As tough as it must be for Ant Timpson and Tim League to round up 26 international directors and convince them to commit to making restrictive 3-5 minute shorts in the service of a larger anthology I truly do hope they find a way and that there is a future for this franchise. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the game here is the gist of it: Timpson and League, working with Drafthouse Films, recruits the filmmakers and assigns each of them an alphabet letter. From there they must make an ultra-short horror film that has to culminate with some sort of horrific death caused by something that starts with the letter in question. The result is the greatest example of a party game masquerading as a movie ever as every few minutes you get a new chance to guess exactly how someone will meet their untimely demise. This installment certainly doesn’t have the directorial power of the original nor is it quite as much fun but on the whole it is still a wholly unique and highly entertaining experience.
As luck would have it (since the directors are oblivious to the other projects until the finished product is revealed) there is a natural flow to the way everything plays out. Early on we get the more light-hearted fare as both “A is for Amateur” and “B is for Badger” aim more for laughs than for thrills. It’s a different feel than the bitter slap in the face A is for Apocalypse delivered the first time around but it does allow the audience to ease their way into the rhythm. “E is for Equilibrium” comes off as a nasty Miller Lite commercial where two stranded islanders first let a shapely newcomer come between them before eventually deciding to go with the old mantra of “bros before hos”.
As we dig deeper into the alphabet the deaths get darker and the film-making gets slightly better. The highlights for me are “S is for Split” and “V is for Vacation.” Neither break new ground or win victory through shock value, rather they squeeze as much tension as humanely possible out of established horror tropes (the home invasion and the found footage of a vacation gone terribly wrong) and the very little time with which they have to work. I also have to give something of a shout out to “C is for Capital Punishment,” not so much for the overall punch of the piece but for turning in the most gruesome beheading I have ever seen on film. The very end sees the terrible gross out attempt of “X is for Xylophone” and the far better but silly nonetheless “Z is for Zygote” which cools things down a bit which is probably for the best.
Of course with this many moving parts it isn’t all good times to be had and there are a few stinkers in the bunch. “T is for Torture Porn” is as dull as torture porn could ever be, and “L is for Legacy” is a parade of miscalculations and a showcase for stunningly bad special effects. There is also such a male-centric feel to it that when a killer is outed as female it comes as a bigger shock than it should. That is also not to say that in any way that this film is not on the side of social progress, quite to the contrary in fact. Not to be too grandiose about a movie that is clearly meant to be a gimmicky thrill fest but coming off an Academy Awards that was stuffed with perceived discriminations here is a movie that truly does bring everyone together in the name of cinema. Films from Spain and Japan and The Philippines all co-exist under one umbrella that might actually seem appealing to the famously narrow-minded American movie-going crowd. But don’t check out this treat for political purposes but rather just because it’s a blast and one of the more inventive creations to come around this decade.
All 26 shorts come with their own audio commentary with the director (and often times somebody else who worked on the film with them). This is the most valuable of the special features and well worth the trouble they must have gone through to make it happen. They are usually more entertaining than informative, but if you are looking to peek further behind the curtain the disc also comes with behind the scenes featurettes, storyboards and still galleries. Also, not technically an extra, but there is a 27th short tucked away inside the credits that plays off of T is for Torture Porn and provides a bit of levity to those who may have taken the movie harder than they should have.
Magnolia Home Entertainment presents ABCs of Death 2. Produced by: Ant Timpson and Tim League. Starring: Beatrice Dalle, Martina Garcia, Tristan Risk. Running time: 125 minutes. Rating: NR. Released: February 3, 2015.