There is no better place to watch a film like The ABCs of Death than at a massive screening filled with excited horror fans, and despite the fact that the original didn’t exactly blow me away when I first saw it in the comfort of my own home, I couldn’t help but jump at the chance to catch the premiere of its much-anticipated sequel ABCs of Death 2 at this year’s Toronto After Dark film festival, where I would be more appropriately surrounded by hundreds of fellow horror fanatics like myself. Thankfully (for all of us) the film marked a massive improvement over its somewhat inconsistent predecessor, with a much higher ratio of hits to misses by the end, and several standouts that approached perfection in their conception and execution.
Following the structure of the original, ABCs 2 contains 26 short films, each written and directed by a different horror filmmaker or filmmaking team from around the world. The filmmakers were given a letter of the alphabet and asked to pick a word that starts with that letter, which then became the focus of their short film centering on death in some shape or form. The resulting 2-hour anthology plays like a hit-list of 26 ways to die, with the reveal of the title at the end of each short acting like a twisted punchline, often accompanied by laughter and applause from the extremely active After Dark audience.
One of my favourite shorts in this sequel was W is for Wish by Steven Kostanski of Astron-6, which opens as a children’s toy commercial for the fictional “Champions of Zorb” playset before exploring what would happen if two boys found themselves transported to the real fantasy world of their toys (which is far more horrifying than they expected). Another big hit and an excellent mid-point gem was Robert Boocheck’s M is for Masticate, which tells a story in slow motion of a crazed man who attacks people on the street and attempts to eat someone before being shot by the police, with the final seconds revealing the hilarious explanation behind the man’s insane behaviour. Kristina Buozyte and Bruno Samper’s elegant and thought-provoking K is for Knell was one that stood out to me as well, wherein a young woman witnesses an unexplained black liquid that turns people in an adjacent apartment building into vicious killers, before eventually coming after her. And the most shocking and grotesque moment undoubtedly belongs to director Chris Nash for his ridiculous body-horror entry Z is for Zygote, which tells the story of a pregnant woman that holds her unborn daughter inside her body for 13 years, until the girl decides it’s time to “get closer” to her mother.
Other notable entries include Juan Martinez Moreno’s S is for Split about a home invasion witnessed over the phone that ends up being far more personal than it initially appears, Hajime Ohata’s hilarious O is for Ochlocracy (mob rule) about a woman who is being tried for murder by a courtroom of zombies, Rodney Ascher’s Q is for Questionnaire about the shocking results of a man’s participation in a seemingly harmless survey on the street, and Soichi Umezawa’s Y is for Youth about the violent and hilarious fantasies of a young girl who despises her abusive family.
Unfortunately, with a selection this large there are bound to be a couple of shorts that fall flat or fail to engage, and considering the higher overall quality of ABCs 2, these pieces seemed to stand out a bit more as a result. My least favourite was probably Todd Rohal’s P is for P-P-P-P SCARY! which is a bizarre black and white comedy that swung for the fences and came up short, making little sense in the end. I also had a hard time enjoying Nigerian director Lancelot Imasuen’s L is for Legacy about a sacrifice that goes horribly wrong, resulting in a rampage of violence by a supernatural monster. While I was happy to see an original horror piece from Africa make it into the film, the performances and visual effects simply didn’t measure up to many of the other shorts on display, resulting in a disconnect with the audience.
This is all just a taste of what ABCs of Death 2 has to offer, and believe me there are many more entries that I’d love to dissect in greater detail, but that’s not the point of a film like this. If you’re a horror fan, you owe it to yourself to see this incredibly fun and surprising anthology, and if the After Dark screening was any indication, I don’t think it will be too long before we see a third film emerge in this increasingly entertaining series.
The Toronto After Dark film festival continues with two films every night until this Friday, October 24th. Film schedules and ticket info available online at the official festival website.