Shudder’s new anthology film pokes fun at horror cliches, but can’t quite overcome a dreary final segment.
Horror comedies, especially ones dedicated to poking fun at the meta-textual tropes so many horror films engage in, have to walk a fine line. It’s one thing to have an encyclopedic understanding of every rule in the book — don’t run up the stairs, don’t take for granted that the killer’s dead; it’s quite another to subvert those cliches in an interesting way. Shudder’s latest, the horror-comedy anthology Scare Package, goes a long way towards celebrating and skewering the creaky genre conventions horror fans know and love. But in the end, like a lot of anthologies, the whole is less than the sum of its bloody body parts.
Scare Package starts off on arguably its highest, most inventive note with Emily Hagins‘ “Cold Open,” tracking Mike (Jon Michael Simpson), a down-on-his-luck everyman with an unusual career path: setting up the logistics for horror scenarios. When the wooden sign in the middle of the road points the wrong way towards an insane asylum, that’s Mike. When the power goes out in your isolated summer home in the middle of the night, guess who cut the lines? But Mike yearns for more than this provincial life, even as circumstances lead to a genuinely clever reveal of his full name.
From there, though, Mike hands the keys over to Chad (Jeremy King), the imperious manager of a run-down video store called Rad Chad’s Horror Emporium, whose catalog of VHS tapes provides the backdrop for most of the vignettes to come. Digging through the tapes with a nervous new clerk and a creepy customer who craves a job at the store, Scare Package scans through tales of MRA werewolves, demon-possessed bodies fighting over the TV remote, and a Final Girl trying increasingly extreme methods to dispatch an unkillable slasher.
To its credit, Scare Package excels when it lets its cadre of segment directors get in and get out quickly with their horror-short subversions. “Cold Open” is a darkly comic delight; Chris McInroy‘s “One Time in the Woods” takes horror-gore maximalism to hilariously droll extremes. Noah Segan‘s “M.I.S.T.E.R.” has a few good gags about the toxicity of the manosphere. Hillary and Courtney Andujar‘s “Girls’ Night out of Body” serves up a fun twist on the ‘unsuspecting girls tracked by stalker’ story.
Baron Vaughn‘s “So Much to Do” is overlong but has an acerbic lead in Toni Trucks and plenty of solid jabs at spoiler culture. and Anthony Cousins‘ “The Night He Came Back Again! Part IV: The Final Kill” stretches the gag of an eternally-regenerating murderer and the plucky teens set to take their revenge just to the point of too much before bowing out gracefully.
It’s a shame, then, that the film closes on such a long, sour final note. Rad Chad himself gets sucked into the horror mayhem with Aaron B. Koontz‘s “Horror Hypothesis,” in which he’s thrown into a Cabin in the Woods-style horror trope factory and has to lead a group of deliberately-cliched horror leads to safety. It’s overlong, messy, and does little but repeat the same gags about the tropes of the genre that the earlier vignettes did with such economy. A gratuitous, self-congratulatory cameo from a certain high profile bolo-tied horror icon just pours salt in the wound, making Scare Package feel more like a fan film for the Shudder streaming service itself.
It’s a shame, then, that the film closes on such a long, sour final note.
It may be a little unfair for the final segment in an anthology film to sour the score so dramatically for the rest, but “Horror Hypothesis” leaves such a bad taste in your mouth — amplified by the fact that it’s by far the longest of the seven segments, especially if you count the horror-shop interstitials as part of it. Scare Package is a bit more adroit at poking fun of horror films than it is horror culture; the Rad Chad segments do little more than offer self-pitying masturbation for horror hounds for their super special knowledge of genre conventions. Plus, you know, I could do without the gags where an Asian man is called “Pikachu” and “panda bear.”
At its best, Scare Package feels like a particularly clever, fake-blood-happy series of CollegeHumor sketches lambasting the oft-repeated conventions of the horror genre. At its worst, it’s a lazy, wooden mishmash of gags that can’t figure out the difference between recognizing a trope and properly satirizing it. Honestly, cut Rad Chad out of the thing and run the other six films in sequence, and Scare Package feels like the quirky underdog its modest budget and gleefully gory presentation sets out to be.
Scare Package takes an axe to your cerebellum on Shudder Thursday, June 17th.