ABCs of Death 2 Dir. by a lot of people

[Magnet Releasing; 2014]

Styles: horror, action, thriller, anthology
Others: ABCs of Death

On the surface it would be easy to discount the ABCs of Death 2. A collection of horror shorts released around Halloween reads like something out of a studio’s marketing playbook. If other holidays have taught us anything, it’s that the marketing department most likely has more creative control over the final product (note product, not film) than the filmmakers. Pick a holiday, any holiday. Getting that loving feeling in mid-February? Look no further than the star-studded mess of a film that is Valentine’s Day (2010). Are you suffering from a severe lack of confetti as the clock strikes midnight? New Years Eve (2011) has your back. A cup of hot cocoa and some holiday cheer? For every great Christmas movie (Home Alone, A Christmas Story, It’s A Wonderful Life, The Nightmare Before Christmas) there are bargain bins heavier than a sack of coal containing stocking stuffer leftovers (Christmas with the Kranks, Surviving Christmas, Jack Frost). But ABC’s of Death 2 does not fall into this camp. It is not a marketing gimmick. It is one of the most original examples of what is possible in genre cinema today if directors are given creative control over their projects and let their imaginations run wild. It is also a blueprint showcasing what cinephiles can do — in this case Ant Timpson and Drafthouse’s Tim League — in the producer role, using their vast connections and know-how of all facets of the movie industry to get something like this made and released to a wide audience.

Much like its predecessor, this anthology contains 26 shorts, each by a different director (or pairing of directors). As the title suggests, death is the linking factor here, as a death in each segment deals with a word containing the letter assigned to the director(s) in question. No other restrictions were applied and the filmmakers had total creative control over what ended up on screen. Because the shorts are sequential, advancing in alphabetical order, part of the fun during each segment is trying to guess what word the director will use. Often times its obvious, as in the hilarious B is for Badger (Julian Barratt) where an arrogant nature documentarian gets his comeuppance at the teeth of a mutant mammal. Others letters — “A” for example — trick the viewer into thinking one thing, while building towards something else altogether. “A” ends up being A is for Amateur (E.L. Katz), but could have easily be A if for Air Vent had the director decided to go the more literal route. E.L. Katz’s short also demonstrates the full range of what is possible in a short film. It begins much like a typical hitman scene would in a Hollywood action flick: music video style cinematography, music blasting, slick movements and quick cuts. The violence is quick, flashy and rhythmic. But when the scene starts over to show the actual events, instead of a smooth mission accomplished, the reality of the situation is played out and our hitman instead bumbles his way through the air vents in an attempt to find his mark. It is as much humor and parody as it is playing with different pacing and styles.

Although it certainly appeals to the horror crowd with its release date, the ABCs of Death 2H is for Head Games is immediately recognizable and visualizes horror in a way only his distinct hand drawn animation could. Marvin Kren’s R is for Roulette is a tense black and white piece that isn’t quite what is seems. Robert Morgan’s D is for Deloused is a blood-filled stop motion short that is as horrific, if not more so, than anything live action horror can produce. A more serious turn is taken with Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado’s F is for Falling, depicting an encounter between an Israeli woman and a Palestinian teenager. Common tropes used within the horror genre are also skewered, with the very literal twist of Jen and Sylvia Soska’s T is for Torture Porn.

So what does all this mean? With of a runtime of just over two hours, the ABCs of Death 2 is a veritable film festival in a condensed, and often bloody package — one that showcases talents, stories, and cinematic techniques from across the world. It’s not only great fun to watch — if you can stomach some of the more intense segments — it’s one of the few places where you can watch new and established directors side by side pushing the bounds of creativity and audience expectations. It’s step above the original and easily the best anthology film to grace the silver screen in recent years. Not to mention a top-notch alternative to those bargain bin selections, at least until the rumored epic anthology of place, language, holiday, and every movie star since 1939 — New York Je T’aime Valentine New Years — is released in 2042.

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