Permanent Midnight is a weekly Complex Pop Culture column where senior staff writer, and resident genre fiction fanatic, Matt Barone will put the spotlight on the best new indie horror/sci-fi/weirdo cinema, twisted novels, and other below-the-radar oddities.
One negative takeaway from last year’s highly ambitious horror anthology The ABCs of Death its producers didn’t anticipate: So. Many. Toilets.
As a concept, The ABCs of Death is bloody brilliant. Get 26 different genre filmmakers from all around the world, assign each of them one of the alphabet’s 26 letter, and give them a few thousand dollars and only one guideline: direct a short film about some kind of death. Conceptualized as the most offensive and nightmarish children’s book come to life, the first ABCs film was an unprecedented exercise in excess, a one-stop shop for some of the horror, sci-fi, and thriller genres’ promising newcomers to show and prove.
The result is, to put it lightly, highly nauseating. One segment, the unsubtly titled “F is for Fart” (directed by Japan’s Noboru Igichi), has two schoolgirls killing one another with their, yes, smelly farts; another short, “T is for Toilet” (by Lee Hardcastle), is a stop-motion animation bloodbath about the titular feces-container slaughtering a family; “M is for Miscarriage,” from Ti West, foregoes ingenuity and literally shows a dead fetus getting plunged inside a toilet. Surrounding those segments were several remarkable and toilet-free highlights (Marcel Sarmiento’s “D is for Dogfight,” Jason Eisener's “Y is for Youngbuck,” Ben Wheatley’s “U is for Unearthed”), but in the end, The ABCs of Death feels more juvenile than admirable.
That reaction isn’t lost on co-creators and producers Tim League and Ant Timpson. Before any of the 26 new filmmakers involved with ABCs of Death 2 started their respective productions, they all received a lengthy manifesto, and the message within it was clear: avoid any and all fart and toilet gags. And, also, everything seen in Indonesian director Timo Tjahjanto’s ABCs short “L is for Libido,” a lightning rod for criticism thanks to its vile premise: in order to not be murdered while strapped down to chairs, two men must masturbate alongside each other, and the guy who busts first lives—and that’s the G-rated version of the segment’s content.
Much to League and Timpson’s lawyers delight, there’s no such self-ejaculation horror in ABCs of Death 2. The budding franchise’s second installment is far more mature and polished. Featuring more experienced short film directors than its predecessors, ABCs of Death 2 feels like an A-grade horror shorts program injected with blood-infused HGH. The segments are narratively daring and unpredictable; the lowbrow nature of the first ABCs is mostly non-existent, giving way to stories that address topics like socio-political relations, homosexual persecution, and kids with neglectful parents. The two-hour film, as a whole, clicks with a real cohesiveness. It’s the most refined movie you’ll ever see that includes the image of a woman writhing on a kitchen floor as her unborn teenage child physically matures in utero. Hey, it’s still ABCs of Death, not The King’s Speech!
At ABCs producer Tim League’s Austin-held Fantastic Fest last week, Complex senior video director Jonathan Lees and I sat down with several of ABCs of Death 2’s makers to discuss their individual roles in birthing this must-see sensory assault.
ABCs of Death 2 is now available on VOD and iTunes, via Magnet Releasing. It opens in limited theatrical release on Halloween.