Editor’s Note: The ABCs of Death opened in limited release today, March 8th. See the red band trailer here
The name of the game is experimentation, and the horror genre plays the game with oh so much glee. Seriously, you’ve got to give them props for not being afraid to try something new every once in a while. Last year brought us the release of V/H/S, the first anthology told through previously taped horror. The overall reception to it was mixed but the buzz about its attempt was strong enough to unite horror fans in its take (the sequel comes out later this year). So what other kind of concept could possibly bring together today’s current wave of new, eager-to-prove-themselves horror talents? Leave it to sickos—God bless them—to be inspired by children’s letter blocks.
The ABCs of Death is definitely the first of its kind, regardless of genre. We have 26 letters in the alphabet, hence we have 26 different filmmaking teams and 26 short flicks with one aspect in common: death by letter. Listed below are all the letters. Right off the bat the thing that should be commended is how the filmmakers don’t take the easy road with their letters—“A is for Axe” or “S is for Saw”, for example. The creativity and the eagerness to make this thing explode is all there. But did most or all of them do any justice to the flick’s brilliant opening sequence?
Leave it to sickos—God bless them—to be inspired by children’s letter blocks.
A, directed by Nacho Vigalondo (Timecrimes)
The anthology starts off well with this violent short. Well-paced, well shot, and executed with care. Think of it as “I will do anything for love… and I’ll especially do that”.
B, directed by Adrián García Bogliano (Rooms for Tourists)
The overall idea is good enough for short film material, but it’s not as unique as it thinks it might be. It tries to be a scary live-action version of a kids’ scary story, but it’s duller than dirt.
C, directed by Ernesto Diaz Espinoza (Kiltro)
Definitely the short that stands out the most, but not in the best sense. The idea is strong, but that’s about it. Shot, acted, and executed like it came out of a slop bucket. Honestly it could be confused for one of the contest rejects.
D, directed by Marcel Sarmiento (Deadgirl)
While Vigalondo got us off to a good start, this is definitely the first real highlight of the group. It’s shot in a way will make most of you question out loud “how did they do that?” and even better… the little twist at the end makes the impact that much more substantial.
E, directed by Angela Bettis (Roman)
It’s one of the shorter ones, and while it’s got a welcome campy feel, it’ll also definitely make those with fears of multi-legged insects squirm. A solid entry by Bettis.
F, directed by Noboru Iguchi (Machine Girl)
Hands down the funniest letter of the bunch, and also the first short that lets us know that it won’t be just all scares. While it’s not the most disgusting entry—that’ll come later—it tries its hardest to be that without blood or guts. Loved this one.
G, directed by Andrew Traucki (The Reef)
Like “C” it has a good idea; actually this is definitely one of the scarier ideas, since it’s based on reality. But it just couldn’t give the knockout punch. A few more seconds and maybe an additional shot or two would have made all the difference.
H, directed by Thomas Cappelen Malling (Norwegian Ninja)
This is one of the more interesting entries, as it has to do with human… err… pets (think of furriest without the need for the suits). Its silliness works in its favor; it’s like watching a live-action cartoon.
I, directed by Jorge Michel Grau (We Are What We Are)
Behold the only short that has an actual true-life message attached to it—the end credits reveal what that message is—and wow… does it get its point across. Grau doesn’t mess around, and the final moments are vicious.
J, directed by Yudai Yamajuchi (Battlefield Baseball)
This next entry comes from another Japanese filmmaker, and while this one does have the gross-out factor going for it, it also has that same frivolous sense of humor as “F” did. There’s laughter at the end of the scene, and it just might make you crack up as well.
K, directed by Anders Morgenthaler (Princess)
The first animated entry comes fully equipped with “potty humor”. No dialogue, no music, just a lot of squishy noises that get grosser, and yet cuter. However the winner of the bathroom shorts has yet to be seen.
L, directed by Timo Tjahjanto (upcoming V/H/S/2)
Two funny shorts in a row? Yeah, Tjahjanto definitely made sure there wasn’t going to be a third. His entry is unique in a lot of ways, but at its core it’s unsettling. The outcome is effective, and morally despicable (it’s made clear in one important moment).
M, directed by Ti West (The Innkeepers)
West is not a flashy filmmaker but he’s become a master of the slow burn. Yet his entry has the shortest runtime, and has nothing to offer other than the idea that maybe it’s not a good idea to wear red pants. The ‘ah-ha’ moment at the end barely registers.
N, directed by Banjong Pisanthanakun (Shutter)
Chalk this up as one of the great letters. Starts off with a special kind of sweetness, and ends in bloody mayhem. What makes this special is the aspect that’s used to make it continuously hilarious.
O, directed by Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani (Amer)
100% style and no substance, although with the method of death for this letter, flashes of detailed sensual bravado are really all that are needed. It tries to make use of all your senses, and for the most part it works.
P, directed by Simon Rumley (Red White & Blue)
I dig how this one focuses particularly on the depths of humanity, and how it can come into focus with desperation. It’s the only short of the bunch that summons the feeling known as heartbreak. Also… it’s not too ideal for cat lovers.
Q, directed by Adam Wingard (You’re Next)
At this point we acknowledge that Wingard and writer Simon Barrett know horror; we just didn’t know they had a marvelous sense of humor. The two play themselves in a humorous self-aware quest to answer the question “What death starts with Q?”
R, directed by Srdjan Spasojevic (A Serbian Film)
I can’t even really begin to tell you what this one’s about. Maybe horror doesn’t have to make sense to make an impact, but it could have helped with this entry. Solo, maybe it would have been fine. Among others that are much better, it’s forgettable.
S, directed by Jake West (Doghouse)
Clever is the word that sticks out when it comes to “S”. It’s a fun nod to the exploitation genre with a nifty twist. If that’s what users actually see when they go on their ride, well at least they go out with a bang. I hope West comes out with a new flick soon.
T, directed by Lee Hardcastle (contest winner)
Hardcastle’s claymation entry into the contest was considered so good that the filmmakers couldn’t help but show it early online, and for good reason. Not only does it deserve its win, it easily stands out as one of the best.
U, directed by Ben Wheatley (Kill List)
While it’s not the first POV entry at this point, it’s without a doubt the best. Wheatley combines some cool camera tricks with blood, mayhem, and an excellent no-nonsense attitude. Bonus points are given for also showing a dash of his rising dark humor.
V, directed by Kaare Andrews (Altitude)
While the death related to the letter doesn’t truly connect with the story, this is the most impressive entry on a technical level, especially considering the tight budget. If anything it makes me want to see what Andrews could do with an action script.
W, directed by Jon Schnepp (Metalocalypse)
”R” didn’t make sense and failed. This doesn’t have a lick of sense at all, but at least it does a better job of being entertaining. Kudos to Schnepp for combining live-action material with his beloved animation style.
X, directed by Xavier Gens (The Divide)
Now this one’s just plain gross and mean-spirited, but at this point do we really expect anything else from Gens? The man sure loves his depravity. However I do like the twisted morale to the story— at least I THINK it has one—that it doesn’t always pay to be skinny.
Y, directed by Jason Eisener (Hobo with a Shotgun)
The award for the short with the best use of a song definitely belongs to this one. The loss of innocence, and said innocence getting revenge, comes packaged with an oddly fitting ‘80s tune/vibe.
Z, directed by Yoshihiro Nishimura (Tokyo Gore Police)
Admittedly I hated this entry right after seeing it. Weirdly enough, afterwards, it grew on me. No guarantees that it’ll have the same effect on everyone. It’s not bad; I just wish this wasn’t the entry to end the anthology. Also to note: sushi might be ruined for you.
But if we’re talking about the overall experience, well that’s where The ABCs of Death gets away with giddy murder. For the most part its arrangement of shorts actually works in its favor in terms of making it a fun time at the movies.
By rule, more bad elements than good or an even balance should put the quality level dead even. And if we’re talking strictly about quality, then yes, it’s even. But if we’re talking about the overall experience, well that’s where The ABCs of Death gets away with giddy murder. For the most part its arrangement of shorts actually works in its favor in terms of making it a fun time at the movies. Yes, there are some uneven—or really bad—ones, but part of the charm it conveys, and pretty well, is its unpredictable component: going from one extreme to another. One short you’re feeling iffy, the next short you’re repulsed, the next you’re feeling guilty for laughing, and then the next you’re truly terrified. Kind of like a porn anthology as well. I’m sure the filmmakers will take that as a compliment.
[notification type=”star”]70/100 ~ GOOD. The horror genre can say that The ABCs of Death is another win for them. Well… mostly a win. [/notification]