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By their very nature, anthology films are hit or miss affairs, with parts destined to wow some viewers and disappoint others. The odds are stacked even taller against horror anthologies, and higher still against Magnet Releasing and Drafthouse Films’ ABCs of Death 2, the sequel to last year’s mostly uneven ABCs of Death. The gimmick here is the same: 26 directors each create a short film for a corresponding letter of the alphabet, all inspired by death. But the result isn’t similar at all, and this sophomore effort outdoes the first film in every single way.
125 minutes of death and destruction sound like a lot to take in, but rare is the moment that feels long, with the majority of the short films inspiring just as much laughter as they do gleeful revulsion. Are you looking to be disturbed? There’s a lot here for you. Manborg director Steven Kostanski’s segment is a sci-fi toy commercial that traps its kid actors inside the toy’s B-movie fantasy world. The Three Stooges are an inspiration in the hallucinatory, old-timey throwback short from Catechism Cataclysm director Todd Rohal. Jim Hosking (Privado) presents one of the ickiest granddad/grandson relationships I’ve ever seen. And Robert Morgan’s (Invocation) claymation short is a nightmarish anti-extermination cautionary tale. I don’t even know what’s going on with Dennison Ramalho’s religion-centered film, but you’ll never see a messiah quite like this one anywhere else.
Are you looking to laugh? The Mighty Boosh’s Julian Barratt directs himself as an asinine documentary presenter who gets his comeuppance. Oscar-nominated animator Bill Plympton (The Tune) reverts back to his classic drawing style for a kiss gone wrong short. Alejandro Brugués (Juan of the Dead) lets us spend time on a deserted island with two thirsty best friends. Contest winner Robert Boocheck’s short is a beauty of an idea, using slow-motion to extend one rather silly punchline.
Are you looking to just scream “What the hell is happening?” at the screen? Japanese make-up artist Sôichi Umezawa makes a fine directorial debut involving a girl having a fantasy sequence about her mother getting eaten by a giant hamburger and French fries that morph into a huge penis. Jen and Sylvia Soska (American Mary) use the female anatomy to get their disgusting point across. The film ends on one of the most baffling short films in existence, directed by Chris Nash, in which a pregnant woman waits just a little too long to have her baby. It’s just…ew.
Vincenzo Natali (Cube) and Juan Martinez Moreno (Game of Werewolves) stand out in the crowd for creating two truly excellent short films that feel nothing like “anthology submissions.” Not that the rest of the ones I’ve mentioned weren’t great, but these two, in particular, respectively handle satire and suspense extremely well. Hajimie Ohata (Henge) also adds a refreshingly welcome twist to zombie fiction that makes it another notable entry.
Honestly, there were no segments in here that I hated the way I did some parts of the first film, which is as surprising as most of the pic’s wacky mayhem. The strongest negative thought I had while watching was, “Well, that was kind of dumb,” for a couple of segments. The rest made me laugh and groan cheerily. The variety in cinematic styles and flourishes kept things flowing as smoothly as the blood leaking from that one woman’s peephole.
Like watching Looney Tunes for the first time, ABCs of Death 2 is funny, zany, violent and surprisingly smart, and you’ll remember the best shorts in this bunch long after you’ve forgotten the average ones. I swear on my immortal mother’s grave.