One of my favorite horror anthologies to come out in some time is Scare Package, which was conceived by Aaron B. Koontz and Cameron Burns and features an array of filmmaking talent, including Emily Hagins, Chris McInroy, Noah Segan, Baron Vaughn, Anthony Cousins, and Courtney and Hillary Andujar. The film hits Shudder exclusively today, and to mark the occasion, Daily Dead recently spoke with Koontz about the project, and how it was a labor of love created between him and a group of friends.
Koontz also discussed why it was important to him that Scare Package became a showcase for those who had been cutting their teeth in the world of short films, celebrating what fans love about the horror genre, and how AEW wrestler Dustin Rhodes got involved with Scare Package to pull off a very special role in the film.
Congrats to you and everyone involved on Scare Package, Aaron. This is undoubtedly a love letter to the horror genre that’s also not your typical anthology, either, and I loved it. Can you talk about how this all came together?
Aaron B. Koontz: Yes, thank you so much for those kind words and that you noticed that because those are the things that we tried to put a lot of effort into. Cameron Burns, my co-writer/co-creator, had been saying that we should do an anthology film, and coming off of Camera Obscura, it was a tough film and watching it with an audience was always hard. I’d always get on stage after a screening and say, “Well, it’s hard to smile now, because it’s a downer.” It’s just such a sad movie and we wanted to have fun and do something with our friends and we wanted to do something our way and with the people that we loved. So, we wanted to work with all of our friends and bring on all the people that we love to work with and love to hang out with. I love the concept of anthologies, but I kept rejecting the notion because I didn’t know what else could we offer in this space? I felt like we couldn’t make something to the quality of a V/H/S 2 or Southbound and what they’re doing with these newer anthologies because we’re just not going to have the budget to do that. But Cameron kept pushing and so I put it in a spreadsheet, which is very OCD of myself, and I came back with a plan where if we were going to do it, here are the things that we have to do.
When we found the hook of horror comedy, we knew we were onto something. The original title was Tropes and every segment was a different horror trope and that got me really excited because that was a hook, that was unique. That wasn’t just another horror anthology, and I knew this could really work. Then the other big piece which we stole, and it was something that I actually talked with Brad Miska about, was that we had the same colorist, one master editor, the same sound designer, the same composer, and we shot it all the same way. We gave all the filmmakers the technical specifications on how to shoot it and what to do and we brought our own producer on each of those segments.
So, even though they were very different visions of what their horror comedy segment would be, there was a cohesiveness to make this feel more fluid and work and then made sure that the wraparound story was something that hopefully you were excited to come back to, and it wasn’t a chore to watch while you were waiting on the next segment. And once we found those hooks and worked everything out, it made the whole thing feel very exciting and we were on our way.
You mentioned the comedic aspects to this project. With everything going on these days, and the fact that we have been getting more horror lately that’s been far more serious-minded, was it a conscious effort to make Scare Package’s tone a little lighter and a little more celebratory as a whole?
Aaron B. Koontz: At the time that this concept was first coming about, there was this big narrative going around about what is horror? And the term “elevated genre” was being thrown around a lot, too, and it really bugged me because you don’t have to elevate the genre. There are wonderful things in all kinds of horror, it’s not something that needs to be elevated. I wanted to do something gleeful because that’s what I think of when I think about the genre. I remember sitting around with my friends talking about who would win between Michael Myers and Freddy and Jason and making lists as a kid of my favorite Friday the 13th kills. That’s the kind of fun we wanted to have here.
Some horror comedies do punch down, but that’s not what we wanted. We wanted to bear hug horror. We can poke fun at it as long as it’s coming from a place of heart, and that’s a phrase that we used all the time: this is horror with heart.
We just wanted you to have fun, we wanted you to get a little bit of an escape and because this is just us coming off frustrations in the industry, we just wanted to get back to why we love filmmaking. Right now, there’s the Black Lives Matter movement and everything with the police going on, and all those things are so incredibly important and need to dealt with. But I hope that horror fans can take 90 minutes to have this little escape, so that they can go back to being advocates for the things that we need to be pushing forward in the world right now.
In terms of the directors involved here, can you talk about what made them all right for this project in particular?
Aaron B. Koontz: Well, first off they all love horror and they all come from a place of where they had a unique vision for how to tell their individual horror stories. One of the great things about comedy is that there are so many different variations of comedy and what’s funny. What Chris McInroy does, which is this very in your face, absurdist, over-the-top, gooey, gory comedy is very different than what the Andujar Sisters beautifully did, where they had this subtle commentary on all the Giallo films with this beautiful bubblegum pop aesthetic that is amazing. They’re all different kinds of comedy, but they work together. We had a list of tropes that we asked all of our directors to consider, and they’d pitch us an idea and we would just push them a little bit, but still allow them to speak using their wonderful unique voices.
A lot of these folks are my friends. Noah I’ve known since I worked on Starry Eyes and he’s a dear friend. We also didn’t want to hire a bunch of feature directors necessarily for this, and I knew a lot of great short film directors. I went to Texas Frightmare and I saw Anthony Cousins’ Bloody Ballad of Squirt Reynolds and I thought it was amazing. So, I knew he was going to be perfect for this. So, rather than hire more known feature directors, we wanted to feature voices that specialize in making really good horror shorts.
No pun intended, but short filmmakers tend to get the short end of the stick. Was it fun to be able to celebrate filmmakers who often get overlooked?
Aaron B. Koontz: I really appreciate you bringing up this point because I haven’t been able to talk about it as much as I think we should. That is absolutely what we wanted to do. We wanted to highlight folks that don’t usually get highlighted, and we also wanted to have a diverse group of talent involved. It was very important that we did our best to give a platform to folks who are trying to make their features and they’re trying to get things off the ground, and we saw this as a wonderful way to help our friends and people that we love who are in this industry that aren’t necessarily getting the eyes on their work that we thought they should. And now I'm so excited for folks to go back and watch other projects that they had or see what was going on and follow their future work, hopefully if Scare Package catches on.
One last thing before we go. I’m a big wrestling nerd and I thought it was great to see Dustin Rhodes in this. How did he get involved?
Aaron B. Koontz: Look, I just needed a big dude that I thought could emote with his eyes, because we knew that we were going to show the eyes through the mask and eyes are just everything to me. And with Dustin, his eyes would get so big on the screen, and I loved it. I remembered that he lives in Texas, not far from Austin, so I had to figure out how to get in touch with him. He didn’t really have a traditional agent and I couldn’t go through WWE because that was just a whole hassle, so I found a friend who did know him and he introduced us.
He’s behind the mask nearly the entire time, too. There was only one day where we had to have a stunt double for him because it was the day he retired from WWE. He had to fly to New York to retire and then come back and we are definitely going to work with Dustin more, too. He is a wonderful person and we had so much fun.
That whole sequence with him at the end, I was laughing so hard. It was so great.
Aaron B. Koontz: You know, I couldn’t even direct that scene. I’m not even kidding. I had to turn around because I kept laughing and messing up the scene and we had to get it done. So, I would say action, turn around and my DP would tap me on the shoulder and I’d call cut. Then, I would watch the take afterwards because that was the only way we were going to get it done in time.