The ABCs of Death 2

| March 3, 2015

Anthology films are inconsistent by their very nature, but it’s rare when such a project seems to bring out the worst in almost everybody involved. Such was the fate of The ABCs of Death, a project that looked on paper like a sure thing: twenty-six filmmakers from all over the world making short films based on a death that begins with a different letter of the alphabet. Unfortunately, other than a handful of standouts, the majority of the shorts in The ABCs of Death ranged from forgettable to infuriating, with many of the filmmakers indulging their worst instincts for cheap shocks and gross-outs. When plans were announced for a sequel, many horror fans were wary. Happily, like its companion franchise V/H/S, The ABCs of Death 2 is an enormous improvement over the first film and comes much closer to fulfilling the promise of the project’s original concept.

One immediately noticeable and fun change is the use of new interstitials, done completely in handmade stop-motion animation by Austrian animator Wolf Matzl. Along with the music by André Rössler and Isabel Greiwe, these interstitials instantly set a tone for the anthology and provide some of the best punch lines in the film when the title of a short is revealed at its conclusion. There is a sense from the start that much more care has been taken with this film than the first, and that carries over into the quality and content of most of the shorts, the best of which play to the strengths of their respective directors.

Standouts include: “A,” directed by E.L. Katz (Cheap Thrills), cleverly contrasts an inexperienced hit man’s idea of what a job is like and how the job actually goes. “D,” directed by stop-motion animator Robert Morgan, is a fascinating nightmare in his unique style. “H,” directed by animator Bill Plympton, is a funny and unsettling battle of the sexes. “K,” directed by Kristina Buozyte and Bruno Samper (Vanishing Waves), uses inspired sound design and spare CGI effects to maximum effect. “P,” directed by Todd Rohal (The Cathechism Cataclysm), looks and feels like a surreal comedy bit that could have been made in the 1930s. “W,” directed by Steven Kostanski (Manborg), concerns two boys in a “He-Man”-style toy commercial who are sucked into the world of “Champions of Zorb” and find it is not as much fun as they expected. And “Z,” directed by Chris Nash, is a strange tale with some great practical effects about a pregnant woman who is waiting for her husband to come home before she gives birth, although it is unclear whether he is actually ever coming home.

The other 18 shorts almost all hit a consistent level of quality while landing all over the place regarding tone and content. There is nothing here as bad as the worst shorts in the first film, although a couple do come close: “E,” directed by Alejandro Brugués (Juan of the Dead), with its ridiculous sexism, feels more like a commercial for Axe body spray than anything else. The biggest disappointment this time around is “V,” directed by Jerome Sable (Stage Fright), which uses a cheap “found footage” approach to depict the fate of two extremely unpleasant frat bros who are killed by a pair of prostitutes while one of them is on Skype with his girlfriend. Ugly, gross, and mean-spirited, this short shows none of the unique style or inventiveness of Sable’s slasher-musical feature debut or his excellent short film, “The Legend of Beaver Dam,” that preceded it. Still, the number of fun, memorable pieces is much higher this time around, likely at least partially thanks to the introduction of some guidelines provided by the film’s producers to introduce some quality control (as opposed to the completely free rein given to filmmakers the first time around).

Overall, The ABCs of Death 2 is a fun overview of genre filmmakers from all over the world. Given how much of an improvement this is over the first ABCs of Death, it’s a shame that a third entry in the series has not been announced. Another entry with a level of quality shorts at this level would be very welcome, and help give horror fans a look at even more interesting filmmakers to seek out. On the other hand, maybe it’s better for the producers to quit while they’re ahead.

Magnolia released The ABCs of Death 2 on DVD and Blu-ray February 24th. Special features include a feature-length commentary with most of the directors (producers Tim League and Ant Timpson fill in for directors who could not contribute) and a wealth of behind-the-scenes featurettes, photo galleries, and interviews with the filmmakers.

About the Author:

Jason Coffman is a film writer living in Chicago. He is author of "The Unrepentant Cinephile," and a regular contributor to Daily Grindhouse and Film Monthly as well as a member of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle. He is co-director of the Chicago Cinema Society and proud owner of 35mm prints of Andy Milligan's "Guru, the Mad Monk." Follow his long-form film writing on Medium: www.medium.com/@rabbitroom
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