ABCs of Death 2 (2014)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #439

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Number of Views: One
Release Dates: September 18, 2014 (Fantastic Fest)
Sub-Genre: Horror Anthology
Country of Origin: United States, New Zealand, Japan
Running Time: 125 minutes
Director: Various
Producer: Ant Timpson, Tim League
Screenplay: Various
Special Effects: Various
Cinematography: Various
Score: Various
Editing: Various
Studios: Drafthouse Films, Timpson Films
Distributor: Magnet Releasing
Stars: Eric Jacobus, Andy Nyman, Julian Barratt, Will Adamsdale, Matthew Steer, Ian Virgo, Ryan Winsley, Tom Bonington, Tawfeek Barhom, Rafferty Blumberg, Victoria Broom, Bryan Connolly, Béatrice Dalle, Patrick Daniel, Jason Detheridge, Ivan Dimitrov, Ranelle Estrellado, Martina García, Mark Grossman, Iván González, Willem Halfyard, Richard Hardisty, Peter Hodgins, Lexington Kennedy, Petra Lo, Dan MacDonald, Timothy Paul McCarthy, James McDougall, Alan McKenna, Jerod Meagher, Lauren Molina, Miguel Ángel Muñoz, Vincent James Prendergast, Gary Reimer, Jen Soska, Sylvia Soska, Tristan Risk, Melody Sample, David Roland Strong, Conor Sweeney, Michael Vincent, Voltaire

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Suggested Audio Jukebox:

[1] The Jackson Five ABC (Instrumental)

[2] LL Cool J It Gets No Rougher

 

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Learning one’s ABCs is one of our very first rites of passage and we’ve customarily got them all sewn up by the time we reach primary school. Sesame Street was my teacher, offering insight into each letter in turn as it worked its way through the alphabet, it seemed to have all bases soundly covered with regards to the ABCs of life. C is for cookie; that seemed good enough for me. However, I was unlike the rest of the kids in my class and, while they were busy making adoring eyes at Elmo for their kindergarten kicks, I was always more interested in what kind of fucked up shenanigans took place inside Oscar The Grouch’s trash can after lights out. I knew full well that my ABCs were different from the others as death just seemed so much more becoming to me.

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Then, in 2012, I learned an altogether different A-Z. The brief from Ant Timpson and Tim League was every bit as elementary as Jim Henson’s. Twenty-six directors, from all corners of the earth, were commissioned to tackle a letter each, then gifted some pocket-money and full artistic freedom in order to give their take on each letter. As you would expect, it covered a fairly wide spectrum, and results varied wildly from one segment to the next. I would imagine that it posed a rather stern challenge as nobody knew that the Joneses were up to until the final product came to light.

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Needless to say, there were a fair few duds and even more safe entries which failed to ignite any real interest. However, there were also inspired moments of lunacy pent-up within. L is for Libido, X is for XXL, and Y is for Young Buck all hit the bullseye, while A is for Apocalypse and closing entry Z is for Zetsumetsu (Extinction) framed the madness particularly deftly. We started with a particularly mean-spirited fry up and concluded with an ominous Nazi dominatrix wielding a strap-on with a bayonet poked down her urethra. I could hear Bert & Ernie turning in their neighboring graves.

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What was, at worst, a fascinating science project left it wide open for another 26 alphabet-savvy hopefuls to hit the ground running only, this time, with a more reasonable expectation of how to make the grade. In addition, the letter M became a worldwide free-for-all with numerous interpretations vying to fly the flag. Ultimately, only one could be selected, with some particularly significant offerings just failing to make the cut. M could well have been for Magnet, Mindfuck, Musical Chairs, Mannequin, or Madness and there would have been little objection from Keeper. Indeed, any of these dear misses would have slotted straight in under different letters entirely as P really ought not have stood for P-P-P-P SCARY! and reeks a little of cop-out when you consider the crystal brief. Having said that, it does provide additional bonus material, for those willing to scour YouTube. I would recommend doing so wholeheartedly.

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It is some undertaking tackling each of the twenty-six letters in turn but I have always considered myself the giving kind. Thus, today’s letter is all of them. I have no intention of spoiling anyone’s fun so will attempt to uphold a degree of anonymity, while giving you a flavor of A straight thru Z. Ain’t that generous? That’s right; we’re going back to school Grueheads. So, without any further dalliance, please open your textbooks to page one and remember I reserve the right to test you on this at a later point. You in the back row; if you keep rummaging that nostril, the wind will change, and you’ll forever remain that way. I always wanted to say that. It seems only right that I mark each effort according to passing grades, thus D is for Dunce. Should an F be awarded then I shall request to see any slackers again once that final death toll chimes.

A is for Amateur (E. L. Katz)

 

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You’ve got to give kudos for the hapless chump saddled with A as its task of setting the tone is somewhat unenviable. Thankfully, Katz comes up trumps with an appetizing entrée which provides à la carte cuisine over canteen slop. Snazzily shot and ironic enough to give us our first conclusive grin, this tale of a bumbling contract killer who earns his stripes within a cramped air ventilation shaft is worthy of starting the panic, if ultimately more style than substance. Katz deserves additional kudos just for being first in line with his science project. B

B is for Badger (Julian Barratt)

 

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Where the original made it through the first handful of letters without any notable sign of failure, Barratt really should have listened better when the assignment has handed out. You would expect one half of the team responsible for The Mighty Boosh to pass with flying colors but, alas, he is caught napping. Much of our amusement here depends on our fondness for Howard Moon as his narcissistic documentarian may or may not raise a couple of chuckles, dependent on whether or not we fall into those beady black eyes of his. However, his team’s discovery of a badger mutated by industrial radiation, contains precious little in the way of surprises and that represents a missed trick in my book. D

C is for Capital Punishment (Julian Gilbey)

 

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The only way is up after such a misfire and our next slither of death suffers a similar fate to its preceding fraction as there is no clever pay-off to the carnage. Having said that, if execution gives you ball tremors then look no further as this story of judges, juries, and potential wrongfully accused parties has itself a chip off the old block to savor. Small town justice is proposed for the dish out after the supposed snuffing of a teenage girl and a frenetic race to the finish ensues as our respondent awaits punishment with a capital C. Gilbey’s addition does what it states on the tin but is nothing worth losing your head over. B-

D is for Deloused (Robert Morgan)

 

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Audiences will prove divisive with regards to our next entry as stop-motion animation isn’t everyone’s bag but Morgan’s sinister short is the first to truly celebrate the macabre. If features another ill-fated detainee only this time he has a say over the cretins that bring him to justice. The louse in question “pays for life” by way of a cylindrical rectal head receptacle which accepts fleshy tokens for services rendered. If it all sounds a tad outlandish then I’m earning my keep. This oddity benefits from a real underlying vibe of madness and it’s encouraging to see that animation can still court night terrors. Fascinatingly morose with a real pertinent pay-off. A-

E is for Equilibrium (Alejandro Brugués)

 

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Again, something of a comedown, after such an auspicious number. Brugués keeps things simple as his tale of two castaways and a foxy washed-up dick hustler paints strictly by the numbers. Chuck Noland had the right idea when he opened that FedEx parcel and bagged himself a Wilson. Here, mo mammas equates to mo problems as their friendship is placed under direct scrutiny as one of the marooned morons strikes out while his associate gets to crack that coconut. It’s all rather affable but feels a touch shipwrecked back-to-back with such a devilish entry. B-

F is for Falling (Aharon Keshales & Navot Papushado)

 

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The greatest crime committed by Keshales and Papushado is that they commence by hinting at an ominous tree hollow then fail to explore this intriguing death warren any farther. Instead, they hone in on an optically pleasing tangled Israeli paratrooper, whose chute has become snagged in said tree, a fair few feet from terra firma. After a young Arab opportunist discovers his bounty, she is given a shot to charm her puppet master into severing her strands, thus releasing her back into captivity. While never particularly inventive; it just makes the grade by being well shot and workmanlike in the extreme. B-

G is for Grandad (Jim Hosking)

 

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Hosking gets it on the money with regards to tone as his blackly comic curiosity goes all out to be peculiar and, by and large, comes up smelling of roses. An impertinent young man learns to respect his elders as his grinch-like live-in grandpops teaches him a lesson or three in the illegitimacy of his lifestyle choices. Too much masturbation appears to be the bugbear as the old man makes use of his memory foam pillow and a thorny thimble which will make his grandson’s eyes water to make his annoyance known. It’s all perfectly mischievous, whilst never delivering quite enough devious, to graduate from the grunge. B-

H is for Head Games (Bill Plympton)

 

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Mathematics heads on for our next conundrum courtesy of the legendary Bill Plympton and the second of only the vaguest brace of animations. This guy has been pulling this shit for years and I defy anyone to not give him props for spawning such a plethora of delectable shortcake fusions from that contorted top box of his. Essentially, this is Hiroshima for head cases. A surrealistic power struggle plays out with both sexes as they aim to gain the higher ground, all the while digging away enough fresh soil to dispose of any casualties of war. Full global warfare ensues on an intimate scale as the two remain inexplicably linked via passionate embrace. Nice touch. At barely two minutes in duration, theirs is a brief encounter and all the better for it. B+

I is for Invincible (Erik Matti)

 

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Playing out like a postcard of Drag Me To Hell, the rabid granny from this knowing Raimi homage would make the ideal chaperone for Mrs Ganush on Bingo Tuesdays. This mothball mincing matriarch has been double-crossed by her very own brood as they snatch at her inheritance like the famished crime-scene ravagers that they are. However, you certainly wouldn’t desire to share this hag’s foot spa water, and she’s not going to decompose quickly or fuss-free like your more obedient pensioner. If the vultures want their blood money, they’ll have to come and request it close and personal. Matti’s rash cache contains more than enough flash, a fair dash of splash, but never quite gets to the smash. B

J is for Jesus (Dennison Ramalho)

 

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Ramalho then drops anchor, recalling the dread of D is for Deloused, by fashioning a sealed off chamber and padding it out with an incarcerated gay man and a couple of knocked-off priests, looking to excise his sickness. They’ll likely bottle it for later consumption, but there’s another patron at this torture party and this particular egg is beyond rotten. This one packs a punch kids; granted it never quite achieves TKO but I felt punch drunk just thinking about the cloven outsider grinding his shaggy hooves in the darkness. This dose of the ashen is slickness encapsulated and misses the ultimate cut by nary a chin whisker. B+

K is for Knell (Kristina Buozyte & Bruno Samper)

 

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Then this happens. Suddenly I can taste the tarmac in my teeth as Buozyte and Sampler deliver a one-two punch to the windpipe. At this point, I’m gagging for it. There’s been a lot of meat being carved and some slow-roasting going down but not nearly enough crispy-coated madness for our fear feeders. Make no mistake, your sphincter will gape as that treacherous death star looms atop the overseeing vantage of our next hapless liquid conductor. The moment where we spot the evil and it spots us right back made the hair on my coccyx sway. It ends rather anonymously and that’s fine and dandy as Knell then continues to burrow while you scratch. A it is for effort then. A

L is for Legacy (Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen)

 

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This is where it all grows a little absent-minded. Human sacrifice and ritual waste disposal appear to be masquerading us into the flame pit for a samba doused with darkness and taboo desire. Then the wheels come straight off the wagon and we career vaguely towards the ridiculous. A little low-rent CG splatter proves scantest of consolation for seeing this unsightly tribal dance through to its unhinged conclusion. The letter M is going to have its work cut out to curtail the swan dive after this misfire. F

M is for Masticate (Robert Boocheck)

 

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Onto our thirteenth short and not only does the letter M represent the approximate midway yardstick but it also gives us the search for the elusive 26th Director. Over 500 entries were submitted with the eventual victor from Boocheck making the cut. It’s a high-energy romp through an urban playground, calling to mind The Verve’s boisterous music video for Bittersweet Symphony then ramping it up to twelve. A little splatter is thrown in for good measure, but with M is for Masticate, it’s all about the pay off. The conclusive spoken line is priceless and justifies its inclusion instantaneously. Having said that, the competition proved reasonably stiff and any number of hopefuls could quite easily have taken its place. B

N is for Nexus (Larry Fessenden)

 

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Halloween themed madness as a New Yorker, dressed as Frankenstein’s monster, rushes to make an cross-city appointment with his girlfriend and battles the elements not to make it there a second tardy. The intrigue is here for all to witness, and we become travel companions as each of the pawns is introduced before tragedy strikes, but the eventual pay-off is slight and Fessenden’s entry eventually leaves us feeling somewhat short-changed come its powder puff finale. C+

O is for Ochlocracy (mob rule) (Hajime Ohata)

 

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Ohata focuses once again on capital punishment, only this time, it’s being dished out by a jury comprising sentient zombies as a young woman stands accused of murdering the dead. This courtroom drama hints at much but delivers only partially on its promise. The effect-reversal vaccination used as each witness takes to the stand is an inspired touch but A Few Good Men this ain’t and a wry smile is the maximum necessitated once the courtroom’s final judgement is passed. C+

P is for P-P-P-P SCARY! (Todd Rohal)

 

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Many regard Rohal’s effort to be one of the weakest herein and, while desperate to disagree, it admittedly never comes good on its macabre original set-up. Three escaped convicts, each more kooky than the last, happen across a dark void during their prison break and, within it, a curious chap in a rocking chair, holding a baby, whose favorite pastime is pulling faces as he whittles them down one by one each time their light source splutters. One part Abbott & Costello homage and the other David Lynch flavored weirdness, this oddity continues the disconcerting trend for under achievement. C

Q is for Questionnaire (Rodney Ascher)

 

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Ascher tests us on everything we’ve learned thus far with a man taking an intelligence test while the dire consequences of acing the paper become all too clear. His evaluation is juxtaposed with footage of what really goes on at the institute should you prove yourself too clever a dick. While this offers a novel conclusion, there is real girth to proceedings, and we are left still pleading for that upturn in fortunes. C

R is for Roulette (Marvin Kren)

 

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Kren’s black and white melodrama tells the tale of two men and a woman playing Russian roulette in a cellar, hinting at an unseen threat then focusing instead on each click as their odds of dodging that decisive bullet begin to plummet rapidly. This is never anything less than watchable and brings back less than consoling memories of The Deer Hunter as the competition heats up in earnest. However, when push comes to shove, it all boils down to a single simple revelation. B-

S is for Split (Juan Martinez Moreno)

 

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We venture into Brian De Palma territory here as Moreno’s home invasion engages through three-way split screen. A hammer-wielding prowler closes in on a woman’s coordinates while her husband listens in on the phone from his holiday home, unable to influence her game of hide and seek. Undoubtedly one of the stronger entries, its cat-and-mouse approach works well and the cunning final reveal offers further clarity as to why any stalk and slash was justified in the first place. B+

T is for Torture Porn (Jen & Sylvia Soska)

 

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You can guarantee a twisted take on death from The Soska Twins and they waste no time in fusing torture and porn. A group of seedy casting couch pornographers question their hiring skills as their photo shoot turns awry in the most debauched of manners possible. Tristan Risk plays the object of their roving lenses as they are left counting the cost of their misogynistic audition techniques. The twins meet the brief effortlessly, while never quite delivering the true standout we crave. B-

U is for Utopia (Vincenzo Natali)

 

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Natali’s utopia is, as you would expect, an antiseptic cosmos crammed to capacity with beautiful people and a single more rough-edged robust male who unwittingly alerts the patrol drones through his clumsiness. Production values are solid and cinematography clinical as you would expect from an entry focusing on mankind’s skin-deep obsession with the body beautiful. However, it’s all ultimately a little chilly, despite the warm front. B-

V is for Vacation (Jerome Sable)

 

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Sable pulls us back on track with a slither of found footage that wouldn’t be grossly out-of-place in V/H/S. Using face time to tell its tale, it counts the cost of allowing things to go off-the-leash in Thailand, as one hung over reveller attempts to dig himself out of a hole his unscrupulous affiliate has lovingly prepared for him the night before. Things get mighty out of hand once the sleeping dog stirs and this cautionary tale reaches a typically gut-punching conclusion. A-

W is for Wish (Steven Kostanski)

 

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Every child imagines what it would be like to join their favorite action figures on their home planet at least once in their life. What starts out as an eighties-themed toy commercial ends up hinting at the darker side of consumerism as two young whippersnappers discover that sometimes being granted that wish is not all it’s cracked up to be. Their Fantasy Man is on hand to save the day, of course, but his intentions prove more than questionable giving this segment a suitably pungent aftertaste. B-

X is for Xylophone (Julien Maury & Alexandre Bustillo)

 

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I cannot think of a more dubious choice for babysitter than Béatrice Dalle, particularly given her turn as Le Femme from Maury and Bustillo’s maternal masterpiece Inside. This one is all about safe hands as her last nerve frays on account of her granddaughter’s incessant xylophone recital encouraging the inevitable flip. When it comes, we are left with a wonderfully macabre closing snapshot to ponder further. Should you be familiar with Dalle’s skills as au pair, then this should hit just the right note with you. B+

Y is for Youth (Soichi Umezawa)

 

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Our eastern friends are always on hand to push the envelope with regards to downright lunacy and Umezawa does precisely that with our penultimate letter. A young girl exacts vengeance on her negligent parents by fantasizing over punishing each of their crimes in turn. The strength here is in both the storytelling and some monstrous practical effects as we are introduced to fast food with a bite and all manner of other food groups looking to assist her in making her point. A-

Z is for Zygote (Chris Nash)

 

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We live in hope that the best has been saved until last and Nash does exactly that with this nauseating nugget of body horror brilliance. Focusing on a pregnant woman who staves off childbirth for a thirteen-year stretch while her significant other is out presumably chopping wood, this deals with the concept of attachment as the bun in her oven decides to clear some space in such cramped confines. Repugnant would be the key word here but the choice of Zygote allows us to close on the most distinct high imaginable. A+

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So there we have it. 26 directors, 26 segments of predictably contradicting quality, 26 letters learned and a fair few spurned in the process. The original was an uneven affair at best but the beauty of its compendium approach is that each visitor will locate their own gemstones and any subsequent failures are over with in the shake of a tail feather anyhoots. It’s all ultimately subjective. A flurrying finish spares it the indignity of a failing mark and the sum of its parts equate to that of its predecessor, which is a job well done in my textbook. Expecting ABCs of Death 2 to become your new favorite movie just wouldn’t be realistic; it simply cannot bid for such a lofty honor. However, as an experiment in alphabetical madness, its end of term report is far less than scathing.

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Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10

Grue Factor: 5/5

 

For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: I once heard it suggested that there are six million ways to die. Twenty six may seem like a drop in the ocean but there are some fairly innovative dispatches on offer, including some real blood-spattered doozies. Occasionally revolting and sporadically titillating, ABCs of Death 2 packs in decapitation, dismemberment, evisceration, cauterization, organ excision, hammer time, bone crunching, cheek munching, orifice spelunking, pot roasting, birth sac renovation, regurgitation, rectal ingestion, fragrant sexual suggestion, and of course…a dash of bath salts.

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Read Trick ‘r Treat Appraisal

 

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