Take this ‘Recommended’ with a grain of salt because The ABCs of Death 2, a 26-part anthology, is unquestionably a mixed bag. I usually approach these sort of compilation films with a pretty simple equation: on aggregate, is there more good than bad? That probably sounds like an overly mathematical way to go about it, but it’s worth knowing that there is some serious shit among the 26.
Luckily, there’s also a lot of good, which is odd given that this is a sequel that no one really asked for (but maybe we should have). The horror anthology improves significantly upon its predecessor, a credit primarily to the back half, which features some brilliantly grotesque, and sporadically clever, short films. A particular highlight is the final film of the lot, ‘Z for Zygote’, about a mother keeping an unborn child inside her for 13 years. The ending, which you may be able to guess, is possibly the most ludicrously revolting thing I’ve ever seen on screen, but it’s done well.
If you haven’t seen the first ABC of the series, the gimmick is that each filmmaker is given a letter on which to base their short horror films. Obviously, the films must also involve death in one way or another. The best of the lot are either the extremely weird – such as the aforementioned ‘Z for Zygote’, or ‘W is for Wish’ by Canadian production company Astron-6 (whose The Editor also played at MonsterFest) – or the films that draw from established horror sub-genres, such as ‘S is for Split’ and ‘V is for Vacation’ which both structurally subvert the slasher.
I think it’s really easy to dismiss these sort of anthology films, and, in fairness, there have been some god-awful examples in the last decade (read: Movie 43). But the best part of ABCs 2 is just how different each of the films are. Even the bad ones are totally unique. I’d say the worst part of these types of short films is a tendency for the filmmakers to go down the Tropfest ‘punch line ending’ route – X is actually Y! – which almost always comes off as cheesy and pointless. The two Japanese shorts, ‘Y is for Youth’ and ‘O is for Ochlocracy’, do well in this regard as they veered away from any of those tropes, instead getting carried away in their own insane imaginations.
Though there isn’t much in the way of star power, there are a few recognizable faces throughout. Julian Barrett of The Mighty Boosh is probably the biggest name, and he directs and stars in ‘B is for Badger’, where he plays a nature documentarian, living in the shadow of David Attenborough, who encounters a killer badger. Also, Vincenzo Natali, of Cube and Splice, directs the very short U for Utopia, which admittedly comes off as a bad Black Mirror rip.
As for the really bad. Well, there’s one particularly example of misogynistic trash the blew me away in its unapologetically terribleness, and that was ‘E for Equilibrium’, which was about two guys abandoned on an island. It looks like a TV ad for car insurance and its attempts at black humour fall ridiculously flat.
As for the ‘fetishizing of killing’, well I don’t take particular issue with that, as when these shorts get over-the-top, they tend to do so in the name of absurdity or comedy. Overall, I think it’s a really good thing that these sort-of semi mainstream short film anthologies exist. There is considerable talent among these films, which give a platform for a lot of talented up-and-coming genre filmmakers. The gimmick of the ABCs movies also set a challenge, which was undertaken much more impressively here than in the first film. Sure there are some duds (and genre duds are the worst kind of duds) but in all I found the experience of ABCs 2 strangely gratifying and at the very least memorable.
Around the Staff