The idea behind the original ABCs of Death anthology film was a good (and risky) one – 26 directors, each given a letter of the alphabet as inspiration for a short film involving death – but the execution was severely lacking. The actively bad ones far outweighed the good and mediocre combined resulting in a painful slog of a film with minimal highlights. The announcement of a sequel was met with understandable trepidation by many who still can’t shake the memories of the first film’s overabundance of juvenile humor and unchecked talent, but happily ABCs of Death 2 is an entertaining and frequently engaging collection of ideas and imagery.
And it’s 100% free of farts.
It seems immediately clear that the filmmakers, while still given freedom in regard to their finished shorts, were also given a guiding hand sorely missing from the scattershot first film. There are ideas at play here beyond simple gags or special effects shots, and while most remain contained one-offs, many others use their time to comment on social ills or highlight the art and craft of filmmaking. The shorts still feature some laughs along the way, but it’s a recognizably more somber and serious collection than its predecessor.
The film starts strong right out of the gate with “A is for Amateur” from director E.L. Katz (Cheap Thrills). We watch as a professional hitman plans out an elaborately detailed assassination and then we see how it actually plays out. Katz gives the short a high degree of style and energy only to subvert expectations (ours and the killer’s) with reality.
“D is for Deloused” is a stop-motion animated short that turns its slightly left of center creations into nightmarish visions destined to get under your skin. It’s a rare treat to be wholly creeped out by animation, but Robert Morgan’s short perfectly hits the intersection of the creatively imagined and the truly disturbed.
Many viewers’ clearest memory of the first film is in regard to the poor showing from the Japanese directors on the roster, but fears of a repeat performance are immediately assuaged with the first of the sequel’s two Japanese shorts. “O is for Ochlocracy” – meaning mob rule – drops us in a courtroom as a woman faces trial for wanton murder of strangers and loved ones alike. The catch is that the people she “killed” were zombies… zombies who are now the ruling class in charge of society. It’s a smartly fun twist on a subgenre.
One of the film’s most professionally crafted shorts is Juan Martinez Moreno’s “S is for Split.” A woman home alone with her baby is on a video chat with her vacationing husband when she’s startled by an intruder. The unfolding events are shown via split screen resulting in a suspenseful and often terrifying home invasion sequence, and the short ends by challenging our expectations a bit with its unexpected outcome.
“V is for Vacation” is a wonderfully nasty and mean-spirited piece of work presented POV-style through the lens of a cell phone. A man on vacation with his best bro takes time to video chat with his wife, but their conversation is upended by the discovery as to what’s actually been going on during the trip. It’s a bloody affair all around.
“Y is for Youth” is the film’s second Japanese short, and while it’s equally absurd it uses that abundant creativity and brash sense of humor to tell an ultimately sad tale of one teenage girl’s existence. It’s silly at times and has much fun with the events onscreen, but the power of its message is undeniable.
The film ends on a high note with Chris Nash’s “Z is for Zygote.” It’s a simple story of a pregnant woman who refuses to birth her child until her husband returns home. I’ll say no more about where it goes except to praise the practical effects team for some truly outstanding and disgusting work.
While the majority of the shorts are fairly solid – impressive in its own right for the number of total entries – the better news is that there are only two real disappointments here. “E is for Equilibrium” comes from Juan of the Dead director Alejandro Brugués, but aside from a well-choreographed single tracking shot it lacks that film’s wit and creativity, choosing instead to be little more than an extended Budweiser commercial. “L is for Legacy” meanwhile holds the distinction of being this film’s only terrible short. Sorry Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen. It’s a dubious honor to be sure, but again, the first ABCs had terribleness running into the double digits.
It’s a broken record when it comes to anthology films, but they truly are destined by their very nature to be mixed bags when it comes to overall quality. That’s equally true here, but the success rate among the 26 entries is far higher than the franchise’s short history had led us to believe. The overall tone is somewhat darker than the first film, too – fewer of the directors are having a laugh – and the result is a horror anthology with some short shorts imbued with character, effect and weight… a horror anthology that you’ll remember for the right reasons.
The Upside: Several well thought out and entertaining segments; several more solid enough shorts;vast improvement over the first film; fantastically creepy opening/closing credits
The Downside: Like all anthologies, this is a mixed bag
On the Side: Robert Boocheck’s “M is for Masticate” won the amateur submission slot from over 500 entries.
Related Topics: Horror