Initially, the concept for The ABCs of Death was equal parts interesting and worrisome. Horror anthologies were enjoying a renaissance and what better way to celebrate new and emerging horror auteurs than by bringing twenty-six of them together to produce one monster anthology. But who in their right mind is going to sit through twenty-six short films in a row? (I did. I found the experience to be a bit tiresome and generally unrewarding. On the whole, the first ABCs was hit-and-miss.)
Much in the same way that learning the alphabet takes a great deal of time and effort, watching all of The ABCs of Death requires, from most people, a few sittings. And, for a lot of viewers, it didn't prove to be worth the effort. A brief chat with one of the directors echoed this sentiment: for some of the filmmakers, committing to the sequel was a bit of a gamble because the first one wasn't great. Another director admitted that he expressly used the opportunity to remake and improve upon a segment from the first film that he (and I) didn't like.
So it was with no small amount of anxiousness that the Toronto After Dark crowd settled in to watch a second go-round of alphebetized horror. And you know what? Everyone pretty much nailed it. (I was pleased to see more word-play this time with K is for Knell and S is for P-P-P-Scary.)
Where some of the segments in the first film had a kind of phoned-in quality to them, all of the shorts that make up ABC2 meet or exceed a higher standard of quality. While there's still some variance in terms of production values and storytelling, ABC2 is overall more enjoyable and more accessible than the first one.
It may seem overly revisionist to suggest the first ABCs laid the groundwork for the sequel, but the first film's relative failure prepared everyone for ABC2. Having already sat through one long and middling anthology, the audience was better prepared to watch a second one, and ABCs' luke-warm reception set a benchmark for the sequel's filmmakers. (Standouts from the first movie include D is for Dogfight and Q is for Quack).
Admittedly, I'm not familiar with all the names that appear in ABC2, but, like last time, the movie has encouraged me to look up the filmmakers whose shorts I really liked. The only problem is trying to remember them all.
It's been proven elsewhere that people are more likely to remember the first and last items in a sequence or list over the ones in the middle. Herein lies the issue with high-volume anthologies; you forget about half of them almost immediately (think about the trailers that precede a film, you remember a couple and forget the rest). Standing around with my friends afterwards, we spent some time trying to recall all our favourites that weren't A is for Amateur and Z is for Zygote. If we couldn't remember the letter, we might get the details of the story, or vice versa. (I really liked B is for Badger and W is for Wish, and the one about bath salts was great.)
On the whole, ABC2 is a much better film than the first but I'm still not sure if anyone outside a film festival audience will sit through twenty-six short films in a row. Regardless, the format lends itself well to short bursts of indulgence and this time round there's more to keep the viewer interested and watching.