The ABCs of Death 2
I figured I’d take a different tack with this one, considering it has such a large scope for an anthology film, and give my thoughts on each short separately, assigning it either a PASS or a FAIL. I did see the first one and was thoroughly underwhelmed, as there was an equal number of passes and fails; but hey, maybe this one will serve as a much-needed improvement. Honestly, the boring opening with the Suspiria rip-off stock-standard music didn’t do much to get me in the mood. But without further ado…
A is for AmateurDirected by E.L. Katz
This tale about an amateur hitman trying to bump off what I guessed was an amatuer porn baron (which, if it is, great title parallel) has already set a pretty high bar. It’s slick, stylish, but most importantly ultimately very funny and creative. My first exposure to E.L. Katz’s work was Cheap Thrills which I wanted to like but it ultimately left me cold, so it’s nice to feel enthusiastic about this short here. It makes me excited for his upcoming Netflix movie that’s to be released this year.
B is for BeaverDirected by Julian Barratt
I’m a sucker for the found-footage genre, and I found this short to be amusing for the most part. The whole trope of the narcissistic TV presenter who hounds his crew is done very well here. Personally, my only problem is really that it doesn’t hold up technically. The special effects are a bit hoaky and the sound mixing’s a bit iffy, which I wouldn’t call out except found-footage is a genre that tends to rely on some kind of artificial sense of realism. The punch-line at the end was a bit forced as well. Nevertheless, I still think it suceeds at what it sets out to do, as I did say it still managed to be amusing.
C is for Capital PunishmentDirected by Julian Gilbey
An interesting little short about a small town that enacts vigilante justice on a supposed child-killer. It’s well shot, well acted and the gore effects are nice and over-the-top. The ending was a bit so-so, being rather predictable, but that’s no reason to condemn the whole thing.
D is for DelousedDirected by Robert Morgan
This one is so fucking surreal and unsettling that I love it. It’s everything a horror short should be. The art-style and animation evoked a Hellraiser by way of Dario Argento kind of vibe, featuring a colourful aesthetic and heaps of interesting creature design. The animated shorts always tend to stand out, with Lee Hardcastle’s T for Toilet being one of the best of the last movie, and this is no exception. It could literally be its own feature length film, and I would not be opposed to the idea at all.
E is for EquilibriumDirected by Alejandro Brugues
Quirk and tone seems to be the name-of-the-game here, as two castaways find themselves at odds with each other when a beautiful woman washes ashore. The cinematography is fantastic, with some great camerawork and a clever use of colours to show the characters’ descent into madness. The ending is also very funny, and not what I expected at all.
F is for FallingDirected by Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado
An israeli soldier has parachuted into a tree, only to be confronted by an Arab boy with a rifle. Honestly, this once just feels aimless. It’s well shot, but the tone is all over the place and it just ends up being really silly, not to mention that this is the first of the shorts where the bad acting really starts to show. It’s not an awful short, but it’s the first dip in quality.
G is for GrandadDirected by Jim Hoskings
Oh god, the acting in this. This short revolves around an old man and his grandson drinking by the fireplace. The actor playing the grandson is just… so bad… The whole thing has a Greasy Strangler vibe (mainly because Jim Hosking’s only feature is The Greasy Strangler), except it feels like it was written seconds before shooting started, because it’s just nonsense. There’s no point to it. It’s just shock for shock’s sake, which is ultimately how I ended up feeling about The Greasy Strangler, to be honest.
H is for Head GamesDirected by Bill Plympton
This one’s obviously metaphorical, and if the not-so-subtle commentary on relationships and how both parties can destroy each other by playing the titular headgames doesn’t grab you, the animation style will, even if the short visibly struggles to fill its short running time.
I is for InvincibleDirected by Erik Matti
This felt like it was directed by Sam Raimi, with the over-the-top makeup effects and camera-angles. This segment, about a family trying to kill their demonically possessed grandmother to collect the inheritance was the kind of devilish fun I was hoping for from this movie. It’s got a lot of energy to it, thanks to a great cast, even if the lighting is a bit flat and the ending’s a little abrupt.
J is for JesusDirected by Dennison Ramalho
A father hires a private investigator to observe and kidnap his son for reasons that are both darkly comedic and bleak. This one’s really sold by a clever script and some decent acting. The cinematography’s a bit uninspired and the ending’s a bit predictable, but the story is solid and the short makes for an interesting watch overall.
K is for KnellDirected by Kristina Buozyte and Bruno Samper
Beautifully shot and lit, employing a warm colour pallete, this short about a mysterious apparition in the sky causing the residents of an apartment building to go insane and kill each other is hypnotic and vivid. The sound design aids the suspenseful atmosphere, which is unfortunately let down somewhat by the hokay supernatural angle which ultimately doesn’t go anywhere. That said, on a purely technical level, this is definitely one of the best shorts.
L is for LegacyDirected by Lancelot Imasuen
Some truly obnoxious editing really lets down what would otherwise be an interesting short about an african tribe and the scheming that occurs within, causing a beast to emerge. Not only do the constant cuts and whatnot make the story hard to follow, but they really do no favours to the aformentioned beast, which is clearly a bloke in a costume stomping around, causing people to turn into really bad photoshop effects. Once again, not a terrible short, but not exactly worth the watch either.
M is for MasticateDirected by Robert Boocheck
Gaining entry into the movie via the winning of a contest, this slow-mo horror show is hilarious, chronicling the journey of a madman on bath-salts as he tries to eat his way through a group of bystanders. My only beef with it is that I have a pet-peeve against obvious contact lenses, but that’s because I’m a prick. The short is still insanely well done.
N is for NexusDirected by Larry Fessenden
It’s Halloween, and some poor bloke is running late to meet his girlfriend. What transpires is a Rube Goldberg-esque sequence of events shot like a music-video. There’s not much to say about this one. You can pretty much guess how it’s going to play out, but the presentation is good enough that you won’t get bored watching it. Bonus points for the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it reference to You’re Next.
O is for Ochlocracy (Mob Rule)Directed by Hajime Ohata
This is fucking brilliant. In the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse, the living dead, who’re capable of cohesive thought thanks to a new wonder-drug, mobilise and begin to put humans on trial in a courtroom where they sentence the survivors accordingly for their barbarism. It’s an interesting subversion on a seemingly tired genre that makes up for its lack of visual style by heaping on a large amount of wit and cleverness that always keeps you guessing. This feels like it should be a feature film. If I had the money, I would fund in a reanimated hearbeat (because I would have to have sold my kidneys).
P is for P-P-P-P Scary!Directed by Todd Rohal
More like P is for P-P-P-P I couldn’t think of a word starting with P, so I contrived this weird homage to the Three Stooges in which three bandits on the run encounter what looks like Billy Bob Thornton in Sling Blade and his fucked up baby. I don’t know, I appreciated the visual style, but once again, it’s another short that has no point and never goes anywhere. It’s not interesting, let alone scary or funny.
Q is for QuestionnaireDirected by Rodney Ascher
This one was probably the most unpredictable of the shorts. It’s insanely well-written and acted, and it’s nice that it’s not initially obvious at all where the violence is going to come from, plus the gore effects are decent and the ending is staged perfectly.
R is for RouletteDirected by Marvin Kren
Eeeeh, this is another one I’m not too enthusiastic about. Technically, it’s not bad. It’s well shot and the art-direction is interesting, not to mention the acting’s not terrible either. The problem is that the premise isn’t really suited to a short film. It’s a game of Russian Roulette, but there’s a lack of context and emotional weight. When the big twist happens, I couldn’t tell you why it happened or why you should care.
S is for SplitDirected by Juan Martinez Moreno
The short is easily the best edited of the bunch. The colour-correction and the whole Brian De Palma-esque split-screen technique is used to really unsettling effect. Unfortunately the short, with its extremely clever premise and execution, is let down by some bad acting and make-up effects, but I think the end-twist makes up for it somewhat, so it does eke over that edge.
T is for Torture PornDirected by Jen and Sylvia Soska
I have not seen a Soska Sisters production yet, but their reputation certainly preceeds them, and this is what I assume a movie of theirs would look like. They try for suspense, but they give away the twist way too early, at which point it pretty much devolves into a strobe-fest that plays out exactly how you’d expect. It’s perfectly serviceable, but it’s nowhere near as clever, funny or engaging as the majority of these shorts.
U is for UtopiaDirected by Vincenzo Natali
The premise is very Twilight Zone. Chances are you’ve seen something like it before. The casting is really what makes it work though, particularly with regards to the main character, who you genuinely feel sorry for even though you know exactly what’s coming to him. Not to mention the visual aesthetic is interesting. It was very reminsicient of the Robocop remake, which is definitely a way to go.
V is for VacationDirected by Jerome Sable
H is for HANG UP THE FUCKING PHONE!!! Man, you wanna talk shock value? This one takes a predictable premise and tries to make it work by making it as repugnant as humanly possible. I was just bored and repulsed with this one. There was nothing clever about it. The only thing I’d note is the guy playing the obnoxious friend was so over-the-top that he was actually kinda great. That said, this is probably my least favourite of them.
W is for WishDirected by Steve Kostanski
80s Nostalgia never gets old, and this He-Man parody is perfectly cheesy and over-the-top with the bad acting and great special effects. It’s like a self-aware version of the Cannon Masters of the Universe. Another one that I would be more than happy to see a feature made out of, even with the incredibly dark as fuck ending.
X is for XylophoneDirected by Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo
Jesus Christ, guess where this one’s going. If it takes you more than a second, you probaby wrote this short. It’s another one that’s technically well-made, but with an entirely predictable premise that it tries to overcome with shock value. It’s a shame, because the effects are good and that last image should be haunting, but we all saw it coming.
Y is for YouthDirected by Soichi Umezawa
There’s nothing better than a good J-horror, is there? There’s so much visual creativity to this striking short about a young girl venting about her neglectful parents as we see her dark thoughts visualised to surreal effect. It’s so great to see that this one doesn’t rely on shock-value either, with an ending that’s restrained yet still poignant. Definitely one of my favourites.
Z is for ZygoteDirected by Chris Nash
Fuuuuuuuuuuuuck. They certainly saved the weirdest for last. Issues of neglect take a very insanely literal and absurd turn. The special effects are sickening, the acting is great and the cinematography is evocative as hell. That said, I think what really makes this work is the sound design. Holy shit, the sound design in this short makes it the most unsettling of the bunch. It’s definitely a strong note to end the film on.
I found myself enjoying this one a lot more than the first. There was a lot more creativity on show, with a smaller number of shorts relying solely on shock value. Perhaps I had written this series off a bit too quickly. Maybe a third one would be absolutely perfect. Who knows?