The horror anthology has enjoyed a healthy resurgence in the last few years thanks to movies like the V/H/S series, the Simon Rumley led Little Deaths and the upcoming all-female directed XX. As exemplified by the bumpy V/H/S movies, it seems to be almost inevitable that anthologies end up varying wildly in quality (even the very best of them, such as Creepshow, aren't immune to this curse). More often then not they end up as uneven and spotty affairs, and as the years pass they're celebrated or reviled based on the extent of those highs and lows. Simply put, the anthology isn't an easy form to get right. With that said, I have a feeling that the films that will be most fondly remembered from this current batch are The ABCs of Death movies.
For starters, the ABCs movies are structured differently to their anthological predecessors. Gone is the wraparound story, an element that's become redundant with today's more savvy audiences. Almost every wraparound I've ever seen has been more likely to induce groans of boredom from an audience than entertain it. It stalls the momentum of the movie, and at worst it's just filler, intended to pad out the running time to 90 minutes.
The other thing that really sets these movies apart is the brevity of the segments. Found yourself in the midst of one that's a bore, or that you just can't stand? Don't worry, it'll be over in a couple of minutes! The effect of having a large number of short shorts which are distinctly different from each other (varying in tone, imagery, intent, language etc) is to soften the bumps caused by the variation in quality. The end result is an insane patchwork of gore, sex, art and fucked up weirdness that's so much fun to watch that even the worst segments just add to its totally gonzo charm.
Whether by accident or not, ABCs of Death 2 is an improvement on the first (not to denigrate the first, it's excellent in its own right). Perhaps for the filmmakers involved the original served as a blueprint, allowing them to establish what works and doesn't in what is essentially an experimental format. Whatever the case, ABCs 2 seems to have ironed out some of the kinks that were present in the first. It's more energetic, more entertaining and there's a higher level of quality throughout. It wasn't easy to whittle down, but the following seven shorts (listed in alphabetical order, natch) were the ones that most caused me to laugh, squirm, gag, cringe and wonder just what the fuck I was watching.
D is for Deloused
Robert Morgan's stop-motion animated D is for Deloused is probably the single most bizarro weird entry in ABCs 2, if not both movies combined. Dark, disturbing and just a little bit sickening are all descriptors that come to mind. It's like an anxiety-nightmare during the comedown from a bad acid trip. I know it's a cliche, but when this segment ended I literally thought "what the hell did I just watch". I'd like to see Morgan expand something like this to feature length.
G is for Grandad
One of the sequel's funniest segments is Jim Hosking's delightfully weird G is for Grandad. Unfortunately the short's biggest surprise has been somewhat spoiled by featuring it in the film's trailer, but no matter, it's still a lot of fun. Some nice atmosphere, a couple of hilariously over the top performances and a twisted finale bump this one to the top of the list. Hosking has recently popped up on the horror radar again with the release of this gorgeous piece of artwork for his upcoming debut feature The Greasy Strangler, to be produced by Elijah Wood and Ben Wheatley among others. Wood describes the script as "the most disgusting, vile, and all-around grotesquely hilarious piece of cinema we’d ever read". Colour me intrigued!
K is for Knell
Wow. This was my favourite of the bunch. Kristina Buozyte, director of 2012's arty sex and sci-fi feature Vanishing Waves, was responsible for this segment along with her Waves co-writer Bruno Samper. This one is a very dark and inventive little slice of sci-fi horror which is scary, ambiguous and visually striking. It's beautifully shot and features some astonishingly cool vfx. More of this from Kristina and Bruno please!
W is for Wish
Seemingly taking its cues from Richard Corben's Den and Tim and Eric's brain fucking Cinco commercials, Steven Kostanski's W is for Wish is a thing of gloriously lurid madness. As part of the Astron 6 crew, the ridiculously multi-talented Kostanski is the man behind recent cult fave Manborg, and this short is a continuation of that hyper-kinetic, '80s inspired insanity. It made me feel kind of queasy seeing those two wholesome boys transported into the world of their He-Man inspired toys. Once there, they find out that maybe their innocent games aren't so fun after all.
X is for Xylophone
Part of the fun of these movies is in seeing some of the hottest horror directors out there letting their hair down a bit and just doing something kind of silly. Released from the pressures of feature filmmaking, it's cool to see them just having a bit of fun with zero budget. Such is the case here with Maury and Bustillo's sick little segment. I love that the directing duo's muse, Béatrice Dalle, is once again front and centre. She's now been in everything they've committed to film, from Inside to the as-yet unreleased Among the Living (but I doubt that she'll be showing up in their recently announced Leatherface). This segment kind of feels like a humorous little appendix to Livid.
Y is for Youth
Time to get weird again! Prolific makeup artist Sôichi Umezawa's segment is an orgy of bizarre and surreal practical gags that's fun as hell to watch. Kind of reminded me of parts of Shunichiro Miki's deliriously odd The Warped Forest.
Z is for Zygote
Gonna go into spoilers for this one, so if you haven't seen it, you might want to check out now.
Whether by accident or not, Chris Nash (another ridiculous multi-talent, check out his IMDB credits) made the perfect capper to ABCs of Death 2. Z for Zygote is the atmospheric tale of a heavily pregnant woman, alone in the wilderness, who is forced to wait to give birth until her husband returns from some undisclosed errand. As her husband departs, he tells her not to worry, giving her a large jar of some dried root that when ingested will stave off the onset of labour. The only problem is that his little errand takes thirteen fucking years. What follows is disgusting and depraved in the best way possible. There's a gag in this that manages to outdo one of Gino De Rossi's most memorably stomach-churning effects from Fulci's City of the Living Dead. That's quite an achievement.
As gross as the gore in Zygote is, it's the unspoken stuff that really takes it over the top. The idea that the husband is now going to impregnate his own daughter, inside the vacated skin-suit of his former wife is bad enough. But the idea that he could leave for another thirteen years. That it could happen again. And again. Until it's his great-granddaughter living inside the skin-suits of his granddaughter, daughter and long-departed wife... like the world's smelliest Russian nesting doll. That's just sick. Zygote is like the best Gore Shriek comic that was never published, and I loved it.
So, now we know our ABCs... what were your favourites?