October 2, 2014 (VOD)
Béatrice Dalle as Grandmother
Laurence R. Harvey as Wanker
Alan McKenna as Bob
Ian Virgo as Fletcher
Mark Grossman as Curt
I’m probably in the minority, but I really liked the first ABCs of Death. There were plenty of awkward and unfulfilling shorts featured in the lineup, no doubt about that, but the good outweighed the bad by a decent margin. Being a fanatic for quality shorts, it was easy to get behind a feature with a solid dozen (if not more) thrilling films. The sequel, The ABCs of Death 2, is an ambitious project that has some mighty big shoes to fill. But it fills them, and then some. In fact, the sequel is a significantlymore entertaining collection, offering a much more balanced lineup of pictures from a new assortment of hungry young filmmakers. And while names like Xavier Gens, Ti West, Ben Wheatley and Adam Wingard are noticeably absent, those who follow the genre will take solace in the inclusion of talents like Larry Fessenden, Vincenzo Natali, Aharon Keshales, Navot Papushado, The Soska Sisters and Jerome Sable. If names like that don’t instate some hope, nothing will. These are talented filmmakers on the rise, and the majority of them really shine in this setting.
But before we get to the pictures that shine, let’s touch down on the few shorts that come up… well, really short. Robert Morgan’s (memorable shorts Invocation and Monsters) D is for the Deloused is an intriguing claymation short that missed the mark for me, though seeing certain audiences finding redeemable qualities here doesn’t seem impossible. Feeling more left field than anything else, artist Bill Plympton’s H is for Head Games is an animated short that feels terribly out of place, while Todd Rohal’s (Nature Calls) P is for P-P-P-P Scary is just nonsensical rubbish that proves to be more annoying than frightening. But the shocking letdown comes from the heavily praised (and rightfully so) Soska Sisters (American Mary), who deliver a bland, predictable short titled Torture Porn. Of the 26 pictures featured, these are four that could be done away with and never missed.
The quality works nearly triple that number. After a gorgeous illustrated opening sequence, A is for Amateur (E.L. Katz, who helmed the awesome and underrated Autopsy) gets underway, and it’s a fine piece. B is for Badger (Julian Barratt, who some probably know from his time onscreen in A Field in England), C is for Capital Punishment (Julian Gilbey, A Lonely Place to Die), S is for Split (Juan Martinez Moreno, Game of Werewolves), V is for Vacation (Jerome Sable, who delivered one of the strongest genre musicals, Stage Fright, earlier this year), X is for Xylophone(Julien Maury & Alexandre Bustillo, the geniuses behind Inside and Livid) and Z is for Zygote(Chris Nash) are all very high quality pictures that are still moving the second time around. The major homeruns come from Kristina Buozyte & Bruno Samper (Vanishing Waves), who give us the very unsettling Hitchockian chiller K is for Knell; Hajime Ohata (Henge) and one of the coolest takes on zombies I’ve ever seen, O is for Ochlocracy; and Rodney Ascher’s (the controversialShining documentary, Room 237) will assembled and extremely witty Q is for Questionnaire. These are riveting, often disconcerting films that feel so far advanced it’s absurd. To see that from Ascher in particular, who is still somewhat green in regards to conventional filmmaking (Ascher’s forte up to this point has been documentaries) is a damn fine treat.
Here’s where it gets interesting. The films I haven’t mentioned, aren’t bad. Not in the slightest. There are a handful of solid works in the lineup. They may not shine as bright as others, and they may not stand out as oddball additions like others either, but they most certainly deserve a place in this film. These aren’t disappointing pics, in the least. Two viewings of The ABCs of Death 2proved that there’s genuine replay value here, even from the middle of the pack features. Far more so than the first film, which feels a bit strenuous beyond a single viewing.
If you’re leery of watching this sequel because the first film failed to wow you (as was the case for many), you can rest assured: This is a major, major improvement on the first flick. There are some clever spins on the alphabet and the film titles (something a lot of viewers look for), the production values look far more consistent across the board and a few noteworthy actors can be spotted throughout the flick’s 125 minute runtime (a good 15 minutes of that is end credits). K, O,and Q alone make this film worth seeking out, but there are other treasures to be unearthed. The diversity of concepts should be more than enough to entice genre freaks to sit through the movie with a sizable grin on their face, and if it happens to be gore that you’re looking for, you’ll find it. Especially in selections like Z is for Zygote, C is for Capital Punishment and X is for Xylophone. Look, 2014 hasn’t been a stellar year for anthologies. But we’re closing the calendar on a very high note here. The ABCs of Death 2 is – without question (so count me out on the questionnaire!) one of the finest films to hit the market in 2014.