The ABCs of Death 2 (2014)
Some people never learn
For those unfamiliar with the concept, The ABCs of Death 2 basically revisits the idea of its predecessor by bringing together 26 different directors, each assigned with the task of creating a short segment centered on or around ‘death.’ The picture opens with a slate stating that each filmmaker was ‘apparently’ given complete artistic freedom regarding the content of their segments. Alas, here lies the picture’s major problem, both its blessing and curse. With such a diverse range of filmmakers involved in the project, The ABCs of Death 2 essentially works as showcase for worldwide horror cinema where viewers are treated to an assortment of material ranging from silly comedies to the stomach churning pieces, with the letter, word, and director, only being revealed once the three-minute segment has concluded. On the flip side, the film as a whole is rather uneven and while some segments are terrific, others fall flat or totally fail to make any sort of lasting impression.
Contrary to the anthology’s opening slate, however, it’s been hinted that certain ‘guidelines’ were in fact given to filmmakers for this second installment — a seven page manifesto to be exact — following the shock producers received upon viewing Timo Tjahjanto’s L is for Libido from the original ABCs of Death a couple of years back. Given these do-and-don’ts, this second ABCs outing feels more restrained, not nearly as disturbing or creative as the original, diminishing the overall impact of this follow-up compilation. On the other hand, this new anthology is void of the awful toilet humor that plagued the first outing, while the general quality and execution of shorts is far better this time around — there are more hits than misses. The picture opens with a twisted title sequence outlining the film’s concept, gorgeously animated by Wolfgang Matzl, accompanied by a theme composed by André Rössler, Kraftakt (2012), then delves head first into its depraved proceedings with a very strong opening segment.
Of the 26 diverse shorts, only a handful truly impress with most falling somewhere within mediocre terrain. The excellent A is for Amateur, directed by E.L. Katz, Cheap Thrills (2013), examines a would-be hitman’s meticulously planned hit and stands as a model for what all segments of this anthology should adhere to, as the piece is stylish, funny, subverts audience expectations and is actually themed around death. X is for Xylophone is similarly as impressive with filmmakers Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo, Inside (2007), fashioning a disturbing short about a babysitter (Béatrice Dalle), who is emotionally affected by a child’s xylophone playing. Steven Kostanski’s Manborg (2012)/ He-Man eighties homage, W is for Wish, plays out like a warped children’s toy commercial and would probably work better as a longer piece. The same could be said about Jen and Sylvia Soska’s, American Mary (2012), hentai inspired feministic short T is for Torture Porn, which stars the wickedly stunning Tristan Risk, American Mary (2012), as a blue-eyed beauty who is misogynistically treated at a porn audition, in the end unveiling a hidden surprise.
V is for Vacation — shot from the point-of-view of a cell phone camera and directed by Jerome Sable, Stage Fright (2014) — escalates pretty quickly, depicting the brutal consequences of a man cheating on his girlfriend while away on an overseas vacation, whereas split-screen is utilized in Juan Martínez Moreno’s, Game of Werewolves (2011), Hitchcockian S is for Split, centering on a woman who is attacked in her family home whilst on the phone with her husband. The compilation ends with one of the most bewildering shorts ever created, director Chris Nash’s genuinely disturbing body horror Z is for Zygote, a short about a woman living with a 13-year-old inside her stomach. With a terrific blend of icky practical effects and bizarre imagery — not to mention a sick final twist — this piece is sure to leave a lasting impression, whether positive or negative, potentially signifying the start of a flourishing career in horror for the relatively unknown Nash.
Similar to the first ABCs of Death, this sequel features two animated entries; Robert Morgan’s stop-motion segment D is for Deloused, an odd animation about a large bug who helps an executed man avenge his death, and Bill Plympton’s, Cheatin’ (2013), H is for Head Games, a surreal piece depicting a power struggle between a man and a woman, both segments faring rather well in amongst the gruesome mix. There’s also a bunch of middling political pieces — both concerning matters of law and order — including Julian Gilbey’s, A Lonely Place to Die (2011), overly violent C is for Capital Punishment and Hajime Ohata’s O is for Ochlocracy, a daft concept illustrating a woman’s fate when she is sentenced to death by a courtroom of zombies. In addition, Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado’s, Big Bad Wolves (2013), rather weighty segment F is for Falling feels out of place as it toys with certain clichés and conventions delivering an impactful punch in regards to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict.
Other outings somewhat miss the mark, including Bruno Samper and Kristina Buozyte’s initially promising K is for Knell, a science fiction segment about an alien liquid that turns people into killers, starting out with a terrific eerie feeling but failing to do much else; even The Mighty Boosh (2003) actor Julian Barratt’s short B is for Badger doesn’t deliver anything beyond surface level, although it offers some decent gore effects. Other segments in the saga suffer due to their unoriginality or laziness; Marvin Kren’s, Rammbock (2010), totally predictable black-and-white R is for Roulette — it’s no surprise as to what this short is about — is simply uninteresting whereas a ridiculous short, conceived by director by Rodney Ascher, Room 237 (2012), juxtaposes footage of a guy answering a questionnaire with images of the man’s brain being transferred to a gorilla — or a cheap looking gorilla costume to be exact — candidly titled Q is for Questionnaire. Filmmaker Dennison Ramalho’s J is for Jesus and director Alejandro Brugués,’ Juan of the Dead (2011), E is for Equilibrium also falter due to some cheap looking effects, which at long last brings us to the film’s true low points.
Nigerian filmmaker Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen’s L is for Legacy is simply deplorable; with appalling production values and schlocky effects, this almost incoherent piece about a tribal sacrifice looks as though a lazy second-year film student sloppily put it together; at least it’s short! Rounding off the drivel is Nature Calls (2012) director Todd Rohal’s tonally jarring P is for P-P-P-P SCARY! a slapstick homage to black-and-white comedy in which three frightened jail-breakers, trapped in a dark void, encounter a strange nincompoop with an annoying gap between his teeth; definitely the picture’s true low-point. On a side note, without spoiling much, M is for Masticate, directed by Robert Boocheck — the winner of the ‘26th Director’ competition — is amusing and well shot, but not as solid as other entries floating about in cyberspace.
Featuring all sorts of splatter and gore, explicit violence, let’s not forget about exploitation and dark humor, this collection of shorts — overseen by producers Tim League and Ant Timpson, The ABCs of Death (2012) — should entertain the film’s target demographic, even if most segments rely on cheap shocks or sarcastic punch lines for effect, furthermore running at just over two hours, the concept of a ‘mini-film-festival’ of sorts may be wearying for some patrons. While most entries in this anthology could have benefited from a lengthier running time, or even a moderately bigger budget, this second ABCs feat is relatively entertaining, even if it doesn’t quite measure up to the — sometimes childish — but relentless unrestrained tone of the original. Stick around for a post credit sequence featuring Laurence R. Harvey, The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence) (2011), which essentially works as the bookend for T is for Torture Pron.
3.5 / 5 – Great
Reviewed by Mr. Movie
The ABCs of Death 2 is released through Monster Pictures Australia