The ABC’s of Death
Directed by: Nacho Vigalondo, Adrian Garcia Bogliano, Ernesto Diaz Espinoza, Marcel Sarmiento, Angela Bettis, Noboru Iguchi, Andrew Traucki, Thomas Malling, Jorge Michel Grau, Yûdai Yamaguchi, Anders Morgenthaler, Timo Tjahjanto, Ti West, Banjong Pisanthanakun, Bruno Forzani, Héléne Cattet, Simon Rumley, Adam Wingard, Simon Barrett, Srdjan Spasojevic, Jake West, Lee Hardcastle, Ben Wheatley, Kaare Andrews, Jon Schnepp, Xavier Gens, Jason Eisener, Yoshihiro Nishimura.
USA/New Zealand, 2012
Horror, 123 min
The rules where simple, maximum of four minutes, must start and end on a red card, must be based on the designated letter given, and must contain DEATH.
The first time I sat down to watch The ABC’s of Death I was concerned that it was going to fall flat on it’s face, as I was still feeling disappointed with a couple of contemporary anthology films which have been hyped previous to The ABC’s of Death being unleashed. I was also immensely curious to see if twenty-six short films could be compiled into one anthology and if it would work at all. Would the films be too short to tell their story, would it be too eclectic, would twenty six shorts in a row be endurable, would they manage to pull it off or would it fall flat on it’s face like a failed experiment?
After a beautiful title sequence, which form-wise returns in-between films with title and filmmaker credits, the ball is set in motion. Five minutes in and I’m already cringing, a hand has been sliced from the soft piece of skin between index and ring finger so that it hangs from the wrist by a tiny piece of flesh, a frying pan with boiling oil has been thrown into the face of the knifed man by his angered wife. He screams in agony and she sits down to confess that she’s been poisoning him slowly for the last year… External sounds indicate a panic in the streets. The wife apologizes and says that his death was supposed to be much better, but there’s no time to waste now, hence the fast assaults. She lies down next to the man as he pulls his last breath and the frame fades to intense red. The first letter of twenty-six is completed, A is for Apocalypse by Nacho Vigalondo.
With it’s down beat, slow moody narrative, it set’s the tone of he film, and introduces the short form storytelling of the cavalcade about to occupy two hours of your time, and it’s the complete opposite of the surreal visual orgy that Yoshihiro Nishimura’s sushi, maggots, nakedness and gore drenched Z is for Zetsumetsu (Extinction) slams into the end of the parade of depravity.
Short form cinema can be more difficult than feature films, as you need to work extremely efficient to set character, tone, plot and story. It’s no easy task, and a few – only a few, the majority kick ass in their own peculiar ways – a few of the films in The ABC’s of Death unfortunately don’t really manage to make it all the way, like Noburo Iguchi’s F is for Fart, Andrew Traucki’s minimalistic G is for Gravity, or the complete insult that is Ti West’s piece M is for Miscarriage. Damn, is he even trying at all these days?
Although the most of these short form films are top notch. A couple of entries don’t even need to check the boxes or play by the rules, as they are quick mindfucks such as Ernesto Díaz Espinoza’s chapter C is for Cycle or arty set pieces like Bruno Forzani & Hélène Cattet (of Amer) O is for Orgasm. A couple go for the comedic approach such as Thomas Cappelen Malling’s H is for Hydro-Electric Diffusion, Banjong Pisanthanakun’s N is for Nuptials and Angela Bettis - sadly enough only one of the two female directors in the compilation WTF? - E is for Exterminate, which is creepy fun until the climax turns the fun into scream. Two films take an interesting Meta approach, like Lee Wingard’s Q is for Quack and Jon Schnepp’s W is for WTF. Some take alternative approaches, through animation as Anders Morgenthaler’s hilarious K is for Klutz about a woman and her obsessive turd or Lee Hardcastle’s splendid T is for Toilet, the winning contribution of 171 candidates competing for the letter T.
Some directors have gone for a disturbingly dark and gloomy approach – perhaps amplified by the lighter ones around them – which only go for the gut punch offering no relief or closing twist as Jorge Michel Grau does with I is for Ingrown. Others are cunning, and build up to a disturbing rush of insight as Jason Eisner’s Y is for Youngbuck.
Then there’s the real pearl's of the cake, the entries that hit the nail right on the head and bring some truly fantastic stuff, such as my favourite segments; Marcel Sarmiento's D is for Dogfight, Timo Tjahjanto’s L is for Libido, Hardcastle’s T is for Toilet, Srdjan Spacojevic’s R is for Removed and Xavier Genz X is for XXL.
What makes these pieces stand out in my eyes is that D is for Dogfight nails it, brings a great twist, rush of insight and manages to get emotions in there too all in the few minutes available. L is for Libido manages to raise curiosity, build tension, at first make us cheer on the perversity, only to slap us in the face and repulse us, before thumping down a shocking finale. R is for Removed – primarily because it shows that Spacojevic is so much more than the shock monger behind A Serbian Film and gives teasing glimpses into a world that is beyond our comprehension. Remember when Fruit Chan’s Dumplings also was a full feature; well I want a full feature with Spacojevic’s Removed. He’s fucking close to being more Cronenberg than Cronenberg ever was here! X is for XXL is a haunting and innovative comment on the fixation of female ideals, and damn does it’s climax sting. I interviewed Lee Hardcastle at the FFF in Lund last year and he’s a fucking hilarious guy. T is for Toilet is the antichrist version of Nick Park Wallace and Gromit movies - sinister, brilliant, and possibly one of the most violent claymations ever made, and yes, Hardcastle snuffs the kid – with a bog cistern lid.
As a whole, The ABC’s of Death is a pretty damned cool mix, the majority of the films hit the mark, the variation in styles keeps it crisp, the variations of death keep it interesting, the variations in approach keep it from being repetitive, which many other anthology films completely fail at. With a few exceptions, the short form approach is a welcome one and I really enjoyed the ride it took me on.
The ABC’s of Death plays like a mix-tape of mayhem. If you are old enough, you know what I’m talking about, those tapes handed to you by a girlfriend or a friend. You know that there’s going to be tracks you love, tracks that you like, tracks that you won’t like at first but will grow on you, and then those tracks that make you go why the hell is that in there. But that’s the way I like it, unpredictable, intriguing and original. You will be going back to several of the shorts to watch them again because they will stick to you like lint to a scab.
The ABC’s of Death is a smorgasbord of contemporary horror. Mixing everything with everyone who’s anyone, all nations under mayhem and death. If you don’t watch The ABC’s of Death then you can’t call yourself a fan of horror ever again. This IS one of the best anthology films since Romero’s Creepshow and I can hardly wait to go back in to it and pick out those gems all over again.
The ABC’s of Death will be released on DVD in Sweden by NjutaFilms later this year.