John Villarose VI
Throughout the last decade, the creativity of horror films has seemed to be on the decline, with innumerous zombie flicks, jump scares and generic killers. Then, in 2012, Magnet Releasing attempted something different. The company released two experimental horror anthologies: “V/H/S” and “The ABCs of Death.”
“V/H/S” was interesting but somewhat standard, featuring four “found footage” styled short films all linked together. It was successful enough to warrant two sequels, the newest of which, “V/H/S Viral,” will come out later this year. “The ABCs of Death” was considerably grander in scope, featuring a shocking twenty-six short films, each by a different director, all strung together through a simple alphabetic theme. Reception was mixed, but the uniqueness of the film gained it a strong following. Fast forward two years to the sequel, “ABCs of Death 2,” which features twenty-six new directors and is overall better than its predecessor.
The formula for the anthology is simple. Each short film has two rules: each must be based on a letter of the alphabet and each must feature death as a major theme. The success of a film like “ABCs of Death 2” depends entirely on the quality of its parts. For that reason, the only way to truly examine the film as a whole is to look at the short films individually. They seem to start strong and end strong, unfortunately getting lost around the middle.
“A is for Amateur” starts it off, and is actually one of the best in the film. It features a wannabe assassin and a “Mission Impossible” style that is both creative and hilarious. “C is for Capital Punishment” features little detail regarding the actual crime, instead giving viewers just enough to understand the gruesome view of vigilante justice. “E is for Equilibrium” is one of the funniest in the film featuring slapstick violence between two men stranded on an island competing over a shipwrecked woman. “F is for Falling” directly contrasts this, showing perhaps the most serious, unapologetic glimpses of the true and relevant terror of death in Middle Eastern war zones.
From here, there are few standouts until “J is for Jesus” which, like “F is for Falling,” handles a relevant subject: the battle between religion and homosexuality. However, this is done in more of a classic horror fashion which doesn’t enforce the point as much but serves for a nice scare. “M is for Masticate,” a contest-winning entry, features a mix of slow-motion over-the-top violence mashed with excellently timed comedic effect. “P is for P-P-P-P SCARY!” probably says enough in its title alone. It seems to mock old-time slapstick such as “The Three Stooges” by being as weird and stereotypical as possible, and the effort pays off. “R is for Roulette” is unfortunately one of the weakest entries, centering on, go figure, a game of Russian roulette. In addition, it features a nonsensical backstory and predictable suspense.
The final section is perhaps the overall best, and certainly pushes the boundaries much more. “V is for Vacation” aims its focus on the reckless behavior of young adults, featuring everything from cell phone shaky-cam to unexpected gruesomeness. “W is for Wish” references 1980s kid culture in a bizarrely-realistic way, leaving the viewer more unsettled than nostalgic. “Y is for Youth” is about as over-the-top as it gets, putting a comedic twist on divine retribution. “Z is for Zygote” cannot be explained too much without giving anything away, so just note that it is the one of the weirdest, most terrifying and most memorable shorts of the anthology, closing off the set as well as “A is for Amateur” opened it.
Overall, the shorts remain expectedly hit-or-miss, but the lows in “ABCs of Death 2” are not quite as low as its predecessor. Meanwhile, the shorts that do go a step above (and thankfully, many of them do) certainly make the film worth watching, especially for horror fans looking for a fresh taste.