From the very moment I booked my flight to Austin for Fantastic Fest, I knew one movie that was a shoe-in for my schedule – The ABCs Of Death 2. Drafthouse Films’ original brainchild tickled my fancy for all things deadly, so a sequel seemed perfectly apt, giving 26 new directors a chance to score their five minutes of horror fame.
Last year brought dogfighting, furry electrocutions, extreme weight loss tactics and a slew of other gross-out scare tactics, and this year brought an equally shocking cornucopia or carnage. From blood-thirsty burgers to tentacles, and from granted wishes to bath salts, this year’s crop have done their best to out-do the competition every-which-way, making for another mixed-bag watch featuring soaring highs and droll lows. I’ll echo the same statement – with 26 segments, I find it damn-near impossible that any human can enjoy A-Z based on simple mathematics, but I will say the lows aren’t as low this time, and it’s a more seamless, polished thrill ride. These directors go big, and while a select few unfortunately slink home, others have created shorts that will go down in horror infamy – all conforming to the film’s rulebook.
There’s no plot to convey here, so let’s get right to the nitty-gritty – who walks away from The ABCs Of Death 2 holding their head the highest?
Let’s start right with the cream of the crop, which took a lot of internal deliberation on my part. I’m giving the sequel crown E.L. Katz on this one. While some of you will interpret that glowing anointment as “Oh great, it’s all downhill after A,” don’t be silly – all Katz does is set the bar ridiculously high for his fellow filmmakers. There are PLENTY of other gems waiting to be found in other letters, but nothing tops “A is for Amateur” in my book.
Katz’s death scene follows an inexperienced hitman plotting to kill a thug played by Andy Nyman, and after running through the plan in his head, goes head-first into the ventilation system like so many action heroes before him. What unfolds is the assassin’s failure to calculate hidden challenges that movies don’t always show, including protruding jagged edges and dusty conditions, ending in, well, an extremely amateur affair. The ABCs Of Death 2 starts out on a satirical note that’s both surprising and hilarious, channeling Katz’s dark sense of humor found throughout Cheap Thrills. Congrats E.L., you’re the belle of the ball!
Rounding out my top six this year are the Soska sisters (American Mary), Jerome Sable (Stage Fright), Chris Nash, Marvin Kren (Blood Glacier) and Alejandro Brugués (Juan Of The Dead), who all craft segments that are tremendously unique to their established skill sets. These highlights range from riotous to disturbingly intrusive, such as the Soskas living up to their Twisted Twins nickname, featuring a segment pushing every aspect of morality through seedy, perverse revenge.
On the other hand, Brugués reverts back to his Juan Of The Dead talents and throws together a breezy comedic death scene about love, jealousy, and obvious priorities. Sable shocks us by avoiding comedy found in his early work, favoring a FaceTime horror short about one man’s debaucherous night and the nasty consequences that await. Kren achieves the same shock value, but does so through black-and-white tension that’s deceptive and rewarding, hitting on an acceptance of death worthy of a spine-tingle. Then there’s Chris Nash, the poor bastard tasked with ending The ABCs Of Death 2, but considering everything League’s vision calls for, Nash brings gore, originality, outlandishness, and quite possibly the most unsettling few minutes found in this sequel’s runtime.
More impressive this time around is the lopsided balance favoring amazing shorts versus the original’s 50/50 splitting of positive and negative experiences. I was keeping a scorecard the entire time and I only found four segments that outright turned me off, but I refuse to single out anyone negatively here – these bits were still conceptually strong, but failed to hold attention for even a mere five minutes. Still, that’s FOUR disposable letters out of 26, which is much better than Drafthouse’s previous effort. Yet there’s still a leveling off after starting out on such a rousing high, which picks back up again once the Soskas jolt our senses with a little horror-themed shock therapy.
Once again, Drafthouse Films has found a way to make death gleefully enjoyable, because the format offers so much room for growth. As these directors come in, batch after batch, I can only imagine there’s a competitive effort that drives each one towards ruling their collection, which in turn only increases quality as productions keep ramping up.
The ABCs Of Death 2 is a Halloween grab-bag bursting with treats, and should be required viewing for horror fans come October. There are so many more segments worth discussing, from Julian Barratt’s animal attack to Robert Morgan’s head-eating-teddy-bear claymation concoction, but I haven’t the time or space for that here – everyone will be getting their due shortly in accompanying articles. But that’s neither here nor there – what matters now is me confirming that as long as the ABCs Of Death sequels keep coming, I’ll GLADLY keep watching them.
The ABCs Of Death 2 has something for the deviant in all of us, assembling another winning collection boasting sick, twisted, psychotic fun.