24th Oct2014

Celluloid Screams 2014: ‘The ABCs of Death 2’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Directed by Julian Barratt, Alexandre Bustillo, Larry Fessenden, Julian Gilbey, E.L. Katz, Aharon Keshales, Steven Kostanski, Julien Maury, Vincenzo Natali, Bill Plympton, Jen & Sylvia Soska and many more…


It’s a second go around the alphabet of fear with the debut of The ABCs of Death 2 as part of this years Celluloid Screams film festival. 2012’s first installment – an anthology of 26 stories, each representing a letter of the alphabet – was the very definition of a mixed bag, with (sadly) the bad often outweighing the good. However, given that the good was VERY good I still held out hope that this sequel would live up to the expectations and potential that the format has.

Thankfully this time round the good outweighs the bad, although surprisingly there are some disappointing segments from directors whose work I’ve enjoyed; and whose feature work has been hailed as some of the best in the genre – not that there’s any evidence of that here – including names such as Larry Fessenden (The Innkeepers, Beneath), The Soska Sisters (American Mary), Alexandre Bustillo & Julien Maury (Inside, Livide), and Aharon Keshales & Navot Papushado (Rabies, Big Bad Wolves). Although the two very worst segments – E is for Equilibrium, and P is for P-P-P-P Scary – are the responsibility of Alejandro Brugués (Juan of the Dead) and Todd Rohal (Nature Calls) respectively.

On the plus side a lot of the shorts in The ABCs of Death 2 don’t just aim for cheap shocks as in the original. Plus the production values seem higher across the board and there’s a wider scope of subject matter: some are thoughtful, some allegorical and, as per the original film, some set out to shock and some are just plain weird! This time round there are a number of more familiar British faces both in front of and behind the camera – including Andy Nyman, who appears in the first segment A is for Amateur; Human Centipede 2‘s Laurence R. Harvey; UK TV actor Alan McKenna (DCI Banks, Happy Valley); and Julian Barrett (The Mighty Boosh, A Field in England) who appears in and directs the second segment of the film, B is for Badgers.

Whereas the original film had only a handful of excellent segments, The ABCs of Death 2 has a number of different stories that are all most-definitely worth highlighting here. There are some segments that are just pure fun: Bill Plympton’s ridiculous H is for Head Games is a hand drawn/hand animated short that sees two people literally fight war with their heads; then there’s M is for Masticate which is a slice of slow-mo fun, yet turns out to seemingly be a rip off of Dustin Mills’ superior Bath Salt Zombies; W is for Wish (directed by Steve Kostanski of Manborg fame) is a superb homage to kids toy ads of the 80s (in particular He-Man and the Masters of the Universe) which, whilst a great spoof of the format and the of strange collection of characters that often made up 80s kids toy lines, also has some really sinister undertones. Q is for Questionnaire is a bizarre yet immediately intriguing story – a really delightful short; whilst R for Roulette has a great twist – with its cast of “players” not playing to survive but instead playing to die before something just beyond the door gets to them!

Then there are the bizarre segments (where would the franchise be without those?) D is for Deloused (dir. Robert Morgan) is creepy Lee Hardcastle-sequel animation that features disgusting characters in a disgusting situation, which was undoubtedly designed to disturb; whilst Filipino story I is for Invincible (dir. Erik Matti) is a very, very, black comedy that I think would be worthy of expansion into a movie, as this segment feels like only one scene in what could be one hell of a weird feature film – one I’d definitely pay to see! J is for Jesus (dir. Dennison Ramalho) features a story that resonates with current news headlines across the US, but it’s the incredibly striking imagery and the religious overtones that make this one stand out; whilst Y is for Youth (dir. Sôichi Umezawa) is yet another bizarre Far East segment that makes little sense but is filled with bizarre imagery, including an Audrey-sized giant killer burger and a giant (literally human sized) rubber cock! The strangest tale? Has to be director Chris Nash’s – who helmed the short, T is for Thread, for the first move – Z is for Zygote is is a fucking bizarre tale of motherhood and loneliness that features some superb special effects and a truly eerie story that [literally] gets under the skin.

But I’ve saved the best for last… There are four segments in The ABCs of Death 2 that really stand out, that really blew me away. C is for Capital Punishment (dir. Julian Gilbey) is very timely given the outcry in media over missing kids etc. and features a decapitation that will please gorehounds. S is for Split, helmed by Spanish director Juan Martínez Moreno (Attack of the Werewolves) is a SUPERB example of the power of the short film format and in its meagre running time it packs in a suspenseful story and a great twist, making it a major highlight of this film. O is for Ochlocracy manages to be both one of the most fun AND best segments of film. Directed by Hajime Ohata, it sees former zombies, brought back to “life” by a vaccine, put humans on trial for murdering zombies! It’s a refreshing take on the zombie genre and another short that could work incredibly well a great feature film.

But, like the first movie, it’s the more sci-fi based story that comes out on top, as director Vincenzo Natali’s U is for Utopia puts the other 25 shorts to shame. It’s a powerful short that not only tells a succinct story, set in an undisclosed future and sees an out of place “sub-norm” captured and burned alive by the police because he dared to interact with normal society, which just happens to also reflect what’s going on in our so-called modern society… The norms in Natali’s short are the epitomy of the ideals of “normalcy” put out by our modern media (photoshopped models etc.), whereas the sub-norm is a regular guy like you and I! Short, to the point and powerful, U for Utopia makes sitting through The ABCs of Death 2‘s lesser shorts worthwhile.

The ABCs of Death 2  screens as part of Celluloid Screams on Sunday 24th October at 6.40pm


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