“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”.