Another collection of short scary-ish films that don't exactly improve upon the original.
ABCs of Death 2
Anthologies are by their very nature uneven, hitting creative highs in one installment before becoming all too grating in the following one. The hit-and-miss nature of anthologies is not necessarily a bad thing though. If enough entries are hitting their mark, than it makes for an exciting experience. After all, when anthologies are on their game they can ably adapt from one entry to the next, enticing us to return from one episode to the next.
The real problem with anthologies comes when their hit-to-miss ratio falls more heavily on the latter, as is the case with The ABCs of Death 2. This might not be excessively terrible if the film only had a handful of entries, like Creepshow or the V/H/S films. ABCs of Death’s gimmick, however, involves having a short film slotted for every letter of the alphabet. Filmmakers were assigned a letter and then given total creative freedom to do what they wanted. It is an exciting proposition, especially for some of the filmmakers lined up, but it ceases to matter with such little screen time to tell a story.
Recognizing this, more than a few directors aim, instead, for total, disorienting weirdness. Indeed, though ostensibly a horror anthology, the film leaves a lot to be desired in terms of actual horror. Several entries would not qualify as horror at all. In some instances, this is okay because there are enough ideas and perspective to make them interesting. “F is for Falling”, for example, is only horrifying insofar as it relates to real world horrors. It concerns itself with Israeli-Palestinian relations. While it is a timely, well-intentioned story, it is also woefully underdeveloped, especially for its heavy subject. But most of the time, the lack of scares just means that these short films feel haphazardly strung together. There is almost no thematic overlap or other types of connections between narratives, and that means when an entry is more seriously toned — as a few too many are — it really begins to drag.
The film suffers from similar problems to the first ABCs of Death. Namely that it is aggressively juvenile. Cheap, crass jokes, gory kills for their own sake, and a casual misogyny all pervade many of the entries. But it would be too simple to write off the entire film as being filtered through gross male fantasy. If anything has been improved upon from the last ABCs of Death, it is that these new shorts show at least a glimmer of being thoughtful and incisive. “A is for Amateur” may embrace the male gaze whole-heartedly — using slick camerawork to cover for its needless ogling of naked female bodies — but “T is for Torture Porn” very decisively attempts to upend the male gaze (I should say that I do not think it is entirely successful, but its larger goal is still admirable). Take yet another short, “J is for Jesus,” which tries to make a pointed critique of homophobia while also indulging in some grisly bloodletting. Not all of this works, but it feels so much more even-keeled and contemplative, if not especially more ambitious, than its predecessor.
While on the whole too many of these short films feel unexceptional – or, worse still, are straight up bad — there is some true brilliance buried here. “O is for Ochlocracy (Mob Rule)” functions as a smart deconstruction of zombie movies and our current cultural obsession with the ambling monsters. A woman finds herself on trial for murder after a cure is discovered for the zombie disease and all of the former zombies she killed are revived. It is a funny and knowing work. “W is for Wish” is another standout. It begins as a toy commercial for a dumb 80’s tv show/action figure, and then it becomes a send-up of so many awful, phoned-in animated children’s shows. Two kids are transported to their favorite show and soon discover it is a terrible place. Steven Kostanski’s direction lovingly captures the kitschy, low-budget aesthetic of much of the ’80s kids programming.
To be sure, this is a lot of the same of what the first film provided, and that means it feels largely disappointing, half-baked, and, at times, over-long. But, it is also far less belligerently, off-puttingly weird — and, more importantly, less dull — and that is a welcome relief. The ABC’s of Death 2 is more consistent than it’s predecessor, and occasionally genuinely entertaining. But two hours of unremarkable, infrequently inspired short films ensures that any marginal improvement feels negligible. To put it plainly, you are better off getting your October scares elsewhere.