The ABCs of Death Directed by: Nacho Vigalondo, Angela Bettis, Ti West, Banjong Pisanthanakun, Adam Wingard, Srdjan Spasojevic, Ben Wheatley, Jason Eisener, and more Running Time: 2 hrs 9 mins Rating: R Release Date: March 8, 2013
PLOT: 26 filmmakers from around the world were each given one letter of the alphabet. From there they had free rein to create a killer short horror film based around words ranging from “Apocalypse” to “Zetsumetsu.”
WHO'S IT FOR? Some segments will be loved, others hated, but anyone who likes the idea of a horror anthology needs to check this out.
Twenty-six shorts from 26 directors based on the 26 letters of the alphabet is one ambitious experiment. As a fan of anthologies, I went into The ABCs of Death wanting to like it, but even I’m surprised by how successful I found the film as a whole. Sure, there are a handful of middling entries that are already fading from memory (Andrew Traucki’s “G” is easily the least noteworthy). That just makes the terrible and the great stand out more. Luckily, the latter column has far more occupants.
Let’s begin with my least favorites. After the film gets off to a solid, if unspectacular start with three shorts from Nacho Vigalondo, Adrián García Bogliano, and Ernesto Díaz Espinoza (the surreal nature of this last one being my favorite), I couldn’t get on board with Marcel Sarmiento’s “D is for Dogfight.” While it’s technically well done, I found the depiction of unrelenting animal violence downright deplorable. Later in the film, Simon Rumley’s “P is for Pressure” commits a similar, albeit less graphic, crime to help land it on my least favorite list.
The other three stinkers are “F,” “K,” and X.” I’d feel bad for Noboru Iguchi if “F is for Fart” hadn't been his own choosing. Unsurprisingly, he created the film’s most juvenile entry. Anders Morgenthaler’s animated “K” landed with a big thud as well. Toilet humor very rarely works for me, and as used by Morgenthaler it’s neither funny nor scary (a later claymation segment by contest winner Lee Hardcastle works much better despite also being toilet-centric). As for the bloody and mean-spirited “X,” I get what Xavier Gens is saying about society’s ridiculous standards for beauty. Sadly, it loses a lot of its impact by going on too long.
Now that the negativity is out of the way, let's focus on what did work. Some of them work best after the word is revealed. One example of this is Ti West’s minute-long “M,” a short I wasn’t sure about until the title screen sold it. Thomas Cappelen Malling’s “H” features the funniest title reveal. Anything that includes a furry Nazi stripper is completely bonkers on its own, but I was cackling when the title came onscreen. Timo Tjahjanto's absolutely sickening "L" is another that packs quite a punch. It offers something in the vein of A Serbian Film, and will certainly cross a line for a lot of viewers. (A Serbian Film’s director, Srdjan Spasojevic, actually provided another favorite, “R is for Removed.”)
Jake West’s “S” tells a really strong story in a few minutes, Ben Wheatley’s terrific “U” left me wanting more, Kaare Andrews’ “V” creates an impressive (and expensive-looking) science fiction world, and Jason Eisener’s “Y” is distinctly the work of the madman who directed Hobo with a Shotgun. I also liked “E is for Exterminate” by May's Angela Bettis. I’m terrified of spiders (even CG ones), so her segment made my skin crawl while still making me chuckle.
Not many of these are all that scary, but that’s not a slight on the finished product. Banjong Pisanthanakun’s very funny “N is for Nuptials” is a highlight, as is the beautifully shot “O is for Orgasm.” The two meta-shorts (one by Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett, the other a brilliant bit of insanity from Jon Schnepp) are also among the film’s best. Speaking of insanity, Yoshihiro Nishimura’s “Z is for Zetsumetsu” is something to behold. I mean, it’s not every day you see a nude woman shoot vegetables from her nether region as a giant penis sword chops them into a pot of water. And that’s just one piece of madness that Nishimura’s closing film grants us. It’s one hell of a note to go out on.
A couple segments are not for the faint of heart. Overall, though, The ABCs of Death is a lot of crazy fun. Uneven at times, sure, but there are a number of shorts I’d be happy to revisit. This is one case where I’d definitely be on board for a sequel, so if the film I created in my head – ABCs 2: Next Time Won’t You Die With Me – is coming, I look forward to the day it’s unleashed on the world.
FINAL SCORE: 8/10