Thursday, February 28, 2013


I recently had the pleasure of attending a screening of Alfred Hitchcock’s “North By Northwest” at the beautiful Astor Cinema, which was the premiere of its new restored DCP version of the film.  Previous screenings of this great film had been in a banged up and seriously damaged 35mm print, so watching the film again in pristine quality as if it was opening night back in 1959 was something of a revelation.  It was almost like watching “North By Northwest” for the first time again as it suddenly became apparent just how great a film it is.  Right from Saul Bass’s imaginative titles you can feel how big a film this was, everything has a grand look to it, and my appreciation of it greatly improved (if that was possible).

After being mistakenly identified as government agent George Kaplan, advertising executive Roger O. Thornhill is kidnapped by Phillip Vandamm.  Vandamm is an importer / exporter of government secrets, and wants to know just how much Roger knows of his operations.  When Roger refuses to co-operate (simply because he has no idea what Vandamm is talking about), the gang try to murder him.  He survives the murder attempt, which causes the enemy spies to try and locate him and to, this time, succeed in their attempts to kill him.  While escaping from both the police and Vandamm’s men, Roger meets up with Eve Kendall, who hides him from his pursuers, in her room on a train.  They immediately spark up a romantic relationship, but is Eve really who she claims to be?  To find out exactly what he is being accused of, Roger tries to track down the man he is being confused with, George Kaplan.  After finding Mr. Kaplan’s hotel room, he discovers that no-one at the hotel has ever seen the man.  Is Mr. Kaplan dead or alive?  Did Mr. Kaplan ever even exist?

“North By Northwest” is often regarded as the quintessential Hitchcock picture, an opinion that initially I had trouble digesting.  Similar to “Rear Window”, it took me multiple viewings of the film to really understand just how great a film “North By Northwest” was.  While I always enjoyed the film, it was nothing more than a mere diversion to me and not the masterpiece everyone claimed it, however after my first theatrical screening of the picture, my opinion changed greatly.  I suddenly saw what everyone was seeing, and understood the brilliance of the filmmaking talents on display, and my recent viewing has only elevated this opinion.  While I still do not think the film is a 5-star masterpiece (as I do “Rear Window”), I can now see what all the fuss is about and why people think it is the most Hitchcock of Hitchcock films.  The film is basically an excuse for Hitchcock to do as many suspense set-pieces he can, disguised in a very entertaining spy yarn. 

The absolute star of this film is Ernest Lehman’s very entertaining and extremely witty script.  No other film made by Hitchcock has as many brilliant one-liners as “North By Northwest”.  There are just too many to single out just one as a favourite.  Aside from the sparkling dialogue, the actual spy story is also really great.  There is basically no set-up for this film, because as soon as it begins, Roger Thornhill is immediately kidnapped on the assumption that he is really George Kaplan, a CIA agent on the trail of the villain, Phillip Vandamm.  From the opening moments, the film starts with the action and suspense and doesn’t stop until the very end, with the exception of a small romantic interlude in the cabin of a train.

With the rapid-fire dialogue of this film, it was a great choice to get Cary Grant (still very tanned) to play the lead role of Roger O. Thornhill (“What’s The O stand for?” “Nothing”).  As seen in the screwball comedies he appeared in, Cary is brilliant at delivering this sort of dialogue in a believable and charming fashion.  In fact it is perfect casting, as Cary is just so likable and we, as an audience, identify with him immediately.  The whole picture is well cast and as such, there is no weak link at all.  Eva Marie Saint plays the ice-cold double-agent, Eve Kendall.  She is fantastic as she goes from being a very romantic leading lady type when she is on the train, to a very efficient spy willing to sacrifice an innocent man’s life for her own.  She seems so warm and inviting, but can also turn and be cold and ruthless.  James Mason plays the quietly spoken and gentlemanly villain, Phillip Vandamm.  Although he never raises his voice once or speaks in a dark tone, he always feels so deadly and dangerous.  This probably is because he takes all the emotion out of killing someone, it has to be done for his own survival, and because of this it feels like he could kill Roger at any moment.  Another performance that needs to be mentioned is that of Vandamm’s right hand man, who is played by Martin Landau.  He plays him more like the traditional role of a heavy, and is also very intimidating.  In fact, at the end when Vandamm is blinded by his love for Eve, it is he that works out that Eve is actually a double-agent, which sets up the thrilling finale of “North By Northwest”.  The final performance that needs to be mentioned is the small role of Roger’s mother, who is played by Jessie Royce Landis (who played Grace Kelly’s mum four years earlier in “To Catch A Thief).  She is absolutely hilarious in the role, as she never believes what Roger is saying even while helping him try to prove his story of his kidnapping.  It is a shame that she is only in the film for such a short amount of time, because the times that she is on screen, she stars.

At this point in time Alfred Hitchcock was really at the top of his game.  He had just come off the simply amazing “Vertigo” one year earlier (although at the time of its release was amazingly considered a failure), and while “North By Northwest” has a much lighter tone than that previous film, the directorial flourishes are no less brilliant.  There are a number of scenes that are worth mentioning in “North By Northwest” from the opening kidnapping, to the (very funny) auction scene, to the romantic scene on the train, but there are two standout scenes.  The first is the finale of the picture which is situated on top of Mount Rushmore.  While it is obviously very fake and includes both a combination of sets and matte paintings, it is always suspenseful.  Both Roger and Eve are trying to get away from the villains, and they must descend onto Mount Rushmore to hide from them.  The villains follow and well……..look it involves heights, so I’m sure you can guess the rest.  I suppose that this scene has dated a little because of the film-making techniques employed, but if you can let that go and enjoy the action, it really is a stellar scene. 

As good as the above scene is, the most well-known scene (and deservedly so) of “North By Northwest” is the crop-duster scene.  This scene is brilliant in its execution, and is a standout of the whole film.  The set-up to the suspense is as brilliant as anything Hitchcock did in his career.  It starts so innocently with Roger being dropped off by bus into the middle of nowhere, where he is to meet the real George Kaplan.  He waits at the bus stop in the middle of barren land.  There is nothing in the huge open space (although a corn-field does appear near the end of the scene).  He keeps looking around for Mr. Kaplan, but no-one else is around.  In the background, a plane can be seen and heard.  Finally, a car pulls up and a man steps out.  Roger assumes the man is Mr. Kaplan, but it turns out he is being dropped off to the bus stop on the other side of the road.  The men stand quietly opposite each other, with the noise of the plane still in the background.  Finally, Roger crosses the road to speak to the other man, when that man’s bus arrives.  As he about to step onto the bus, the man says “That’s strange.  That plane is dusting crops where there are none.”  The bus pulls away, and Roger is alone again.  We can then see in the background, the crop duster turning and heading towards Roger in an attempt to kill him.  The suspense is unbelievable, as he has no idea the plane is coming.  The rest of the scene is a brilliant action scene, and the image of Cary Grant running from a crop duster is one of those iconic images of American cinema.  Another note regarding this scene that makes it so amazing is that the whole scene is done without any music.  The suspense is all built around the sounds of the plane coming closer and closer.  In fact, the music does not kick in until the danger has passed.

Speaking of the music, “North By Northwest” once again has another magnificent score by Bernard Herrmann.  While not as great as his previous score for “Vertigo” (often claimed as his masterpiece) it is as easily recognizable.  Like the tone of the film, the score is much lighter and very exciting during the action scenes.  As well as Herrmann, Hitchcock’s other regular collaborators show up again with Robert Burks handling cinematography duties and George Tomasini working his magic via his seamless editing.  In fact I would almost go so far to say that they editing in “North By Northwest” is perfect.  Every cut is timed to perfection, and helps immensely in the creation of the films suspense.

A lot of people do have a problem with the finale of this film, as it is just so sudden, but personally I do not subscribe to that, quite the opposite in fact.  It is very romantic and a fitting end to the picture.  I suppose the symbolic image of a train going into a tunnel, is a little corny by today’s standards, but back in 1959 it was considered quite a sophisticated way of implying sexual intimacy, while dodging the censors of the time.

With all this praise, are there any negatives in regards to “North By Northwest”?  Well, not really.  The only negative is that it is about ten minutes too long, but it all comes down to personal taste.  This film lacks the emotional depth of “Vertigo”, but does that make it any less of a film?  Personally, I prefer my films to be darker in tone, which “North By Northwest” certainly isn’t, and this is the only reason that I wouldn’t score it as highly.  It truly is a brilliant film that any Hitchcock fan or any fan of cinema would enjoy.

4 Stars.

Saturday, February 23, 2013


“The Last Stand” will be forever remembered as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s comeback vehicle after his stint in politics.  This is his first starring role in a decade since 2003’s “Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines” and a lot has happened in cinema since he left our screens.  The kind of action films that were once Arnie and Sylvester Stallone’s bread and butter no longer exist, and most of our action heroes now come in the form of actors like Matt Damon, Liam Neeson, and Jason Statham, which would have been unimaginable back in the heyday of the eighties.  However Arnie always threatened that he would be back, and true to his word here he is, once again trying to muscle in on the genre he used to be king of.

The story revolves around Gabriel Cortez, a very violent and dangerous Mexican drug cartel boss who escapes from his police escorted transfer to a death-row prison, and immediately attempts to head for the Mexican border for safety.  With the FBI and SWAT teams hot on his tail, Cortez never once fears recapture as in his eyes his plan is fail-safe.  He is attempting to cross the border near a small South Western town called Sommerton with a specially modified car in his possession, complete with a hostage and a band of violent gang members doing everything they can to get their boss to safety.  The one thing they didn’t count on was Ray Owens, the sheriff of the lazy town Cortez was going to pass through, and his staff of three who decide to make a final stand at stopping this criminal from crossing the border.

The biggest question I am sure everyone wants to know is whether or not Arnie still has it, and the answer is a big “yes”.  Although he is well past his prime and has significantly aged, Arnold Schwarzenegger is still as charismatic as ever and the film, as an Arnie vehicle, is everything you expect it to be; it is big, dumb fun.  It is exactly the kind of film he was making back in his prime with over the top villains, bad guys who cannot hit the side of a barn while shooting, good guys who never have to reload their weapons and cheesy one liners spoken after taking out the bad guys.  All of the staples of that kind of film exist in “The Last Stand”, and for what it is, it is a hugely enjoyable film.  It never takes itself too seriously and seems intent on just entertaining the audience.  It is also extremely bloody, which I must admit shocked me a bit, but when thinking back to those older eighties productions they were also very bloody too.  There is a great moment in the film when a school bus comes screeching to a halt and the doors spring open and there stands Arnie with a massive gun in his possession as he begins to lay waste to the bad guys around him.  As a guy who grew up with the films of Arnold Schwarzenegger, it was that iconic moment that symbolized that Arnie was back.

Besides Arnie, the rest of the cast has to be one of the strangest hodge podge mix of misfits to ever be on screen together.  With supporting turns from Johnny Knoxville, (the always great) Luis Guzman, Forest Whitaker and Peter Stormare to a cameo from Harry Dean Stanton, it is a really odd cast and one that never really gels together perfectly.  Strangest of all is the fact that Spanish actor Eduardo Noriega was cast as the Mexican drug boss and I am sad to say that for most of the film he is terrible.  The majority of his scenes are in a car in front of a green screen so it may not have been the most inspirational working place, but his performance is none the less poor; he just has no presence at all, although he does show a bit at the end with his showdown against Arnold.

While the majority of film goers who go to see “The Last Stand” will be doing so for Arnold Schwarzenegger, there is another major reason to see the film (and was the reason I was seeing it) and that is it is South Korean director Kim Jee-Woon’s first Hollywood picture.  After coming off the biggest success of his career with “I Saw The Devil”, Kim Jee-Woon was wooed by Hollywood producers to make a film in the U.S and “The Last Stand” is the final result.  While I have already looked at the film as an Arnie vehicle, I now want to look at it from a Kim Jee-Woon point of view and coming off the sort of films this director was making in his home country of South Korea, “The Last Stand” is something of a disappointment.  Jee-Woon has actually mentioned in interviews that he was frustrated working in the Hollywood system particularly with the fact that there is so much interference and that a lot of decisions are made by committee.  He has said that it was a shock coming from Korea where the director is king, and you can tell in the final product because this does feel like very watered down Kim Jee-Woon.  In fact, for the first half of the film it is hard to find any of his directorial imprints and it comes across as very generic.  However by the time Cortez makes it to Sommerton, Kim Jee-Woon makes his presence felt and this is when I really started to enjoy the film.  Interesting camera angles and moves start to become more frequent and you get a sense that this was the section of the film Jee-Woon felt the most comfortable making.

Jee-Woon has come up with a fantastic sequence towards the end of the film, set in a corn field where Cortez and Owens are driving after one another with zero visibility unaware just how close they are to the other.  It was easily my favourite scene in the film, probably because it was so visually striking too.  Speaking of the visuals, the cinematographer on “The Last Stand” was Kim Ji-Yong who had previous worked with Jee-Woon on the omnibus feature “Doomsday Book”.  While the film is certainly not ugly to look at, it just didn’t have that “WOW” factor that so many of Kim Jee-Woon’s films have.  In fact there were times during the film when I thought some of the lighting was a little overpowering and took away from the picture, particularly during the morning sequences before Cortez reaches the town.  The light was blinding and made it hard to work out exactly what was happening on screen.  There were a couple of times also, mainly during the car stunt sequences, where the film suffered from having a cheap video-like appearance which I am never a fan of.

I have mentioned elsewhere on this blog that my three favourite South Korean filmmakers all make their Hollywood debuts this year, and Kim Jee-Woon’s is the first to make it to the big screen.  It is actually a little sad to see him make this kind of film especially when compared to the efforts from his countrymen, Park Chan-Wook and Bong Joon-Ho, who both have seemed to be able to make projects that one, fit in with their style, and two, seem to resonate more personally with them.  Also from interviews it appears that Kim Jee-Woon’s experiences making “The Last Stand” were not at as positive as those of his friends and as such, he has stated that he will be heading back to Korea to make his next feature.

Overall, when looking at “The Last Stand” with no bias, I found the film to be hugely entertaining.  As I said earlier it is big, dumb, fun.  The script is pretty terrible, with casting and performances all over the place, but the charisma of Arnold Schwarzenegger makes the film very easy to like and easy to overlook its deficiencies.  However, the era of this type of film may be over as “The Last Stand” (surprisingly) flopped dramatically in the U.S which may indicate that audiences have evolved from this type of film and are not willing to go back to what once was, which is a shame because for what it is, the film is great entertainment.  Now looking at “The Last Stand” with strong bias in regards to the director Kim Jee-Woon, the film is sadly a big disappointment because the genius that is usually so prevalent is missing for the majority of the running time, although every now and then a Jee-Woon flourish will appear that will make you smile.  So there you have it, “The Last Stand” is an enjoyable disappointment, but one I would recommend to anyone looking to just escape life for two hours.

3 Stars.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


The legitimacy of remakes often comes into question whenever a new one is announced or released, but one positive that does come out of a remake is that it ultimately brings attention towards the original film.  Such is the case with the soon-to-be released “Come Out And Play”, which is a remake of the 1976 Spanish horror film “Who Can Kill A Child?”.  While I was already quite familiar with the title, because “Come Out And Play” is reportedly an almost shot-for-shot remake, it’s impending release date finally got my butt into gear to get my dvd out of “Who Can Kill A Child?” (which I have had sitting on my shelf for around seven years now) and to sit down and watch the original film.

As described in one of the featurettes on the dvd by the film’s cinematographer, Jose Luis Alcaine,  “Who Can Kill A Child?” takes elements from both Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” and George Romero’s “Night Of The Living Dead” and combines them to create an absolutely chilling and unsettling movie.  The film is about a young couple, Tom and Evelyn, who are holidaying in Spain before the birth of their first child, when the two of them decide to hire a small boat to visit a tiny neighbouring island that Tom had visited years earlier and had become enamored with.  As soon as the couple reach the island it is obvious that something is amiss.  The place is incredibly quiet and with the exception of a few kids they happen to come across, the island appears to be empty.  Tom and Evelyn continue along their journey to find a place to stay the night, with Tom becoming more and more convinced that something strange has happened on the island as it barely resembles the place he visited years earlier.  Not wanting to upset his pregnant wife, Tom subtlety looks for signs of what may exactly have happened on the island, until he comes to the shocking realization that there are no adults on the island and worse, the reason for this is because the children have turned on them and killed them all.  Knowing that they are going to be next, Tom and Evelyn must try to get off the island as quick as they can, but this is going to be a lot easier said than done.

The director of “Who Can Kill A Child?” is Narciso Ibanez Serrador and while he only has four directorial credits to his name, two for television and two for cinema, it is my opinion his limited output is a real loss to cinema because he is brilliant at what he does and I would have loved to have seen more features from him.  Sadly Serrador found his calling in creating game-shows for television (and was very successful at it too) which left him with little time to make movies.  His greatest asset is his beautiful storytelling abilities.  He has such a simple and straightforward approach to telling a story and his camera placement is second to none.  It is obvious that his shots have been planned long in advance and have been done in such a way that the story could only be edited in one way.  Obviously then, the finished product is Serrador’s ultimate vision of the story and what a terrifying vision he has come up with in “Who Can Kill A Child?”.

He bravely starts the film with a montage of real footage of children suffering through the effects of war and famine, in an attempt to make the point that at the end of the day, it is the children who suffer the most from adult’s mistakes.  It is an incredibly confronting way to start a movie, and could easily turn the viewer off, but personally it gave me hope that what I was about to witness was going to have a little more depth to it than your average horror film; that Serrador was going to use the format to say something and to get some things off of his chest.  This beginning gives substance to the thought that the children’s actions within the film may be some sort of revenge against the adults for all the past atrocities that they have had to suffer.  From this startling opening, the film then begins in earnest with Tom and Evelyn trying to hire a boat to get to the island.  What makes “Who Can Kill A Child?” so successful is the fact that it does not rush to tell its story.  It takes its time and we are allowed to get to know our main characters before they are thrown into the horror of the film.  As I have mentioned many times before, this is paramount in a horror film because you really need to care for the characters so you fear them being hurt or killed.

Once the couple gets to the island, the creep factor begins immediately and you can feel the tension even if the characters themselves are oblivious to it.  The atmosphere continues to build to an unbearable point because you know our couple are in serious danger from the most outwardly innocent of all things.  What is amazing about “Who Can Kill A Child?” and its success in the horror genre is that unlike the majority of entries, almost the entire film is set in the blazing sun during the sundrenched daytime, and it is as scary and as suspenseful as anything you have seen.  A lot of the credit here must go to cinematographer Jose Luis Alcaine who does an amazing job of matching the light of four different locations that were used for the shooting of the film, convincingly portraying that the action of the film indeed happens all on a single remote location.  The location of the story is also a big key to the success of the film too as while the film is largely set outdoors on big, wide locations, in actuality our characters are in fact isolated on the island, trapped with the people who are trying to kill them. 

You may immediately question how a bunch of kids are able to overpower the entire adult population of an island and kill them all, but the answer to this question comes in the form of the film’s title.  The children systematically killed the adults one by one, first coming across as if they were playing a game, and then attacking.  As one of the adult survivors says the reason no-one would lift a finger against them was because “who could kill a child?” which is exactly what they would be forced to do.  When the question is poised in the film it really did make me think if I would be able to do just that if my own children suddenly turned on me, and I still do not have an answer to it.  What makes the kids in the film so creepy is that they all attack with smiles on their faces; to them they are just playing a game, a sick, sadistic game, but a game nonetheless.  This is a brilliant choice by Serrador because you would immediately think the obvious thing would be to have the kids walk around with scowls on their faces, being dark and brooding, but by doing the opposite and retaining the appearance of innocence, it just makes the whole thing that much more chilling.  

One thing I appreciated about “Who Can Kill A Child?” was the way the film was shot and edited in regards to the violent scenes involving children.  In the majority of cases, smart editing is used to create the illusion that the children are performing these horrible tasks but if you look a little closer you can see this isn’t the case.  An example is when the children a tormenting a men who is strung upside down with a scythe.  The shots of the children are from above with them waving a stick almost from the injured man’s point of view, and then the violent scenes of the scythe touching the man is done at an angle where you cannot see the kids, in more of a close-up.  This is very responsible filmmaking and because of how expertly it has been done, it does not hurt the film at all, but the kinds of things that the children do in the film are not the kind of things you would want them to be around in reality. 

In regards to acting, I wouldn’t really call “Who Can Kill A Child?” an actor’s piece, but our main couple are both believable at looking terrified whilst running for their lives.  Whilst her character Evelyn really has little to do but look scared, I thought that Prunella Ransome was terrific in her role, and especially looked the part.  She reminded me at times of Mia Farrow from “Rosemary’s Baby”, she had a strength within while looking fragile on the outside.  Lewis Fiander, who played Tom, on the other hand was nothing special (apparently he and the director did not get on during filming) but passable however he really needs a new running style; he looked like a baby deer trying to get its legs for the first time straight after birth, it made me giggle each time he took off with purpose.

Overall, I found Narciso Ibanez Serrador’s “Who Can Kill A Child?” to be an incredibly chilling horror film that deserves the reputation it has.  It is an expertly made film with great cinematography and very adept editing.  Serrador’s framing and blocking of shots are stunning as he knows exactly where to put the camera to achieve the highest emotional resonance.  Similar to “The Birds” I also loved the fact that the reason why the kids turn on the adults is never explained, and I admit I enjoyed the downbeat ending.  Without giving the scene away, there is also a moment two thirds of the way through involving the character of Evelyn that was just so unexpected, and I never saw coming, but it was equally shocking and brilliant.  I have no idea how “Come Out And Play”  (the remake of this film) will turn out, but after finally watching the original, I have no hesitation in recommending it; it truly lives up to the hype.

4 Stars.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013


“The ABC’s Of Death” is quite a unique film within the horror genre.  Although anthology or omnibus films are actually quite common in regards to horror, “The ABC’s Of Death” is something a little different, if not just for the huge number of entries within the film.  It was made by twenty six different directors from all over the world, who were each given a specific letter of the alphabet, and with that letter the director would have to come up with a word starting with that letter and then build a story around that word that was related to death.  Each film was given a budget of $5,000 and the stipulation that it could be no longer than five minutes in length, but within these boundaries the directors then had free range on whatever they wanted to do, however they wanted to do it, with no outside interference.  With twenty six individual entries, it goes without saying that there are a lot of different styles and tones within the film that make it a hard film to review as a whole.  Some of the directors chose a light comedic approach, others very dark and grim.  Some used animation, both claymation and traditional hand-drawn, some live action.  Some directors had a real-life issue they wanted to tackle while some chose to use this forum to tell stories of particularly poor taste.  At the end of the day, they are all part of the film titled “The ABC’s Of Death” which is what I am trying to review here; not each individual short film.

The main problem with omnibus features is the lack of consistency of quality, as well as tone.  These films can be quite jarring especially if you are watching a comedy based short that is then followed by very dark and serious short.  Placement of shorts within the whole feature, in my opinion, actually has a lot to do with the success of an anthology film however “The ABC’s Of Death” immediately faces this problem due to the fact that they are following each letter of the alphabet consecutively.  Unfortunately there is no wiggle room here, editorially speaking.  Despite all of this, I must say that I found “The ABC’s Of Death” to be relatively successful and for the most part was quite an enjoyable watch.  Sure, there were some bad shorts and even some absolute howlers but this is to be expected and on the positive end, I believe the good ones outnumbered the bad, and there was even one truly stunning short within.  While I will not be going through each short, I will look at a few that stood out (be it for good or bad reasons) to me.

With an anthology film, you really need the first segment to be great in an attempt to hook your audience right off the bat, and thankfully “The ABC’s Of Death” succeeds beautifully in this department.  The first segment is entitled “A is for Apocalypse” and is directed by Nacho Vigalondo and it is his hilarious and completely original take on the end of the world.  It starts right in the middle of the action of a husband being brutally attacked by his wife, and ends with a killer punch-line.  The short is very well shot and full of beautifully produced practical gore effects and is one of the bloodier entries in the entire film, making it the perfect start to this anthology film.  This was followed up with “B is for Bigfoot” which was made by Mexican director Adrian Garcia Bogliano, which was an interesting take on the legend of Bigfoot used as an incentive to get a child to go to bed.  Personally I really liked this short, and I think that Bogliano is really going to become a force in horror movies soon as he is continually getting better with every new thing he makes.  While there was a dip in quality with the letter “C”, I didn’t have to wait long for another great short which is what “D for Dogfight” is.  This is one of the segments that is getting a lot of press at the moment mainly due the content within which as the title may suggest is all about dogfights.  It is quite a graphic segment but a very well made one.  It is shot entirely in slow motion and is without dialogue but the story is very easy to understand and it has a great ending to it.  People will have a problem with this short due to the perceived violence and cruelty to an animal but the segment was shot under animal humane conditions and the actual person fighting the dog is none although than the dog’s real life trainer.

From here, the quality of the film is like a yo-yo, just up and down, with segments mostly ranging in the average to bad range but there are a number of good sprinkled in too.  Two consecutive segments that I really disliked were “L is for Libido” and the utterly tasteless “M is for Miscarriage”.  What made them so disappointing were that I was fans of these director’s previous work.  “L is for Libido” is actually about this weird masturbation contest, with the loser being executed in a very graphic way.  It was directed by Indonesian filmmaker Timo Tjahjanto who was one of the co-directors on the very enjoyable “Macabre”, but his segment here has none of the class of that film, and class wasn’t “Macabre” biggest attribute (although I appear to be in the minority in regards to this short).  What makes “M is for Miscarriage” probably the worst segment in “The ABC’s Of Death” is the fact that it is directed by Ti West, whom I consider one of the best horror directors going around right now, and he appears to have not put any effort into his segment at all.  It is easily the shortest segment in the film and there is nothing to it, and the fact that he uses a miscarriage as the basis of a very lame joke was a little sad to me.  

Soon after these segments though comes what I consider the best short of the entire film which was “O is for Orgasm”.  Not only do I think it is the best short in “The ABC’s Of Death” but I also think it is a mini-masterpiece in and of itself.  It is just so brilliant.  The directors behind the short are Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani who made the very special “giallo” homage “Amer” a few years back.  Stylistically “O is for Orgasm” follows on from what the pair did with “Amer” and you could make the case that this short is a spiritual sequel to that feature.  There is little narrative in this short, it is all about feelings.  You feel this short as you are watching it, and because of that, it stands miles out from the rest of the pack.  It has the best sound design within the film and visually it is something to behold.  So strong is the director’s style, that within the first frame of their short I knew exactly who had made it (which very rarely happened).

Two more shorts that I want to mention due to their positives are “T is for Toilet” and “V is for Vagitus”.  The former was a very impressive and extremely funny account of a toddler’s toilet terrors.  It has been lovingly put together in claymation and is one of the most well thought out of all of the shorts.  The latter is so impressive because it actually feels like it is a small part of a much greater film.  It is set in the future where population control is run by a kind of police force, and it is so visually dynamic that I would not be surprised if they went beyond their $5,000 budget.  The film was so reminiscent to the recent “Dredd 3D” that I was sure that Pete Travis was the director of this short, but it turns out it was by Kaare Andrews, someone I knew nothing about prior to this film.  Out of all the shorts this is the only one that I would love to see expanded into some form of feature film.

While I have assumed this for awhile, watching “The ABC’s Of Death” seems to have confirmed my suspicions that Japanese people just do not see the world like the rest of us.  Three directors from Japan contributed segments in this film and all three are the most bizarre things you are ever likely to see.  Two of them, “F is for Fart” and “Z is for Zetsumetsu”, do not make a lick of sense and as such I ended up hating both of them with a passion.

As I mentioned above while some of the people associated with this project just wanted to have fun, a couple of directors took the opportunity to make a statement about something they felt passionate about.  I was very impressed with Mexican director Jorge Michel Grau’s “I is for Ingrown”, which was a passionate plea for the murdering of young women in his country to stop.  The title is significant in the fact that Grau believes the problem is ingrown in Mexican culture but he wants it to stop.  Another socially conscious segment is Simon Rumley’s “P is for Pressure” which is about how hard it is for parents to make ends meet in today’s economically challenged world and what they are willing to do to make their children happy, but the one that really surprised me was “R is for Removed” which was from Serbian director Srdjan Spasojevic, who is infamous for making “A Serbian Film” (a film, I admit, I still haven’t been able to bring myself to watch yet).  It is an incredibly bizarre but visually fascinating short that ultimately has to do with the death of film, or I guess more appropriately the death of celluloid.  It is a very interesting take on the subject of death and one that was completely different than the producers were expecting (I’m sure) from the director of “A Serbian Film”.

Overall, like all omnibus features, “The ABC’s Of Death” is a bit all over the place in terms of its quality, but for the most part I think the experiment has turned out to be a success.  From my tally, fifteen out of the twenty six segments are good or have some kind of good in them, six were bad or outright terrible and five I had no idea what was going on in them (what I like to call the “WTF” segments; ironically “W is for WTF” was one of them).  However the film is worth seeing just for the brilliance that is “O is for Orgasm”.

3 Stars.