Interview: Aaron B. Koontz on Pop Culture References, the Pressure of Making a Sequel, and More for SCARE PACKAGE II: RAD CHAD’S REVENGE
Last month, Shudder served up one last genre gift during the holiday season in the form of Scare Package II: Rad Chad’s Revenge, a sequel to the 2020 breakout indie horror anthology. For the follow-up, the story picks up directly after its predecessor at the funeral for Rad Chad (Jeremy King), where those in attendance are forced to play a series of games in order to survive.
Created by Aaron B. Koontz and Cameron Burns, Scare Package II features segments from Alexandra Barreto, Anthony Cousins, Jed Shepherd, Rachele Wiggins, and Koontz, and it stars an array of talent that includes Rich Sommer, Kelli Maroney, Graham Skipper, Maria Olsen, Shakira Ja’nai Paye, Steph Barkley, Barbara Bingham, Chelsea Grant, Byron Brown, Jemma Moore, Caroline Ward, Zoe Graham, and the aforementioned Jeremy King.
Daily Dead recently had the opportunity to speak with Koontz about returning for the Scare Package sequel and the tricky balance that he and Burns had to find while crafting and shepherding the project. Koontz also discussed his instincts when it comes to paying tribute to popular culture, bringing together Scare Package II’s directorial talent for the sequel, and more.
You guys did such a great job with the first Scare Package, so I’m curious—when you’re coming back to do a follow-up to that, was the initial challenge doing something that fits within what we saw in the first movie, but you have to change things up, too? It just seems like such an interesting balancing act to have to pull off for this sequel, but everyone kills it.
Aaron B. Koontz: Oh, yes, absolutely. To me, the easy answer was, and it wasn’t a bad answer, was go back to Rad Chad’s Horror Emporium, and we could put more tapes in there forever. And I could just make Scare Package movies as long as I have a place to put tapes in, and we could talk these shorts up. But because that was the obvious answer meant that I couldn’t do it. So that’s where I knew I wanted to go a different direction and had to find something that was an interesting hook. We still have a lot of ’80s horror throughout everything, that’s just in my DNA, so I can’t get rid of that. But there’s definitely an effort to focus on the ’90s and early 2000s horror. And Saw was such a big franchise. I am personally very, very into Saw I and Saw II because I think they both have really great twists. And last summer, I was watching a lot of the Saw sequels because Spiral was coming out, and I forgot how ridiculous they were and just how absurd they were.
Yeah, there is a lot of story to those movies, which people I think kind of forget sometimes [laughs]. But that’s what I love about them.
Aaron B. Koontz: Well, I mean, Cary Elwes shows up later on, and you’re like,”Wait, what?” So, there’s a moment at the end of Scare Package II where Dwight, Graham Skipper’s character, is like, “Do you know what is going on?” And that’s just me watching Saw 7—like, what the hell is happening? But also, it reminded me that my entry into so many horror franchises was in a sequel. My first Friday the 13th was not the first Friday the 13th. I didn’t understand that Jason wasn’t in it. Even Nightmare on Elm Street, I saw a later sequel first. I think only Halloween might have been the only one that I saw that first. So, I come from that place where in sequels, there are no rules. Jamie Lee Curtis can cut off Michael Myers’ head in H20 and he could show up in the next movie.
So once you have that kind of logic in place where you know, that’s all about horror tropes, well, these are the biggest horror tropes to try and subvert. That gave us our angle for the first Scare Package, but we had no idea this was going to happen. There was no plan to make a sequel. I was like, “Okay, maybe a couple of other people besides my friends might laugh at these stupid jokes,” but we just had no idea that it was going to resonate with anyone. It was just the best feeling, to have people connect with it, and we were like, “Well then, we have to keep making these in some way, shape, or form.”
Something else that I appreciated about this, too, is that it tips its hat to horror, but it also felt steeped in love for general popular culture that has fostered over the last several decades. But beyond that, it’s a tricky thing when you’re doing homages because they have to feel genuine to that moment, but also, they’re all hilarious. And there were moments where I had to stop the movie because I was like, “Wait, did you guys just play the song from Rad?”
Aaron B. Koontz: Oh my God, I love that you’re picking up on all of this because this is the lowest-budget movie that we have, but it’s far and away the most complex because when we are working on a segment and we’re developing that, we shoot it, then we wait and we see how we can work it around other segments. It’s a little bit like showrunning, because you’re bringing in these episodic directors and you have this vision that you want to keep that’s cohesive, and you have to figure out how you can make those things happen.
So yeah, it was definitely a hard thing to juggle, especially just the logistics and posts and everything was so hard. My post supervisor and editor, Alex Euting, is so pivotal to making that happen. But as far as when we got into the references, when we were making the first movie, I didn’t know if other people were going to really laugh at the stuff that I knew made me, Cameron, and my friends laugh. So when we got into the second one, I just gave myself that freedom and I said, “if it makes you laugh, Aaron, apparently it’ll make other people laugh, too.” So when it came to the references, like My Girl or Drive or things that were important to me, I just had to lean into what my sensibilities are because I’m a cinephile and I am a pop culture junkie. Cameron and I, my co-writer, met in a Saved by the Bell trivia contest. That’s why we use the name Kapowski here, which is a Saved by the Bell reference.
But obviously there’s a very horror-centric focus, but if something makes me laugh, then I want to do it. That’s basically the rule. Again, if I’m having fun watching this, we’re going to lean into it, and that’s it. I just have to trust my gut.
I know we’re already getting close on time, but I was wondering if you could chat about bringing this talent in that you worked with for this sequel and what it was about these folks in particular that you were like, “Yes, I wanna bring you on for this and we think you’re the right filmmakers for this sequel”?
Aaron B. Koontz: Well, we had set a tone, so we knew what the Scare Package universe was, whereas in the first one we were still figuring it out. But here we knew we wanted to move in a particular direction. The one that diverted from that a little bit was deliberate, but that was with Jed Shepherd’s segment, where we wanted to do a little more J-Horror. But the concept itself that Jed and I came up with is still completely absurd and funny and all that, but we still wanted to, before we get into our finale, I was like, “Bring it down for a second, get a little more serious in the horror and then bring it back up as we come out of it.” So that was deliberate.
But these are just people that I admire. I mean, that’s what I love doing. We produce a ton of movies, and we’ve had a lot of movies releasing this year and going into next year. I love working with other filmmakers, I love seeing their sensibilities, I love seeing how these directors work. I learned so much from these talented people. So, Scare Package is that perfect amalgamation of that, where I get to have my little weird baby that I want to shepherd that I’ve written, directed, and all this. But then I get to produce these other smaller films within that. And Alex Barreto, she made a short called Lady Hater that played at Tribeca. I thought it was hilarious, but it wasn’t horror. I learned that she was a diehard horror fan. She’s best friends with my line producer and producing partner, Ashleigh Snead. So, we interviewed her, we talked, and immediately we were just riffing on ideas and she just got it immediately.
And a lot of others, they would pitch ideas and we worked together to get it there. The last segment, “We’re So Dead,” Cameron and myself wrote that one, but I already felt like I was directing too much in this. I wanted to give other people opportunities, so we picked Rachele Wiggins. I actually met her at the world premiere of the first Scare Package in Spain. Jeremy King, who plays Rad Chad, we were driving her back to her hotel after we had all premiered our movies. Jeremy was completely sober, but in Spain he just didn’t know the right way and he turned down a one-way street, and then there was a police trap. They stopped us and we thought we were going to get arrested, and it was this crazy night. So that’s how I met Rachele, and so we’ve stayed in contact ever since.
The only director we brought back was Anthony Cousins. At one point, we talked about bringing all the directors back, but logistically it wouldn’t have really worked. So, I was just excited at the thought of doing a sequel to an anthology segment. I’d never seen that before. So again, if I haven’t seen it before, that means we have to do it. But what was so great about what Anthony was doing was he was already commenting on sequel tropes. He had made a sequel in the first one. So it just played perfectly to build out that world and what that could mean. And if we do a third one, if we’re ever so lucky, he would do the same thing and he would come back again and do another because we’ve got to lean into these opportunities. So again, it’s just fun to collaborate with these super talented people and bringing them into this weird world that we have is a real fun treat. It’s the best of everything and incorporates all these things that I love to do.