Austin-Made Horror Anthology Comes Back Home for Other Worlds
Delivering a Scare Package
There are few things Aaron B. Koontz hates more than horror films that mock horror films. So while his new anthology Scare Package takes a knowing look at the conventions of the genre, he was determined to never feel like it was punching down. The producer/segment director explained, "This is the anthology that makes fun of anthologies a little bit, but also hugs them at the same time."
The Austin-shot, Eighties-influenced, VHS-adoring collection makes its local debut this weekend at Other Worlds Film Festival. It's a fitting homecoming for a film that Koontz called "a movie made with our friends."
Having fun was important to him after the slog of filming and releasing his last feature, 2017's Camera Obscura – a process that he called "frustrating." So being around like-minded creatives has become more important than ever, as shown when he co-founded Renegade Studios, designed to be a collaborative space for Austin's filmmaking outsiders. Still, he credits producer Cameron Burns with pushing him toward portmanteau-style storytelling. "He said we should do an anthology simply because we have so many great friends who are amazing filmmakers." However, Koontz admits he was initially reluctant because he had one burning question: What could they bring to the genre? He didn't want "just seven shorts thrown together," and with the V/H/S franchise and Southbound setting a new standard for modern multiple maniac movies, he wasn't sure what there was to say – so he decided to find out the hard way. "I watched every anthology that I could think of. I took meticulous notes, I even made a graph of the highs and lows and what I thought. I came up with how many segments it should be, what I liked and didn't like about them." What Koontz found was that A) he liked the horror-comedy segments the most and B) no one had done a horror-comedy anthology recently. He also found himself drawn to films with a slightly arch and meta quality, like Creepshow and Creepshow 2. "They were just fun," he said. "They weren't always comedies, but they were fun, so let's do this."
After giving himself the green light, he drafted an outline under the title Tropes. It was a knowing nod to the idea that horror often relies on conventions – slashers that won't stay dead, sinister secrets in the suburbs, mysterious diseases in the wilderness – that create a narrative shorthand ripe for spoofing. Koontz explained that the underlying idea was to "have each segment be a different horror trope that we're subverting. But they have to be cohesive, and they have to be in the same world, and we would curate it, but we would allow directors to show their own styles and tendencies."
There were some real advantages to this collaborative approach – not least budgetarily. Koontz said, "You're able to raise money over time, which is really helpful for independent financing."
It also meant more time to finesse the individual segments and their place in the overall structure. Earlier versions lampooned different tropes, like mirror scares and the creepy old dude who warns kids not to go to the abandoned farm or shuttered asylum or into the creepy forest. Even the directors changed over time: Emily Hagins (Grow Up, Tony Phillips) signed on, had to drop out for scheduling reasons, and then came back to helm the opening sequence – aptly called "Cold Open." Director Ryan Spindell was going to be part of the team, and while Koontz loved his script, "It wasn't funny enough. We want a different vibe." (Not to panic: Spindell used the segment for his own anthology feature, Fantastic Fest 2019 audience favorite The Mortuary Collection.)
Some filmmakers were first-timers, like Noah Segan. Koontz got to know the Knives Out star when they worked together on 2014 Tinseltown terror Starry Eyes. "He's been writing scripts on the side," said Koontz, "so I went, 'Do you want to direct?' He said, 'Yes, this is what I want to do.' I told him this is the perfect opportunity."
Old friends lead to new friends, as Segan introduced them to comedian Baron Vaughn (the new voice of Tom Servo in Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return), who makes his directorial debut with the segment "So Much to Do." Then Koontz was able to fulfill some fan casting, like bringing in wrestler/actor Dustin Rhodes as the Devil's Lake Impaler in his segment "Horror Hypothesis," and legendary TV horror host Joe Bob Briggs as himself. Briggs is going through a massive resurgence with his new show The Last Drive-In on horror streaming service Shudder, but when Koontz cast him he was all but retired. "Three months later and he breaks the internet, and is on the cover of Fangoria. OK, this is a good thing." Of course, Koontz was a little nervous about what the godfather of B-movie criticism would think of his movie. Fortunately, the director said, "He loves the film. But his comments are funny. He's like, 'You know, Aaron, I didn't know what to think. I get offered to do these things all the time, and normally I don't do 'em, but I was like, ah, I'll give this a shot. But this was actually good!' I went, 'Great! Can you emphasize actually any more?'"
Scare Package will be the Under Worlds centerpiece at Other Worlds Film Festival Sat., Dec. 7, 10:15pm. Read all about our set visit, “In Production: Something Evil at Brackenridge Hospital,” Sept. 28, 2018.
Five Films That Will Change Your Future at Other Worlds 2019
Time After Time: Nicholas Meyer may be most famous as the writer/director of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, but this year marks the 40th anniversary of his time-travel classic about H.G. Wells (Malcolm McDowell) using his time machine to hunt down Jack the Ripper (David Warner) in modern New York. Meyer will be on hand to receive this year's Defender of the Universe award: Plus, make sure you catch a live recording of the Science vs Fiction podcast, as the hosts – Found Footage 3D director and doctor of astrophysics Steven DeGennaro and film critic Scott Weinberg – debate the film's temporal and plot mechanics. Friday, 7:10pm.
The Honeymoon Phase: A Black Mirror-esque tale of a couple who lie their way into a research study and find there are consequences for meddling with the data. Not only does the debut feature from writer/director Phillip G. Carroll Jr. get its Texas premiere at Other Worlds, but it's also this year's closing night film. Sunday, 7:45pm.
Z: Brandon Christensen has been burning up the indie genre scene as an effects artist. Now he steps into the director's chair with a script co-written with another rising star, SXSW 2018 Midnighter favorite What Keeps You Alive director Colin Minihan. Friday, 7:15pm.
Dead Dicks: Reincarnation can be a pain if you're trying to kill yourself, especially when you keep reemerging in your own crappy apartment through a disturbing, disgusting alien portal. Don't let the giggle-inducing title fool you: Dead Dicks is packed with smart insights into mental health and family. Saturday, 4:35pm.
Lake Michigan Monster: Imagine if the Monkees made The Lighthouse. A raucous, bizarre, black-and-white surrealist maritime comedy about revenge, sea creatures, tall tales, and missing eyebrows. Friday, 10:05pm.
Other Worlds 2019
Dec. 5-8 at Galaxy Highland. Tickets and details at www.otherworldsfilmfest.com.