Wednesday 15 February 2023

Scare Package II: Rad Chad's Revenge (Various, 2022) Review

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Time to die … again.” Following on from franchise creators Aaron B. Koontz and Cameron Burns' 2019 Shudder-exclusive comedy horror portmanteau flick Scare Package, it's time to strap-in for movie references galore, big splattery guffaws, and some twisted ideas turned on their severed head...

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She can't be dead – she was just standing, having no fun, doing everything right.” Consisting of four stories as well as a wrap-around tale, Scare Package II is mercifully nine minutes shorter than its too-long predecessor (every little helps), the quality of which was decidedly mixed. The original movie was, at times, gleefully gruesome fun with its tongue firmly lodged in its cheek, but it could also be crushingly dull and somewhat baffling. However, the sequel has clearly focused its efforts on making some considerable improvements, but there is still room for more.

The wrap-around story begins at the funeral of the titular 'Rad Chad', the video store clerk and all-round horror-mad aficionado of all things splatterific, in the wake of events from the previous movie's wrap-around yarn. It's an unusual twist for a portmanteau horror sequel to actually sequel-ise its own story, and indeed Scare Package II does this on more than one occasion throughout its running time. Delivering a message to the attendees, which includes a whole list of possible ways that Rad Chad might have met his maker (a screed of movie references in itself), the mourners are gassed unconscious and wake up in a Saw-like scenario in which they must complete a series of challenges set forth by Rad Chad, speaking to his captives through videotaped messages. All of the challenges are somehow related to horror films and, more specifically, the various tales scattered throughout the movie. Not meta enough for you? Well make sure those boot laces are tied up nice and tight!

We're all partying super hard next door and we can't seem to find our beer bongs. Do you happen to have any?” The first story – 'Welcome to the 90s', written and directed by Alexandra Barreto – gets things off to a good start with a savvy spin on the 'final girl'. It's New Years Eve 1989 and Tony the Killer, a masked machete-wielding maniac, has two houses to choose from: party/slaughter central where a keg-fuelled rager is well underway, or next door where final girls Ellen (Stef Estep-Gozalo), Ginny (Luxy Banner), Nancy (Shaina Schrooten), Sally (Elizabeth Trieu), and Laurie (Allison Sugimoto) are all enjoying a thoroughly dull, and definitely chaste, evening. Riffing on Alien, Friday the 13th Part 2, A Nightmare On Elm Street, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Halloween, this fun and sparky opening tale has a lot of fun with its premise. From Ginny's affinity for frumpy knitted sweaters, Nancy's no-snooze pill popping, and Ellen's fascination with bandanas, the story twists into high gear when the gang discover one of their own dead … certainly, this is not how things are supposed to go. Things get weirder still, when cheerleader party-hound Buffy (Steph Barkley) rocks up and roles begin to get reversed in an attempt to get to the bottom of why expectations are suddenly being subverted.

Stylishly realised, Welcome to the 90s wastes little time in clearly establishing its sharp premise and having fun with it. Buffy's polemic does feel a bit too on-the-nose, like a cross between drearily academic over-examination and a clunky attempt at, for lack of a better term, a 'woke joke' to latch on to the zeitgeist of identity politics does momentarily stale the buzz, but such moments are only brief and few in number throughout the entirety of Scare Package II's run time. One slight wobble aside, the first portion of this portmanteau does a wonderful job of sweeping aside any lingering fug of doubt left over from the original, quite patchy, film.

He is evil incarnate, conceived in Hell's womb, born without a soul, nursed by the teat of the Devil, spanked by Satan himself – he is the vessel of death!” Next up, after a bout of poisonous projectile vomiting, that is, comes 'The Night He Came Back Again! Part VI: The Night She Came Back' – directed by Anthony Cousins and written by John Karsko (with story also by Ryan Schaddelee and Anthony Cousins). A meta-mad sequel to its sister tale in the previous film, it's also confirmation that Scare Package II is successfully trouncing its forerunner. Plagued by nightmares, Daisy (Chelsey Grant) is heading back to the cabin in the woods where her life of horror all started. Accompanied by her husband Scott (Alex Galick), its now twenty years later and Daisy's 'beloved brother/psycho killer' is about to return once again for more 4th of July mayhem in this bright and breezy slice of self-aware horror movie humour. Playing with the trope of the unstoppable killer, regardless of how improbable their return previously seemed, this short also features an enjoyably over-the-top take on Halloween's Dr Loomis in the form of Dr Castle (Michael Paul Levin).

Who the fuck is Ted Danson?” The third story is 'Special Edition', written and directed by Jed Shepherd, and appears to be a completely separate production parachuted-in from the United Kingdom. Zoe (Jemma Moore) has moved into a lighthouse and she and her friends are obsessed with the urban legend surrounding Three Men and a Baby (the supposed 'ghost' lurking in a window). This entry is quite short, which does help in the long run, because the story is confusing and the central conceit of controlling reality with a video controller is a cool idea within a horror context, but the logic of how it works and why it's happening at all is either murky or non-existent, thus locking the viewer out.

It's also by this point that it becomes clear that Scare Package II has an 'abundance of cast members' problem, with so many new and sketch-thin characters getting bumped-off within minutes of their arrival like some sort of blood-soaked assembly line. Even the recurring characters from the wrap-around story suffer from meagre-to-zero characterisation, with the likes of Kelli Maroney (Night of the Comet) being wasted in the role of mother to returning-character Jessie (Zoe Graham). Even Rich Sommer (Mad Men, Summer of '84), gets little to do beyond gurning and getting his arm lopped off with acidic vomit but, to be fair, he does seem to be having a grand old time. Indeed, Scare Package II relies a little too much on the viewer being able to remember the machinations of the wrap-around story from the original movie, a problem exacerbated by the over-population of the movie's collective cast.

No! Shooting me in the face turned me into an a-hole … also I was always an a-hole.” The fourth tale is 'We're So Dead', which was directed by Rachele Wiggins and written by Aaron B. Koontz and Cameron Burns, marks a return to the established vibe, for which 'Special Edition' was a curiously disjointed departure. However, by this point the viewer might be feeling dizzied by the quite relentless onslaught of horror movie references. This splatstick yarn primarily references Stand By Me, It, Re-Animator, The Fly, and Pet Sematary – plus more subtle nods littered throughout – and proves to be a fun little bout of gruesome Goonies silliness as a group of friends discover a dead body in the woods, drag it back to their basement hangout, and proceed to use some familiar glowing green liquid on it. There's not a lot to the story beyond its self-awareness, but it still packs an enjoyable punch.

It is now time for one of you to walk the path less walkened.” Strangely, Scare Package II seems to spend about as much time on its wrap-around story than it does on its selection of short stories, an odd thing considering the wrap-around has usually been little more than a framing device in past efforts, such as the beloved George A. Romero/Stephen King collaboration Creepshow. The shorter running time, even if by only nine minutes, does make a noticeable difference (the most recent two V/H/S movies have both suffered from needlessly long-feeling run-times thanks to one-too-many tales in the portmanteau potpourri). Considering how dislocated 'Special Edition' feels, Scare Package II could have easily done without it, even going so far as to drop one of the several 'gas them and game them' interludes, which riff heavily on the Saw franchise. Speaking of heavy riffing, boy-oh-boy does this movie go above and beyond … and much further still, before looping back around to do it all over again. A fun one involves the title shot, which copies Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives, which itself was referencing the opening to every James Bond film – so it's a reference to a reference! Amongst the cavalcade of references not already listed here, there's an admittedly humorous swipe at the remake of The Wicker Man, while the Hellraiser franchise is aggressively nodded towards on several occasions. A little restraint on the self-aware jokes and movie references would have possibly made room for a dusting of characterisation for the bloated cast list, with some of the shorts (and the wrap-around) boasting far too many characters for their own good.

Slight exhaustion and scatted complaints aside, Scare Package II marks a considerable improvement over the original movie, which was at times a real chore to get through when it lost its mojo. The wrap-around story does get increasingly convoluted as the film marches on, and heavily relying on nudging and winking its way through the back catalogue of fan favourite horrors obscures its own identity, but a seemingly boosted budget and various improvements compared to the original (including the brisk-feeling of the four stories) helps an awful lot. Perhaps a third entry could provide the opportunity to work out the rest of the kinks (some previously mentioned here) and properly nail it.

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