The common complaint about the first chapter of The ABCs of Death – or, fine, at least my main complaint – is not that the 26 shorts were weird, random, nasty, and sometimes nonsensical; it’s that there wasn’t much in the way of consistency. Yes, ABCs #1 did offer a solid handful of legitimately creative and/or creepy shorts, but it also presented a bigger handful of arbitrary, random… weirdness. Obviously a feature that is little more than a framework on which to hang 26 shorts is going to have its peaks and valleys, but ABCs #1 seemed a bit more interested in gross-out gags and bodily functions than in horror, suspense, or simple creepy storytelling.
Fortunately for all, series steward Ant Timpson (Housebound) seems to have heard those gripes, and the result is a sequel that is considerably more sustained, substantial, and satisfying than its predecessor. All 26 of the filmmaking squads were still free to make whatever sort of “death-related” short they wanted, but there seems to be a newly concerted effort towards a little more narrative, a little less grossness, and a tonal cohesion that simply feels more smooth, organised, and professional.
This is where a normal film review would delve into the plot synopsis, but since The ABCs of Death 2 is, again, just a big batch of short films, there’s no plot to cover – and while it feels a little tacky to “play favourites,” I’d be doing the filmmakers (and our readers) a disservice by not citing at least a few of my own:
– The opening segment, fromCheap Thrills director E.L. Katz, is a slick, quick, dark, and funny tale of assassination gone horribly wrong.
– The Soska sisters (American Mary) take a truly disturbing look at an allegedly sexy photo shoot.
– Legendary animator Bill Plympton (Hair High) sums up male / female communication issues in wonderfully grotesque fashion.
– Astron-6 director Steven Kostanski (Manborg) turns a 1980s-era toy commercial into a nightmare of plastic proportions.
– British filmmaker Julian Barrett (The Mighty Boosh) parodies nature shows in quick, amusing, and splattery style.
– The always clever Vincenzo Natali (Splice) contemplates a future in which homeliness is literally unacceptable.
– Indie stalwart Larry Fessenden (The Last Winter) provides a stylish and suspenseful collision.
– And the final short, “Z is for Zygote,” might be the wildest and most disturbing pregnancy-related horror film ever… conceived. (Stunning effects work in this film!) Kudos to Chris Nash and his gore-slinging colleagues.
For those who prefer a more statistical analysis, try this: I enjoyed (or adored) about 55% of the shorts in The ABCs of DeathPart 1. For The ABCs of Death 2, that percentage skyrockets to about 85%. Truth be told, there were only three or four shorts that just didn’t work for me. No, I’m not singling them out.
Your own mileage will vary, of course, and that’s sort of what’s so cool about this concept. Sure, both of the ABCs movies aim to appeal to the horror geeks, the fans of twisted cinema, and the cineastes who love aliens, gun battles, bloodshed, and overt strangeness. But beyond that, The ABCs of Deaths – indeed all anthology horror films – act as a celebration of the short film. Just as the Oscars and film festivals around the globe celebrate short films, this insane collection of bite-sized carnage will do its part to inspire countless young filmmakers to try their hand at “newbie” filmmaking.
So kudos on that.
Scott Weinberg (@ScottEWeinberg)