Monday, 9 July 2018

The ABCs of Death 2 (2014) (Part 2 of Review)


[To read Part 1, follow the link HERE]

M is for Multinational
The anthology starts to build momentous when its international directors start to appear, having a greater impact on this sequel as much because many aren't household names, coming from far afield in national cinemas obscure still for many viewers. Ironically, cult audiences have the same curiosity as art film fans do in how we are as fascinated with other cultures, making a horror film from a place like Turkey to Serbia, not necessarily known for such films in the wider public knowledge, more appealing. Arguably, there are points where cult fans go further than even art house fans in their desire to learn of other cultures whose cinema is not as known, probably having more knowledge from their willingness to dig out the obscure likes of Nigerian cinema to bizarre Filipino rip-offs of James Bond as they are internationally promoted titles.

Where else do you have an obscure Filipino director, Erik Matti, stand equal among bigger names with I, his Evil Dead-like tale of a mother who just refuses to die, or for that matter Austrian filmmaker Marvin Kren, whose R I cannot spoil when I reveal its full name is R is for Russian Roulette as that doesn't give away how that turns out. Sadly it's not all beds and roses, even if its merely one segment, as Argentine director Alejandro Brugués lets the non-English language contingent down. After the interest in Juan of the Dead (2011), his immediately follow up here with F is a botch, a Gilligan's Island tale of romantic triangle with a sour tasting "bros before hos" conclusion.

T for Thoughtful
Thankfully you also have Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushadomaking, the directors of Rabies (2010), making F which is an example common this anthology series where directors I have had cold feelings towards, as I didn't like Rabies, nonetheless show virtues that win me over. A tale of a female Israeli soldier stuck in a tree, with a young Palestinian male on the ground below with a rifle, it emphasises that unlike the prequel film, where there was a few attempts, more directors within the sequel are tackling real life subjects, the drama here (not horror) balanced and the death pure accident. Brazilian director Dennison Ramalho for J follows a gay man being forced to "turn" straight by two preachers, starting as an extreme but potentially profound take on gay spirituality as, even with the violence and torture involved, it brings in literal metaphysical as the victim starts seeing the preachers as horrifying demons and stigmata is involved. Sadly Ramalho brings in revenge angle which undermines the morality, an immense shame to witness. More elusive and effective is female Lithuanian director Kristina Buožytė who, co-making K with Bruno Samper, presents a curious but memorable segment of a young woman witnessing mass murders suddenly take place in the next tower complex next to her, the meaning of the ending as her menstrual blood mixes with an alien black liquid up in the air, but striking as the whole segment feels like a dream in structure.

P is for Personal Favourites
One I was the most interested in was L, directed by one of the first Nigerian "Nollywood" directors, the magnificently named Lancelot Oduwa Imaseun. Maybe its bias on my part, aware the editing's choppy and there's the very fake CGI of many Nollywood productions, but it was profound to seen an African director, probably with a budget higher than some of his features, direct a segment with international availability. One showing local Nigerian actors, dressed in traditional dress, for a tale (in an unknown period) where not following through with a blood sacrifice is a very bad idea. One with folklore, even if simplified, you rarely get in wide distribution in a location rarely seen. In itself the ABCs of Dead 2 was a success just for this cultural communication...that and I like the cheesy Nollywood CGI as shown here, especially the heart ripping moment.

And there's X, another pair of directors in Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo I haven't liked the work of, hating Inside (2007) in the day and not fond of Livid (2011), redeeming themselves. Despite a premise of a grandmother snapping which could be seen as offensive, because it involved a small child, they make one of the best segments just for casting Béatrice Dalle and relying on her acting without words. It is not to insult any performance in the segments, very strong in most, but Dalle is a legitimately cinematic icon with a magnetism to her, able to act out this segment without dialogue and give it depth just through her facial expressions.


J is for Japan
If you look back to the original ABCs of Death, the most divisive additions were the Japanese one. All from Sushi Typhoon, who were a trend back then, the shorts reflecting Nikkatsu's desire, who set it up, for marketing to the West a perception of Japanese cult films being intentionally strange and full of elaborate, gory and sexually perverse moments. Many of these productions were not very well structured as cult films, instead a series of wacky events, and it led to a flood of releases that dissipated in a short time space.

I liked those shorts in the first ABCs of Death, but no one would deny the two Japanese entries here, whilst they are as eccentric, are some of the best shorts from the sequel and are definitely the superior set to last time. O by Hajime Ohata is rightly praised, though it deserved to be a longer short away from the anthology, of a zombie outbreak where medical technology has allowed the undead to gain their minds back, deciding to set up kangaroo courts to punish the living for killing their own, in some ways the defendants deserving the punishment when they gleefully killed said undead rather than for the sake of protecting themselves. Y by Soichi Umezawa is underrated and my favourite of the two, and not just because Asuka Kurosawa from A Snake of June (2002) stars in the segment, a tale of a young teenager girl living with her abusive mother and step father going through all the things she has had to endure, depicted in the same crazy prosthetic effects like Sushi Typhoon but with greater purpose and imagination, before she decides to put her foot down. It's a bitter sweet segment, again emphasising that this sequel is openly including non-horror shorts, whilst it also works for cult film audiences still because of the bizarre sights within it like a man eating burger or a person turning into a dog.

W is for Weird
Sadly, unlike the prequel, there are fewer abstract entries. Thankfully the two that are here are some of my personal favourites. P by Todd Rohal will be hated by many. It should be the kind post-internet, post-surrealist comedy I'd hate yet inexplicably I do like it immensely, probably because of how utterly peculiar it is, Rohal visibly influenced by the kind of pre-sixties comedy that few people would take reference from, which he turns into this odd duck of a short. Following three escaped prisoners in a black void, in comical stereotype prison uniform and exaggerated prosthetic noses, it's a melding of the antiquated with the strange as they meet a man with a baby. Oil lamps are blown out, there's tap dancing and creepy digital distortion of faces. Most will find it perplexing, and yet I love it so after multiple viewings.

The other short, D by animator Robert Morgan, cannot be argued as anything else as a living nightmare. He's an idiosyncratic choice to include as few would know of him, but it was because of this short I discovered him, an English animator who produces one of the most disturbing segments. To describe his aesthetic style, alongside Bobby Yeah (2011) [REVIEWED HERE], is that of grotesque stop motion with tactility used to skin crawling detail. Body horror, possibly from the same camp as Screaming Mad George rather than Cronenberg, with his obsession with infected forms and dream logic found. Morgan, in his tale of a humanoid getting revenge from the dead only with a price involved, has an additional freakish factor in his work that he uses materials usually seen as "cute" in other contexts. Bobby Yeah crosses uncomfortably phallic meat shapes with pink furry walls, D with a panda-head eater hybrid with giant denture teeth that would traumatise children if they were to see it on a shelf outside the animation studio. Again, I had never known of Robert Morgan weren't it not for his inclusion in this anthology, a success on the producers part for bringing attention to these figures selected. Whether he'd ever move to feature filmmaking I have no idea, but I wish he was more well known just for the fact he already has a style as an animator entirely of his own.

C is for Climax
Finally, whilst the Z of the prequel was memorable, Yoshihiro Nishimura's entry in the prequel is a random mess, done with the excuse of being deliberately offensive and getting away with material Japanese censorship wouldn't allow in terms of full frontal nudity. Whilst it had Japanese Dr. Strangelove, a character I will always remember from that prequel, it's a segment looked down upon with understandable reason. No one could argue Chris Nash's Z in the sequel wasn't the superior ending short, a period Americana tale that leads to moments which are so uniquely horrifying, with an image or two you've never seen in other horror films, that it's a perfect way to end the film and arguably one of the best shorts of the whole anthology.

Abstract Spectrum: Dreamlike/Grotesque/Psychotronic/Surreal/Weird
Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None):
D (Dir. Robert Morgan): Medium
P (Dir. Todd Rohal): Low

Personal Opinion:
As with the prequel, mileage will vary in whether you like The ABCs of Death 2 or not. Which is the best between the two? If these are the last two, baring ABCs of Death 2.5, than I'd still go with the original for its energy. That's not to dismiss the sequel, which for me is an anthology which stands out the most for its multicultural involvement of very unique and idiosyncratic filmmakers from around the world, the international contributors providing a great deal. Their importance, alongside the willingness to include animation, are really the most rewarding aspects of The ABCs of Death films, for any faults always defendable because they had this concern of showing the span of cult cinema globally. Noticeably, whilst I lament the loss of The ABCs of Death, The Field Guide to Evil (2018) which reduces the number of segments, gives them more time to make a story within, and emphasising the international directors chosen with native folk stories their subjects, rose from the ashes and kept this virtuous flag flying proudly.


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