On paper, 2013’s The ABCs of Death sounded like a horrific, disturbing nightmare come true for diehard horror aficionados; a chance to avert one’s eyes in shock, fright, and disgust for two hours’ worth as long as the alphabet. Disappointingly, the A-to-Z results were the hit-and-miss equivalent to slim pickings out of a student film festival, making slackers out of auspicious filmmakers (e.g. Ti West) who have done better and didn’t seem to be trying. Now, there is fresh blood with its new list of 26 global directors (including Rodney Ascher of Room 237, Vincenzo Natali of Splice and Haunter, Navot Papushado of Big Bad Wolves and Jerome Sable of Stage Fright, just to name a very few) who, from what they churn out here, do not work as well under a tight shooting schedule and budget. The wide-open possibilities of such a project would seem like a hole-in-one, with each of them picking a chosen word that begins with their assigned letter and revolves around death and then being given complete artistic freedom. Like its predecessor, ABCs of Death 2 surely has its standouts, but the ratio of misses to hits is even greater. There are so many bad ones that the bearable, even occasionally impressive, shorts might be forgotten.
The playfully macabre opening credits sequence out of a ghastly childrens’ pop-up book—school children jumproping and playing tug-of-war slice another in half—might be the high point, as what follows is a 125-minute mixed bag that tries tapping into every deathly situation. Kicking off the parade of repulsive shocks and sick yuks is E.L. Katz’s (Cheap Thrills) “A is for Amateur” about a hitman getting more than he bargains for in a pesky crawlspace. It’s quickly paced, unpredictable, and reasonably entertaining for starters. Next up, Julian Barrett’s “B is for Badger” about a nature documentary crew and their arrogant talent (Barrett himself) finding out the hard way that badgers were not eradicated from a nearby power plant as expected, and it’s as humorous as British absurdism goes but also predictable. Others in between are flat-out annoying (Todd Rohal’s “P is for P-P-P-P Scary!”), inept, worthless, and just skippable that they inspire one big “huh?” (“E is for Equilibrium,” “L is for Legacy” and “U is for Utopia” in particular). “G is for Grandad” is off-putting and icky without being creepy in a proper way, but “I is for Invincible” is a giddily gory Evil Dead-like bit with a wrinkly old mother who won’t die, despite her greedy children’s desperate efforts to get her inheritance.
Many of the other segments have great setups but disappoint in their endgame. Creepy in theory, “K is for Knell,” in which a girl notices an entire apartment complex across the way where everyone is committing some horrific crime, then devolves into pointlessness. Larry Fessenden’s “N is for Nexus” has a tense build-up as a slacker dressed as Frankenstein’s Monster rides his bike through N.Y.C. to meet his “Bride” (and a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo by one of the You’re Next masks), but the payoff is pretty obvious. Juan Martínez Moreno’s crafty, grimly graphic “S is for Split” is like The Toolbox Murders with the use of split screens as a woman speaks on the phone with her husband as a hammer-wielding intruder breaks into their home. Coming off of American Mary, twin sisters Jen and Sylvia Soska intended to turn the male gaze on its head with “Torture Porn,” but there’s still something awfully misogynistic about a half-naked young woman being objectified by a group of perverted pornographers and then seeking revenge as a glowy-eyed, tentacled rapist. Nearing the end, there are a couple of effective free-standing shorts. “V is for Vacation” is a startling, workmanlike terror-in-paradise freakout, shot as a video chat, in which two frat-brother types get a little rowdy even the morning after a night of debauchery. Quite literally the last, Chris Nash’s “Z is for Zygote,” in which a lonely woman elongates her pregnancy with her 13-year-old daughter living in her stomach, is a show-stopping example of little means and grotesque payoff.
So, yes, the simply titled ABCs of Death 2 is more of the same crazy schlock attack, but worse. If only 4 out of 26 segments was still a worthwhile ratio. This is certainly a whackadoo package, but it’s never funny or scary, just tiresome, gratuitous, infantile, amateurish, and downright mean-spirited. Solely existing to be gruesome and nihilistic rather than fun—far from Creepshow and Tales From the Crypt, or even the V/H/S pics, which still weren’t exactly shrinking violets—it’s a giant misfire in the genre that barely seems worth recounting beyond midnight-movie screenings where it helps to be smashed.
ABCs of Death 2 is currently available on OnDemand and iTunes and will hit select theaters October 31st.