ABCs of Death, Aharon Keshales, Alejandro Brugues, Alexandre Bustillo, Ant Timpson, anthology films, Best of 2014, Bill Plympton, Bruno Samper, Chris Nash, cinema, Dennison Ramalho, E.L. Katz, Erik Matti, favorite films, film reviews, films, foreign films, Hajime Ohata, horror, horror films, horror-comedies, Jerome Sable, Jim Hosking, Juan Martinez Moreno, Julian Barratt, Julian Gilbey, Julien Maury, Kristina Buozyte, Lancelot Odawa Imasuen, Larry Fessenden, Marvin Kren, Movies, multiple directors, multiple writers, Navot Papushado, Robert Boocheck, Robert Morgan, Rodney Ascher, sequels, shorts, Soichi Umezawa, Soska Sisters, Steven Kostanski, The ABCs of Death 2, Tim League, Todd Rohal, Vincenzo Natali
Count me as one of the number of people who love anthology films. Going all the way back to the old Amicus days, anthology films have always been a great way to inject a little variety into your viewing, sort of the equivalent of sitting down with a good short story collection rather than trudging through a full-length tome. Over the years, there have been plenty of anthology films, good and bad, but the basic formula has remained pretty constant: take a good wrap-around segment, add some nice varied shorts with effective twists and shocks et voila! The perfect anthology film!
When The ABCs of Death (2012) came around, the concept was pretty unbeatable: give twenty-six different genre directors a different letter of the alphabet and have them fashion a short, with the only rule being that the shorts must represent death, in some way, shape or form. While some of the shorts were pointless, stupid and/or tedious, many of them were blackly-comic mini marvels and I found the whole thing to be a great way to get exposure to a wide variety of genre filmmakers in small, bite-sized morsels. Needless to say, when a sequel, The ABCs of Death 2 (2014) was announced, I found myself more than ready to absorb the next twenty-six entries in this informative little series. The consensus this time around? Part Two is bigger, better and outrageously fun, pretty much the best party film of the year and a must-see with a big audience, if one gets the chance. A sequel that’s better than the original? You can bet your blood-stained, bottom dollar on it!
As with the first installment, ABCs of Death 2 sees twenty-six wildly divergent filmmakers each tackle a different letter of the alphabet, with the only intention being to depict grievous bodily harm in as many colorful, gonzo and awe-inspiring ways as possible. Some filmmakers take an explicitly humorous take on the proceedings, such as Jim Hoskin and Erik Matti’s offerings, whereas others treat the subject as deadly serious (Kristina Buozyte and Bruno Samper’s exquisite “K is for Knell,” Dennison Ramalho;s brutal “J is for Jesus”). While there’s no real theme, per se, the trend in this particular iteration is towards films from Latin and South America, which provides an interesting contrast with the more Asian-oriented films from the previous ABCs of Death. Despite this, however, ABCs of Death 2 still provides a nice global overview of horror filmmaking, from the United States to Australia, from Africa to Israel, Mexico, Japan and the Philippines.
Any time you have twenty-six different films from twenty-six different filmmakers, you can expect a wide range of quality and effectiveness: in other words, there are going to be at least a few clunkers amid the gems. While I’ll admit that a few of the shorts in The ABCs of Death 2 rubbed me the wrong way (I actively hated Todd Rohal’s P-P-P-P Scary! and was really disappointed by the shorts turned in by Bill Plympton, the Soska sisters and Larry Fessenden), the ratio of great-to-meh was overwhelmingly tilted in the right direction. When the shorts were great, such as with the E.L. Katz, Robert Morgan, Kristina Buozyte/Bruno Samper, Robert Boocheck, Vincenzo Natali, Chris Nash, Steven Kostanksi and Julien Maury/Alexandre Bustillo films, they were practically transcendent, revealing fascinating, new takes on familiar horror tropes and cliches.
In fact, one of the greatest things about The ABCs of Death 2 is just how genuinely interesting the various shorts are. With very few exceptions (Rohal’s short is almost unbearably bad), even the lesser entries are, at the very least, oddball and interesting enough to gloss over any issues with production values, acting, scripts, etc… and make them worthwhile views.
I’ll also take a minute to point out that the effects on display range from the very basic to the very mindblowing: I’m pretty sure that Kostanki’s Wish segment will impress just about anybody, with its absolutely masterful blending of CGI, stop-motion and practical effects. Gorehounds will be happy to know that ABCs 2 very rarely shies away from the hardcore: restraint is not a virtue, as far as these particular shorts are concerned and some of the segments hit some truly nightmarish plateaus.
All in all, ABCs of Death 2 was one of the biggest surprises I had all year. While I enjoyed the first film, I had no reason to expect that the follow-up would be anywhere near this good: when it’s firing on all cylinders, ABCs of Death 2 is, easily, one of the best horror films of the year. There are certain images in this film, especially with Steven Kostanski’s brilliant “W is for Wish,” that I’ll probably never get out of my head…and that’s a very good thing. When it’s good, which is often, ABCs of Death 2 is the kind of film that horror fans will definitely want to remember and cherish. At this rate, I’m already looking forward to ABCs of Death 4: bring it on, you magnificent bastards…bring it on!