Does the anthology sequel and continuation of gore fueled education The ABCs of Death 2 offer anything we haven’t already come to expect? Surprisingly yes. While there are certainly some stranger entries that don’t quite hit their mark or by the book uninspired scares, its easy to forgive them knowing there will be another subsequent opportunity for redemption in five more minutes with the next letter. Overall the bright and distinct emboldened choices the sequel’s directors have made make for a vastly more interesting film than just simply a montage of deaths. While its probably best to leave the viewing to those who enjoy a twisted gross out sense of humor and good ol fashion dismemberment, The ABCs of Death 2 has made real strides in their diversity and daring by slowly expanding beyond the genre expectations.
The first entry, “A” (I’ll spare you the full titles as guessing them in the midst of viewing is half the fun), by Cheap Thrills director E.L. Katz carries his signature brand of black comedy and begins the film on a high note. It starts with a super sleek montage that pays homage to the cheestastic “suiting up” scenes in action films but still manages to stand impressively apart in its commitment as we whiz through a day in the life of a hit man. All is not as it seems though as we delve deeper into the gritty and hilarious reality of a hit gone horribly wrong. After a few ho-hum segments we reach “D,” a bizarre and eerie stop motion film by Robert Morgan. It’s one that sticks with you with an ominous Cronenberg-esque flair as a man’s second chance at life goes awry as he indulges the need for revenge. I could practically here the exasperated sighs and watch checking by the gore fans during “D”, but the short is the first indication of the refreshingly unexpected variety The ABCs of Death 2 holds.
The film’s shining moments arrive in shorts that almost feel incomplete, utilizing the format to essentially audition and pitch jaw-dropping talent and intriguing concepts. In particular “K” by Kristina Buožytė and Bruno Samper who created 2012’s Vanishing Waves, a sensual and visually stunning sci-fi driven fantasy, captured my imagination. With “K” they’ve brought the same visual tendencies and created a moody Lovecraftian coming of age terror with a total absence of dialogue and gorgeous camera work. Subdued but wonderfully creepy effects and a blink and miss it clever set design touches are the flourishing touch that complete the chilling nightmare. The atmospheric tension and masterful crafting of an entire universe is established and intrigues all before the four-minute short has concluded. The conclusion nearly made me stand up and throw down my money demanding a feature length explanation. “K” truly stands elite amongst the other shorts and illustrates just how far the concept of an anthology of death can go.
The humor is never absent for long though with the creepy and amusing “G” by Jim Hosking, a short that is shameless in its sole purpose being the delivery of a dick joke. Contest winner Robert Boocheck’s entry “M” is a simple but well-timed and perfectly delivered gag with a great visual contrast. A personal favorite of mine, “O” by Japanese director Ohata Hajime, brings the same unique take he tackled with werewolves in 2012’s Henge to the world of zombies and apparently their bitter decomposing governing body. The beyond idiotic and purposefully grating “P” by Todd Rohal is a confusing and ultimately entertaining intruder as you can’t help but laugh at the ridiculous Three Stooges by way of The Twilight Zone homage. From dark and biting commentary to over the top physical gags, it’s entertaining to watch the compilation of directors freely engage their twisted humor. At the end of the day though we’re all here for the kills, something the ABCs of Death 2 hasn’t forgotten as it nears the end of the alphabet with crowd-pleasing gore galore.
As the film winds down it builds momentum with back to back to back wonderful and varied shorts. French horror favorites Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo deliver “X” that opts to dodge the expectations and instead achieve its effect with a maddening build to a drastic reveal. It’s a less is more approach for the pair who usually deliver brutal kills, but the end result is so appropriately horrific thanks to the always fantastic Béatrice Dalle you’ll do a double take. Another personal favorite ,FX designer Sôichi Umezawa’s directorial debut “Y” is filled with his splendid practical effects and makeup, but what struck me most about the short is Umezawa’s natural sense of pacing. The short escalates like a roller coaster with our teen protagonist’s emotions before going completely over the top in a satisfying finale. The film concludes with “Z” by Chris Nash, equal parts repulsive and hilarious it encompasses everything The ABCs of Death is about. The less said the better as it truly is worthy of a spoiler free viewing so that I can relish your disgusted or delighted reactions depending on how far you swing on the fucked up scale. It’s a truly twisted short that Nash had the tenacity to see through and present such an absurd concept in a manner that draws laughs just to drown out the discomfort and choke down the bile.
While gore fans and hardcore horror heads may feel the sequel is a disappointment from the previous entry I found it a bold and bright move in the right direction that works to showcase future visionaries. By continuing to put trust and freedom in the hands of the directors Austin’s own Drafthouse Films founder Tim League and fellow ABCs of Death producer Ant Timpson are breaking out of the horror mold and doing something far greater than just providing another entertaining genre entry, they’re cultivating a brilliant unafraid new generation of filmmakers. This is where V/H/S series that left me so irritated with its second entry has always fallen short. Determined to drag out an unnecessary overarching plot they’ve limited and contained themselves from doing anything other than retreading old ground in familiar ways. It was a great gimmick at first to sell to a mainstream audience but now an established franchise its time to follow Timpson and League’s example and fly or fail, allow the same freedom and experimentation the ABCs of Death has embraced.
You can catch The ABCs of Death 2 now on On Demand and iTunes.