By James Hancock October 2nd, 2014
If you’re a fan of horror films, chances are high that at some point you’ve watched a horror anthology. Horror anthologies have always offered up a mixed bag of the great and the terrible with the best bits having a lasting impact on the imagination while the weaker films fade into obscurity. My first horror anthology experiences as a kid were “Creepshow” (1982) and “The Twilight Zone: The Movie” (1983) both of which traumatized/fascinated me and I’ve been fan of the format ever since. For me the horror genre is perfect for the anthology format in that the shock value at the very least can keep the viewer stimulated while waiting for the stronger segments to arrive. Watching an anthology of dramas is tedious at best as I’ve learned at film festivals where they program too many dramatic short films in a row forcing the audience wearily to get emotionally invested over and over again in sometimes lackluster shorts. That said, I will concede that some non-horror anthologies like “New York Stories” (1989) work pretty well when you have powerhouse directors like Martin Scorsese involved. Some of my favorite horror anthologies over the years include: “Three…Extremes” (2004), “Trilogy of Terror” (1975), “Black Sabbath” (1963), “Trick ‘r Treat” (2009), and “V/H/S/2” (2013). At their best, watching horror anthologies is like reading a great collection of horror stories and I’m always willing to take a look to see what gems might be discovered.
Today we have the video on demand release of “ABCs of Death 2” (can be rented here) with a theatrical release planned for the day of Halloween. Featuring work from filmmakers all over the world, the film offers 26 short films each of which tackle some grizzly topic based on a letter of the alphabet. My hat is off to producer Tim League of Drafthouse Films who spearheaded this ambitious horror anthology in time for Halloween. Tim League is a true cinephile and not only produces interesting work but also regularly restores and releases obscure cult classics. At last year’s Butt-Numb-A-Thon, League was responsible for selecting the most outrageously entertaining films of the entire marathon. In “ABCs of Death 2, the quality of the films vary wildly but there are a few shorts that deserve special mention. I am biased from having produced a film with Bill Plympton in the past but his short “H is for Head Games” is outstanding. In this short he riffs on a familiar scene that he has explored before in “How to Kiss” (1988) and “Cheatin'” (2013). In the scene, a man and a woman kiss at length, but when the man draws blood all hell breaks loose in an ever escalating war of attrition between the two lovers. One of the funnier shorts in “ABCs of Death 2”, the film is a nice change in style and mood from the rest of the program.
Most of the shorts go for the jugular, the creepy or the completely insane with varying degrees of success. I enjoyed “C is for Capital Punishment” by Julian Gilbey, “K for Knell” by Kristina Buozyte and Bruno Samper, “O is for Ochlocracy (Mob Rule)” by Hajime Ohata, “Q is for Questionnaire” by Rodney Ascher, “W is for Wish” by Steven Kostanski, and “Y is for Youth” by Soichi Umezawa”. Only one film made me debate whether or not I should turn off the film entirely and that “P is for P-P-P-P Scary!” directed by Todd Rohal. It is the kind of silly, amateur film that inspires unbridled hate for the movie and the people that made it but luckily it was over mercifully quickly. “D is for Deloused” by Robert Morgan left me with the most lasting impression. Using genuinely creepy stop motion effects, this was the only short that made me feel uneasy and uncomfortable (in the good way that every horror fan hopes for). Overall “ABCs of Death 2” is a very enjoyable ride but I wish that I had watched it at a midnight screening in a theater full of drunken, screaming horror fans. As much as I adore watching horror films, watching this one on my computer was not the ideal way to go I’m afraid to say. So if you can wait until Halloween, I think the movie would be the perfect way to start the night with a crowd of friends who are looking for a more extreme approach to their Halloween experience.
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