ABCS OF DEATH 2
Ant Timpson and Tim League return here with a different line-up of directors. The disappointment might be the lack of as many high-profile directors as the first film, which boasted the likes of Ti West, Adam Wingard, Ben Wheatley, Nacho Vigalondo and Xavier Gens. The sequel at least delivers animator Bill Plympton, Canadas cult sisters the Soska Twins, producer/director Larry Fessenden and perhaps most high-profile, Canadian genre director Vincenzo Natali. I have fairly good recall for genre trivia and peoples credits the measure here might be that two-thirds of the directors were at least ones I had to IMDB to find out who they were and what they had done before. There also seems less international diversity among the directors this time only three from the whole of Asia, although at least six of the directors end up being from Canada. (In that Ant Timpson hails from New Zealand, my former homeland, I am surprised that he has yet to feature a single NZ director between the two anthologies it is not that there is shortage of talent to choose from, a segment from Vincent Ward would be mind-boggling). There is also the feeling that in a desire not to repeat names, the producers are being forced to scour further afield and are ending up with directors whose work is more obscure or else in the case here of Robert Boocheck, Jim Hosking, Robert Morgan, Chris Nash, Dennison Ramalho and Soichi Umezawa, ones who have not had a single feature film directorial credit to their names before.
The film opens with A is for Amateur, from E.L. Katz, an Adam Wingard writer who had a word of mouth hit last year with Cheap Thrills (2013). This is an unfortunate choice of title and opening segment. The segment, which for some reason tells two different stories, feels like a step back in professionalism from what Katz delivered on Cheap Thrills. The same amateurism dogs B is for Badger from Julian Barratt, an actor, writer, producer mostly known as one of the principal creative forces behind tvs The Mighty Boosh (2003-7). While most other segments do great things to compensate, it suffers from an obvious low-budget (you never see the mutant badger, for instance). Moreover, the comedy only feels forced.
E is for Equilibrium from Alejandro Brugues who made the Cuban zombie film Juan of the Dead (2011), hits the anthologys few overtly comedic notes and is a slapstick triviality about the fight between two guys castaway on a desert island over the arrival of a girl and should be regarded as one of the collections weakest segments. A far more successful comedic segment is P is for P-P-P-P Scary! from American comedy director Todd Rohal, behind efforts such as The Guatemalan Handshake (2006), The Catechism Cataclysm (2011) and Nature Calls (2012). Rohals black-and-white segment with a trio of idiots encountering a devil-like figure has the feel of a slicker version of a 1940s East Side Kids or Abbott and Costello comedy. G is for Grandads Jim Hosking, another director who had only previously made short films, hits in with the ribald black farce of a British tv show like Father Ted (1995-8) or Little England (2003-6) but is another segment that needed more time to hit its stride.
The other complaint about ABCs of Death 2 is that it never hits the perverse heights that L is for Libido did in the first film you would be hard-pressed to find much here that would get people calling for its banning. C is for Capital Punishment, from Julian Gilbey, a director of hard-edged British thrillers and action films such as Reckoning Day (2002), Rise of the Footsoldier (2007), A Lonely Place to Die (2011) and Plastic (2014), looks promising in its jumping in to tackle mob justice. There is an admirably perverse sequence where the attempts to behead the guilty man go wrong and he is left with his neck chopped halfway through. However, the segment peters out at its ending, while the main punchline of the piece is given away halfway through the story. Another piece of admirable grotesquerie is D is for Deloused from newcomer Robert Morgan, all Claymation severed heads, insect bodies and devouring mouths. I had no real idea what this segment was about but it hits an appealingly strange note that falls somewhere between Eraserhead (1977) and Joes Apartment (1996).
I is for Invincible from Filipino director Erik Matti, who has made a number of works of erotica and action films that I have never heard of, is a horror piece that strikes up a black note in the attempts by relatives to kill off a grandmother who wont stay dead but the episode never goes anywhere before it is over. It is even more the case with newcomer Robert Boochecks M is for Masticate, a very slight piece that features nothing other than a man running through the streets in slow-motion, attacking and devouring the flesh of people he encounters, before arriving at a weak flashback punchline. The film seems to be starting to gain its stride with Brazilian director Dennison Ramalhos J is for Jesus, which admirably blends torture scenes and images of stigmata, before reaching a rather incomprehensible resurrection that needed more explaining than it gets.
Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado, the Israeli duo behind Rabies (2010) and last years Torture Porn hit Big Bad Wolves (2013), deliver F is for Falling, which has a charged set-up about an Israeli woman soldier being trapped in a tree in a parachute and found by a Palestinian boy. The segment comes with admirably challenging political tension, although you cannot help but feel that this is another segment that needed more time for find its full strength. I started to like O is for Ochlocracy (Mob Rule) from Japanese director Hajime Ohata who had previously only made the Japanese werewolf film Metamorphosis (2011), which does not give the impression that it has been widely viewed. Ohatas idea is to throw the zombie film on its head and have the zombies revived by a miracle cure whereupon they take the living to court for so readily shooting them. There is the germ of a good and original take on the zombie film here but I say it again, it is a segment that needed more running time to work.
I expected much from Kristina Buozyte and Bruno Sampel, respectively the Lithuanian directors/writers of the modest festival hit of Vanishing Waves (2012), which contained some wild visuals. They deliver a segment, K is for Knell, that is all strange and surreal imagery a strange Earth-like formation of particles materialising in the sky, an apartment block of windows where everyone is killing someone and then all turn in unison to look at the heroine opposite, ichor coming under the doorway towards her and meeting a stream of her blood but not the slightest clue what it is all about.
One of the more unusual choices of director is Nigerias Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen who has made some 70 films for African markets but was completely unknown in the West until he was featured in the documentary Nollywood Babylon (2008). Imasuens films often centre around tribal witchcraft and this makes an interesting contrast here in L is for Legacy the way that such is played for naturalism rather than horror effect. Unfortunately, the tribal magic aspect is ruined by the arrival of the Ubini monster, which looks like a cheesy castoff from a Z-budget horror movie.
Juan Martinez Moreno, the Spanish director of Game of Werewolves (2011), delivers S is for Split, which derives its novelty (and title) from the entire segment being conducted in split screen. This is a routine home invasion piece with nothing remarkable to it, only being lifted by a genuine left field twist ending. Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury, the duo who delivered the New French Extreme hit Inside (2007) and other horror works like Livid (2011) and Among the Living (2014), are responsible for X is for Xylophone, a slight piece that is only notable for a gory punchline.
There are several segments that do work well, most of which start to come towards the end of the film. One of these is Q is for Questionnaire from Rodney Ascher, director of the wacko cult documentary Room 237: Being an Inquiry Into The Shining in 9 Parts (2012). The segment sharply contrasts a series of intelligence tests conducted in the street where we get the impression we are in some type of Scientology recruitment program, with gory scenes of brain extraction. The punchline where we see the reasons for everything and the gorillas eyes open is perfect. This is the snappy succinctness that should have been an object lesson to all of the other directors. Good too is R is for Roulette from Austrian director Marvin Kren who previously made the monster movie Blood Glacier (2013). Krens segment, which takes place in black-and-white and concerns a game of Russian Roulette, holds an effective tension, even if the piece falters at the ending where we are not quite sure why the story resolves itself the way it does.
Also worthwhile is W is for Wish from Canadas Steven Kostansky, one of the members of the Astron-6 collective. Kostansky co-directed Astron-6s Fathers Day (2011) and solo directed the amazing Manborg (2011), a deliberately scrappy homage to the effects of 1980s science-fiction films all of which were conducted by Kostansky himself. That same amazing creativity is present here. Where other episodes like B is for Badger feel like the creative team spent their budget at the local pub, Kostansky has invested it in an amazing array of creature effects, model sets, costumes and stop-motion animation, making another homage to 1980s science-fiction, in particular He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (1983-5). Also brimming over with creativity is Y is for Youth from Soichi Umezawa, who had only worked in makeup effects and not even directed a short film before. In his story of parental rebellion with a teenager imagining killing her parents, Umezawa has fun imagining seeing the parents devoured by giant burgers, French fries, cocks, a vacuum cleaner made up of fries and exploding from the inside with eggs.
Among the two best segments is V is for Vacation from Jerome Sable, the Canadian director who made the slasher musical Stage Fright (2014). This is all takes place on a video phonecall that starts as a guy calls his girlfriend from his hotel room, only for his friend to grab the phone and reveal that they spent the night with two hookers. Things start to get crazy as the boyfriend whacks one of the hookers over the head, the other hooker stabs the friend and then knocks the boyfriend over the balcony. This has a dark bite to it that many of the other segments seem to miss. The piece hits the dark places that the ABCs films seek to find and ends snappily without the feeling that you needed more running time or story for the segment to work fully.
The other standout segment is the Z is for Zygote segment from Chris Nash who hails from Canada, another director who has only made short films. The story of the abandonment of a pregnant women in a remote cabin turns into something remarkable as the piece announces 13 Years Later and we see the heroine still with a massively swollen belly almost as big as she is and forced to trap cats so that she can survive. All the while, she has conversations with the foetus. It finally decides to emerge and rearranges her body so that the two of them can live in it, which involves it moving around under her skin, during which she vomits massive gouts of blood, before it settles in. In the epilogue, we see is the husband returning home at last, expressing disappointment that she lost the child and saying with ominous disquiet “well just have to try again.
One of the disappointments of ABCs of Death 2 is that the big name directors deliver episodes that are far less than what we expect of them. Animator Bill Plympton is known for wildly surrealistic animated films such as I Married a Strange Person (1997), Idiots and Angels (2011) and others, which make a sensational play between symbolism and absurdism. Plymptons H is for Head Games is exceedingly slight well under half the films average four minute length. It features a wild panoply of fighting tongues, eyeballs, heads blasting at one another and sprouting UFOs and meteorites in a full-on war. While it mainlines the essence of Plympton, it also feels like a segment where Plympton didnt have either the money or time to extend the segment any further than he did.
Nor did I get the point of Larry Fessenderns segment N is for Nexus. Fessenden is a director I have an enormous degree of respect for with films such as Habit (1997), The Last Winter (2006) and Beneath (2013), as well as as head of Glass Eye Pix, which has produced a number of fine films in recent years including Stake Land (2010) and The Innkeepers (2011). The segment concerns various characters in Halloween costume coming together from different directions before the taxi one of them is travelling in hits another on a bicycle. The End. Similarly, Canadas Vincenzo Natali has become a fine genre director in the last decade and a half with films like Cube (1997), Cypher (2002), Nothing (2003), Splice (2010) and Haunter (2013) so one anticipated his offering. Natali has made some exellent science-fiction works so it is disappointing when his U is for Utopia is a dystopian work that seems to take place in no more than a single stretch of mall where one guy is deemed sub-normal and placed inside an automated disintegration chamber. Dystopias need to give a clear idea of what twisted ideal they represent in order for us to be horrified but instead we dont even find out why the central character was deemed unfit.
A show like ABCs of Death 2 is tailor-made for talents like Canadas Jen and Sylvia Soska, the directors of Dead Hooker in a Trunk (2010), American Mary (2012) and See No Evil 2 (2014). Their T is for Torture Porn starts in well as well follow the dehumanising treatment of a porn starlet (Tristan Risk) before the segment goes batshit crazy and explodes out into something like a live-action version of a Japanese hentai anime with the starlet turning into a creature that rapes everyone with tentacles. The complaint again is that this climactic explosion is too brief to be fully effective. The Soskas also contribute the post-credits sequence with Laurence Harvey of The Human Centipede II: Full Sequence (2011) masturbating and complaining he cant get off to this crazy shit.