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For the Love of the Genre: An Interview with Scare Package I & II Creator Aaron B. Koontz

Over the last few years, producer/writer/director Aaron B. Koontz’s company, Paper Street Pictures, has made an indelible imprint upon the sci-fi and horror genres. Their roster includes Blood Relatives, Sorry about the Demon, The Artifice Girl, Revealer, just to name a few. Koontz also created the clever horror-comedy anthologies Scare Package and Scare Package II: Rad Chad’s Revenge, which will be available on VOD, Digitial, DVD, and Blu-Ray starting April 11 via Shudder/RLJE Films. Koontz talked to us about Scare Package II as well as his plans for a third film, should one be green-lit.

For purposes of clarity, this interview was slightly edited.

SH: What inspired the idea for a sequel to Scare Package? I thought, for sure, the story was finished after the first film.

You are not the only one who thought it was done. I definitely thought it was done, too. It was not written to be anything beyond a first film. We killed characters who I thought were integral. If I’m being honest, we didn’t know the movie would catch on. We made the movie completely privately. Shudder wasn’t involved. They came on board later. Even regarding Joe Bob Briggs, we hired him before he came back, and rebooted “The Last Drive-in.” It was a unique situation. When it became a hit, did well, and Shudder said the numbers were great, we wondered, how could we do this? I think the real hook for me, and my creative partner Cameron Burns, who kind of put it all together, was the tropes. It was all about horror tropes. If that’s what our north star is, there are no bigger horror tropes than in the horror sequel.

There were two lynchpins for me. I thought about Halloween H20. I remember when Jamie Lee Curtis cuts off Michael Myers’. head. I thought it was cool and made sense. I thought it could have ended there, but that movie did well. Of course, she’s done it again four movies later, or whatever it is. Even in the greater horror franchises, you can just come up with any excuse and go that direction.

That summer, when I decided to write a sequel, I rewatched all of the Saw films in preparation for Spiral that was about to come out with Chris Rock. I was excited about it. I didn’t really remember some of the Saw sequels. They were just so wild. Every time, you could recontextualize what happened. I thought, this is fun. It goes in such a wild direction, so let’s recontextualize what happened in Scare Package I. It became a really fun thing to spoof. There’s a line I wrote in the movie that the sequels are the lifeblood of the horror genre. I think it’s true. The first Friday the 13th movie I saw was not Friday the 13th Pt. 1. The first Hellraiser movie I saw was not Hellraiser I. I think Halloween may have been the only one where I saw the first one first. With so many, you’re brought into these franchises with a sequel. It invigorated us and gave us a fun direction. We went all in for it.

SH: Scare Package I & II have several nods to different horror franchises. The nod to A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 in II may be my favorite, but were you also inspired by any particular horror anthologies?

Creepshow I and II were a huge part of this. I actually wrote a spec episode of “Tales from the Crypt” when I was graduating from college, when M. Night [Shyamalan] was going to reboot the whole series. My friends had made V/H/S and Southbound. I had seen this resurgence, but because there were so many great anthologies, it almost pushed us to not make an anthology. They inspired us, but it made me think, what are we doing? I can’t compete with these.

Eventually, I had deconstructed the horror anthology. I’m a little OCD. I created a spreadsheet one weekend, and I watched every anthology you can possibly think of. I’m a horror aficionado. I believe that, but there were things I had never heard of. I went through and watched all of these. I realized I loved the horror comedies, and I loved the ones where, when the segment ended, I wasn’t ready for the next segment. I wanted to make people just as excited for the wrap-around. I also wanted there to be a throughline, which was the tropes.

But I would say Creepshow had a vibe that was fun but was scary. We obviously went a little more absurdist in ours because I didn’t want to compete with Creepshow. Plus, at the time of writing this, we knew that Creepshow was getting rebooted on Shudder. I didn’t want to be counter-programming to Creepshow. Overall, I’m glad we stuck to it. It’s really Cameron who kept pushing me to do it.

SH: Both of these anthologies are a love letter to horror, but they’re also love letters to the video rental store. Do you have a favorite memory pertaining to video rental stores?

Shockingly, to no one, I worked at video stores growing up, Cameron and I both did. I worked at Blockbuster for a bit, but it was frustrating. They mainly kept me stocking. I wanted to be on the floor and talking with people. I wanted to suggest movies, so then, I ended up working at a Family Video. I had a little section. I was the horror guy. I knew all of the horror films there and had my own shelf. My favorite thing is when someone would come in and didn’t know what to find. I’d ask them some movies that they liked. I’d find a movie to recommend based on other movies they liked. I’m a cinephile. I would always try to slip in a horror film. I would try to push stuff and get my horror agenda across, if you will. That was always a lot of fun. At that period of time is when horror really took hold of me in high school. I wasn’t allowed to watch it growing up. When I was finally exposed to it, it took over really, really quickly. Obviously, it has stayed there ever since.

But yeah I loved it, Family Video, outside of Tampa, Florida. It’s very much out of business now. We had regular customers. They came in and knew the 16 and 17-year-old me. Families of five came in and asked what to watch. I think it’s astute of you to point out that it’s really still about that. One of the things I’ve said in other interviews, and it’s important to me that it’s about gateway, not gatekeeping. Yes, there are horror jokes and references that might be deep cuts. They’re for the hardcore fan. But my hope is that the movie will push people to go explore other films that have had a huge impact on all of our lives.

SH: Scare Package II mostly features different directors. Why the decision to invite a different team of directors?

At one point, we did talk about bringing back all of the directors for Scare Package II, but it was going to be a scheduling nightmare. That quickly fell apart. It wasn’t really going to be possible, but then, there were so many people we wanted to work with. We had this list of folks. This was created because we had made so many short films and had gotten to know so many people. But with Anthony Cousins, who did “The Night He Came Back Again,” it just made sense to bring him back. His movie already dealt with a sequel, so why not have him do a sequel in our sequel about sequels? If we are fortunate enough to make a third film, I’d bring Anthony back to do a trilogy and put a bow on it.

As far as the other filmmakers, I just had some folks that I wanted to work with. Rachele Wiggins, who directed “We’re So Dead,” which Cameron and I wrote, I met her at the world premiere of Scare Package I in Spain. She had a project that was there. We hung out that night and had gotten to know her.

Regarding Jed Shepherd, he had been a friend for a while. As a huge fan of Host, I originally wanted him to do a full-on Host spoof, but I think that he and Rob [Savage] thought otherwise. I had this other idea dealing with the ghost in “3 Men and a Baby,” which was this thing in the 90s I was obsessed with.

Alexandra Barreto, who did “Welcome to the 90s,” she’s one of Ashleigh Snead’s best friends, who’s my producing partner. Their families are close. I’ve known Alex’s work for a while. She’s an actress and gives great performances. She has a really witty sense of humor. This group kind of made sense. We wanted a fresh group and people with different perspectives. I think we got that.

SH: What was it like working with Kelli Maroney? So many horror fans will recognize her.

First, I want to say thank you to Barbara Crampton, who introduced me to Kelli. I asked Barbara if she could help me find someone. She called Kelli and put us in touch. That was really nice and sweet of her. Barabra is the best. Kelli came with this infectious energy. When I talked to her, I told her one of the first things she’s going to do is acid vomit. I told her none of it would be digital, but all practical. She said, “Okay. Let’s do it.” Those things excite her and don’t scare her. I will say everyone in our crew and cast get excited by it. Kelli is so kind and so patient. We were in this like 100-degree warehouse in Oklahoma City in 2021. It was a lot to do. They wore wicker masks. She also wore this black dress for the funeral and just had this sass.

I also have a picture of me and Kelli normal and me and Kelli at the end of the shoot, and she’s just destroyed but having a blast. She has the same smile in both photos. It’s wonderful. People who have done this for so many years and have a love for the genre, it’s infectious. I love her to death. We’ll be friends for life.

SH: You’ve already mentioned that you want to do a third anthology. If you had the chance to work with any horror icon, who would it be?

Elvira. I’ll just say it. I am going to try and get Elvira in the third film. I haven’t even reached out to Cassandra [Peterson] yet. We want to work out some things on the third film first. I have an idea, and I would love to make it happen. Then the other is potentially Kane Hodder. I’ve had some ideas for Kane Hodder. I will mention that for the second film, I did offer Crispin Glover, but we couldn’t work out the timing. There is the dance sequence. Graham Skipper does the Friday the 13th Pt. 4 dance exactly. It’s so good. I don’t think people realize that he’s doing the Crispin Glover dance. I know that he’s so much beyond that, but when you’re talking about iconic scenes, I think about that dance so much. But having Graham do it was such a blast.

I also have a moment for the third film that may have a lot of people in it. We’ll see. I have to figure out budget.

SH: Can you talk about the DVD/Blu-Ray?

I’m really proud of this. I want all of our movies to come out on physical media. It’s necessary. You don’t know when things will be available and what will happen with certain streamers, but physical media is forever. Scare Package is born out of me, as a kid, tape trading. I wasn’t tape trading Fried Green Tomatoes. I tape traded Evil Dead 2. Nothing against Fried Green Tomatoes. It’s a movie that my mom loves, but you tape traded horror films. There was something about the physicality of that that I remembered. It’s part of the DNA, for me, of being a horror fan, growing up, and working in a video store. I think that’s important.

Also, as a filmmaker, and Tarantino talks about this all the time, his education was other movies. It’s one thing to watch a movie, but there are director commentaries and behind-the-scenes featurettes that are really great insights into how these things are made. In particular, with Scare Package II, we have a director’s commentary where I really go into detail about decisions that were made and how we tried to approach this. We wanted to give as many insights into the process that we can.

You referenced the references. Probably my favorite feature is called the “Horror Icon Edition.” It’s a play on words. Everything in Scare Package is a play on words. On screen, an icon will appear every time there’s a reference to another horror film or another film. It’s kind of like VH1’s “Pop-Up Video” from back in the day. There are so many more pop-ups than people will realize. There are moments where we’re referencing three movies at once.

We also have bloopers and a couple of deleted moments and recontextualized scenes. I’m really proud of how much stuff we packed in. I wanted a double disc, but we couldn’t get a double disc because there aren’t enough physical media people out there anymore. The ones who are out there, please grab it. I think it’s worth it. I really do.

SH: Aaron, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us!