The first ABCs of Death anthology in 2012 was a great idea. Gather 26 horror directors and give them each complete creative freedom to create a gruesome film based on a letter of the alphabet. A concept so strong that it could only go wrong if the directors go wrong. And a great way to hedge bets, because chances are pretty good that you will find something to your taste hidden in the grab bag.
That being said, I wasn’t all that in love with the first in the series, but have been looking forward to the sequel quite a bit. Not only did they announce a slew of great directors for the sophomore effort, but the producers went an extra step and offered up the letter M for the taking in a very cool contest held around this time last year.
In fact, the contest was a great success, and many directors (professional and amateur) produced M-centric shorts for hopeful inclusion in the new film. A unique way to involve the tight-knit horror community we all know and love.
I am glad to report to you that the new collection of deathly letters is far more successful than the first outing, for me at least. While the first film was fun, gross and baffling at times, nothing really excited me or stuck with me personally.
Happily, this is not the case with the sequel.
In fact, the new collection delivers many more hits than misses, and brings some new talented names to the forefront of the horror director watch list.
Things start off with a bang after a unique animated title sequence, with E.L Katz’s “A is for Amateur”. This short kicks of the collection with some gratuitous sex, drugs and techno music, and tells the darkly ironic tale of a hitman gone wrong.
Followed by “B is for Badger”, directed by Julian Barratt, we begin to see just how weird these film-makers are willing to go. This one is a very dry and funny story of a documentary crew with a domineering subject that takes a gruesome twist.
“C is for Capital Punishment”, from director Julian Gilby, is a dark tale of mistaken justice, and features one of the nastiest executions I have ever seen. This one was gruesome and unexpected.
“D is for Deloused” switches it up quickly with a grotesque stop-motion short from director Robert Morgan. Hypnotic and stylistically reminiscent of the work of the Quay brothers and Jan Svankmejer. Dirty and beautiful, this one made me squirm.
“E is for Equilibrium” from Alejandro Brugues, director of Juan of the Dead, is a very funny dialogue-free twist on the story of survivors stranded on an island. A light-hearted and amusing entry with at least one big shock.
“F is for Falling” from Aharon Keshales & Navot Papushado (who were responsible for Big Bad Wolves earlier this year) slows the pace quite a bit with this story of an Israeli soldier stuck in a tree. Not my favorite.
“G is for Granddad” brings the weirdness back up to 11 in this strange story of disparate roomies. Written and directed by Jim Hosking, this one has style and comic timing and one of the most WTF endings yet. Loved it.
“H is for Head Games” brings us something new and strange from amazing animator Bill Plympton. Anyone who remembers the weird animated segues from MTV back in the early 90s will instantly recognize the style here. A favorite.
“I is for Invincible” from director Erik Matti is another unique entry, telling the quick and mean story of a greedy family waiting around for their cursed matriarch to pass on so that they may divide up her wealth. The trouble is that she wont seem to die, no matter how they hack and tear at here. This one was awesome!
“J is for Jesus”, directed by Dennison Ramalho, takes a more serious tone, tackling religious zealotry and violent homophobia in his allotted time. Some great monster effects and surreal sequences made this one work well.
“K is for Knell”, from directors Kristina Buozyte and Bruno Samper, is one of the few shorts that didn’t really grab me. Some cool cosmic effects and strange happenings, but I guess I just didn’t get it. It sure does look pretty though.
“L is for Legacy” from Lancelot Imasuen, however, tears into his few minutes with a story of a strange curse in a tribal setting. A few of the effects are a little cheap-looking, but the monster is bad ass, and the short is a few minutes of welcome chaos following the previous entry.
“M is for Masticate” is the winner of the contest mentioned earlier, coming to us from director Robert Boocheck. Essentially a few minutes of a slow motion fat man on a rampage followed by a cheap Bath Salts joke, it is really baffling to me how this one was the winner.
“N is for Nexus” from genre staple Larry Fessenden picks the ball back up where it was dropped with a fast paced and stylish short about an inevitable afternoon meeting. Set in New York on Halloween, it is tense and creepy all the way up to its crazy climax. Loved it.
“O is for Olocracy (Mob Rule)” is another unique short that actually attempts to build a world and characters in the short time allotted. Directed by Hajime Ohata, it tells the twisted story of a world where zombies have found a cure and are putting the humans on trial for the things they did in the name of survival. A unique take on a tired subject.
“P is for P-P-P-P-Scary” from Todd Rohal is an old-timey cartoonish farce that quickly descends into a surrealist nightmare. Some good old slapstick weirdness that hits the sweet spot.
“Q is for Questionare” from director Rodney Ascher, who brought us the iffy documentary Room 237, is a kind of cheap-looking but fun short. Some weird camera angles and gory operation scenes almost get us to ignore the guy in the monkey suit.
“R is for Roulette” from Marvin Kren, director of Rammbock and Blood Glacier, is a slow and tense black and white game of wits right up until the end, which only left me wanting more. This one was unique with a great punchline.
“S is for Split” from director Juan Martinez Moreno is about as tense as it gets. Utilizing several alternating split screens as the story of a home invasion goes wrong, this one is dark and unapologetic and awesome.
“T is for Torture Porn” from the Soska Sisters really takes a wild left turn in this short about a young woman being berated on what appears to be a porn set. Tristan Risk rises up and turns the tables on the bullies in a tentacle-filled technicolor climax that is sure to please all the voyeurs out there.
“U is for Utopia” from Vincenzo Natali is a cool futuristic look at the concept of perfection and the fate of those who seek it. An interesting idea with a creepy closing, from the guy who brought us Splice and Cube.
“V is for Vacation” directed by Jerome Sable is a mean and dark descent into violence and misogyny as two bros on vacation prove they have chosen the wrong escorts. The chaos descends as a facetime call turns out to be untimely and damning.
“W is for Wish” is one for all of us 80s babies who ever wished they could enter the fantasy world promised in the toy commercials of the decade. Directed by Steven Kostanski, the maniac responsible for Manborg and Father’s Day, this one is gloriously weird and a great reminder to be careful what you wish for.
“X is for Xylophone” seems like the obvious choice for the letter X, but Inside directors Julien Maury & Alexandre Bustillo bring a dark and cruel spin on the instrument with their dialogue-free entry. Great sound design makes this one gruesome and effective.
“Y is for Youth” pushes the weirdness to the absolute limits as director Soichi Umezawa lets a young girl’s inner thoughts come to life as people regurgitate guitars and battle giant hamburgers and penises. An awesome fever dream.
“Z is for Zygote” is unexpectedly my favorite of the whole film. Written and directed by Chris Nash, this strange and atmospheric tale begins with a man and his pregnant wife in an isolated cabin. He tells her if she keeps eating a mysterious root, everything will be fine and he leaves. Thirteen years later, we see the poor woman with a giant tumorous stomach containing a full-grown child who speaks. An odd and off-putting situation, which only gets worse when she finds that the root has run out and her child will be born one way or the other. One of the grossest, most ingenious films I have ever seen, this one really put the cherry on top for me.
Don’t forget to stick around after the credits for a special appearance from one of modern horror’s most deviant degenerates!
Check out the trailer below and be sure and rent ABCs of Death 2 on demand right now, and check your local listings for the limited theatrical release this Halloween!