Written by James Steaton-Pritchard
Anthologies have been a staple of the horror genre throughout cinema’s history. From Dead of Night (1945) up to Southbound (2015) and beyond, they have given filmmakers the opportunity to play around with new ideas without the pressure that comes with producing a feature film. George Romero, Ti West and even Federico Fellini have flexed their creativity in anthology segments. In recent years they have become a great way for new filmmakers to reach new audiences and give their careers the early boost they are looking for.
New horror-comedy anthology Scare Package squeezes seven stories and a wrap-around into its 1hr 43min run time, showcasing the chops of a diverse set of up-and-coming directors. The central story revolves around Rad Chad’s Horror Emporium, a VHS rental store and the distributor of the rest of the stories which are interlaced using a mixture of videotapes and world melding character crossovers. Using a mixture of slashers, body-horror, monsters and cult-action thrillers, Scare Tactics takes tongue in cheek sideswipes at the typical horror movie tropes and cliches.
An anthology horror movie leaning into a VHS aesthetic may sound incredibly familiar to anyone who has been watching scary movies in the last decade. Unlike a lot of its modern counterparts though, Scare Package doesn’t lean into any particularly prescriptive theming or style, other than it’s regime to parody well-known tropes. So you can expect lots of jokes about virgin final girls, the running speed of slasher villains and the predictable dispatch order of attractive teen victims.
Unfortunately it’s here that I feel the need to make a few comparisons that I’m sure the filmmakers are sick of hearing already, but they are just too unavoidable to leave out. The fact is, The Cabin the Woods, The Final Girls, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon and Scream have tackled, torn apart and reconstructed these genre cliches many times before. These aren’t just cosmetic comparisons either. There are jokes, story premises and character archetypes pulled directly from all of the above. Community even made an exact same cat jumpscare joke in a Halloween special ten years ago.
There is plenty of fun to be had watching Scare Package though. Especially the practical gore which isn’t scared to go all out, especially in the segment; One Time in the Woods. It revels in throwing slimy body-horror and flesh-tearing slasher gore at the screen at a rate which wouldn’t be out of place on Adult Swim. Its saturated colour palette and glib sense of humour is echoed throughout the rest of the movie which has more of a TV sitcom sensibility than a genuine horror movie. This isn’t helped by the often awkward editing and pacing, and frustratingly stock horror soundtrack.
Overflowing with a smug metatextual sense of humour, Scare Package’s never quite disappears up its own ass, but does contort itself into knots in a seemingly purposeful attempt to do so. Horror movie references are a language all the filmmakers speak fluently and there soon comes a point where you wish it would at least try and be a little bit subtle with its use of them. As a fellow horror nerd, I often felt like I was on a tour through my own brain, and it made me feel sorry for all the people I must bore senselessly every time I process a real-world experience through a “this is a bit like that bit in…” statement.
Extra kudos should be given to the Girls Night Out of Body and So Much to Do segments for providing some refreshing on-screen representation. Girls Night knowingly refers to itself as a Post-feminist-revenge-slasher-body-horror and So Much attempts to comment on the modern consumption of media but neither quite manage to nail the landing when it comes to creating something which structurally hold up on its own. Similarly M.I.S.T.E.R. attempts to take down meninist incel masculinity but does little more than wrap it in well worn Fight Club satire with a What We Do in the Shadows/Buffy the Vampire Slayer hat on.
Scare Package doesn’t so much poke at outdated horror tropes but clumsily slams at them with a battering ram. Which can be fun at times, but the main issue is, all of these jokes and criticisms have been made before in much more subtle, understated and intelligent ways. There is some enjoyment to be had with the charming acting and Looney Tunes inflected slapstick gore, but for the most part the jokes retread ground that was already well-worn decades ago. Scare Package isn’t just filled with references to references which are already satires and parodies on their own, but also feels the need to very explicitly over-explain to the audience just why they are supposed to be funny. As a result, the whole project seems, while well-intentioned and harmless, essentially pointless.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5