Leave it to a pair of horror-movie connoisseurs, the sort whose palate for the macabre has sent them to the farthest corners of the globe and the deepest reaches of bootleg video collections, to abandon any semblance of good taste when they finally got the chance to greenlight their own project. In 2012, Ant Timpson and Tim League went hog wild, commissioning 26 short films — one for each letter of the alphabet — emerging with “The ABCs of Death,” a trashy, unapologetically raunchy genre primer. Now that they know their ABCs, it’s time to move on to their 1-2-3s, and with this improved sequel, the producers seem to have learned a lesson.
Like the previous omnibus, “ABCs of Death 2” consists of 26 pics from different directors, clocking in at no more than five minutes apiece. Each is produced on an incredibly low budget and looks roughly the quality of an Internet short (like you might see via Danny DeVito’s Blood Factory project, for example). Generally speaking, these are not polished, professional-grade works, but rather, inexpensively made, concept-driven calling cards for their respective directors.
With the last batch, it was clear that many of directors had phoned in their assignments, taking the dough and delivering low-grade entries on the cheap, as if they doubted anyone would ever see the result. This time around, however, the participants went in knowing the pic would get distribution (via Magnolia in the U.S.), bringing their A game to B-movie assignments they fully expected to be seen. That said, the results remain an acquired taste, and while the project amounts to a contest in cleverness — which was literally the case for the letter “M,” in which Robert Boocheck’s hilariously wrong “Masticate” won from among 541 fan-made entries — far too many of the shorts prove instantly forgettable.
Though classified as horror, the segments are united by a common appreciation for over-the-top gore and a very dark sense of humor. It’s as if the directors were more interested in scarring audiences than in scaring them, as each tries to out-gross the one before it, resulting in a sort of creative arms race where the most memorable entries are crowded at the back end of the alphabet. (Chris Nash’s “Zygote” will leave audiences stunned, featuring a pregnant woman who allows her unborn fetus to grow to unwieldy dimensions while she waits 13 years for her husband to return.)
Though there are a few recognizable names among the admirably international roster of helmers, most will be auds’ first exposure to the directors on offer. Few will have heard of hyper-prolific Nigerian helmer Lancelot Imasuen (“Legacy”), despite his having directed more than 150 films, for example. And others, like Oscar-nominated animator Bill Plympton (“Head Games”) or “Room 237” video essayist Rodney Ascher (“Questionnaire”), don’t normally dabble in horror at all. Given most of their relatively obscure profiles, they’re motivated to impress — or at the very least, to stand out.
In the end, despite all the creativity that went into the project, “ABCs of Death 2” is still a bad movie. Actually, it’s nearly two dozen bad movies rolled into one, lumping a whole lot of lousy acting, lame effects and questionable ideas (most of the alphabetical trigger words barely apply, revealed like bad punchlines at the end of each segment) into an exhausting two-hour running time. There are a few standouts, though viewers’ appetites will differ enough that it’s unlikely any sort of consensus will form on which two or three make the entire experience worthwhile. From a critical standpoint, Robert Morgan’s stop-motion “Deloused” does Kafka proud, commercial director Jim Hosking’s “Granddad” wins the weirdness prize, Vincenzo Natali’s “Utopia” proves hauntingly evocative, and Jerome Sable’s sick p.o.v.-style “Vacation” would be right at home in one of the “V/H/S” horror anthologies.
Directed by Evan Katz.
Directed by Julian Barratt.
Directed by Julian Gilbey.
Directed by Robert Morgan.
Directed by Alejandro Brugues.
Directed by Aharon Keshales, Navot Papushado.
Directed by Jim Hosking.
Directed by Bill Plympton.
Directed by Erik Matti.
Directed by Dennison Ramalho.
Directed by Kristina Buozyte, Bruno Samper.
Directed by Lancelot Imasuen.
Directed by Robert Boocheck.
Directed by Larry Fessenden.
Ochlocracy (mob rule)
Directed by Hajime Ohata.
Directed by Todd Rohal.
Directed by Rodney Ascher.
Directed by Marvin Kren.
Directed by Juan Martinez Moreno.
Directed by Jen and Sylvia Soska.
Directed by Vincenzo Natali.
Directed by Jerome Sable.
Directed by Steven Kostanski.
Directed by Julien Maury, Alexandre Bustillo.
Directed by Soichi Umezawa.
Directed by Chris Nash.