entries – like the first two chapters, Segan’s “M.I.S.T.E.R.” and the Friday the 13th unspooling – don’t allow the characters and practical effects to be consumed by filler material. While none of the stories should be buried six feet deep, you can smell the mediocrity when it arrives. Thankfully, with Scare Package, the viewer can separate the Styrofoam peanuts from the contents that matter.
It’s a goofy, crowd-pleasing horror romp that midnight crowds will eat up.