The ABCs Of Death Review: 26 Short Films. Some Humorous, Some Horrifying, Some Horrible

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The ABCs Of Death Review: 26 Short Films. Some Humorous, Some Horrifying, Some Horrible

By TK | Film Reviews | March 12, 2013 | Comments ()


The ABCs of Death is another anthology of short horror films, albeit one with a decidedly different approach than the conventional collection of gore-stories. Produced by Ant Timpson and Tim League and released by Drafthouse films, it's comprised of twenty-six shorts featuring directors from around the world, with each entry based on a letter of the alphabet. Instead of constraining the writers and directors by giving the anthology a central theme, they are only constrained by time -- they were given 100% free reign in terms of the content of their film, but the films are short films in the truest sense with none being more than seven or so minutes long. Even so, the entire project is roughly two and a half hours long -- an exhaustive undertaking even if they're all winners.

They are not all winners, unfortunately. That's not to say that there aren't some good, even great, entries. But if you have the stamina to watch the entire string in one sitting, I'll be impressed. Personally, it took me a couple of days and four or five sittings to get through it, both because my mind wandered, and also because it's easier to digest and actually appreciate the entries if you don't allow yourself to be overwhelmed. That said, these little projects really do run the gamut of style, quality, and taste, and it's hard to believe that there isn't something for everybody to be found here. Of course, the likelihood that the converse is true, that you will like everything, is very unlikely. It ranges from the brilliant and clever, to the boring and stupid, to the disgusting and needlessly offensive.

But when it works, it works quite well: the very first entry, A Is For Apocalypse, sets the tone quite nicely, featuring a woman inexplicably trying over and over to kill a bedridden man, with the apocalypse as the backdrop. Directed by Nacho Vigalondo (Timecrimes), it's a curious and fascinating and occasionally disturbing piece. In fact, the first few are all pretty entertaining, twisted little stories. I particularly enjoyed the weird, mindbending cloning bit from C Is For Cycle, and the slasher sendup B Is For Bigfoot is remarkably both on-the-nose and wickedly clever.

There are also some terrible blunders, most notable F Is For Fart, a dumb, puerile tale that's masked in a weird pretentiousness, considering it really is just about Japanese women farting. Don't ask, and don't bother. Immediately following it, G is for Gravity is a puzzling suicide depiction that is pretty to look at, but absolutely goes nowhere. Similarly pointless and silly is T Is For Toilet, a silly bit of children's nightmare come to life that really didn't affect me. Meanwhile, the painfully pretentious, wannabe erotic O Is For Orgasm tries desperately to titillate, but really was just something of a bore.

Those blunders, however, are nothing compared to some of the really egregiously awful bits, the worst of which are the prostitution/animal cruelty tale of P Is For Pressure and the truly disturbing and unpleasant L Is For Libido. The former begins interestingly enough as a tale of a desperate and destitute woman trying to care for her children, but it ends in a pointlessly schlocky shock vignette involving pets (something that is actually handled far more viscerally yet intelligently in the silent D Is For Dogfight). L Is For Libido is an absolutely skin-crawlingly vile (and I don't mean in a good way, horror-movie-wise) tale of torture that includes, among other things, the Crash-like sexualization of amputees followed by men masturbating while watching a child get raped. Yes, you read that correctly. Soapboxing about that particular entry is needless, because that's exactly what the filmmakers likely are looking for. Suffice it to say that it was a sad, awful, infuriating viewing experience that I wish I could scrub from my memory. It was unquestionably one of the worst cinematic experiences I've ever had, and almost made me abandon the entire endeavor.

Yet there are some honest to goodness gems to be found in the mix as well. The animated K Is For Klutz takes the same type of crass humor that F Is For Fart tried to sublimate and made it work, creating a weird and funny bit of bathroom horror. Also bitingly clever was H is for Hydro-Electric Diffusion, a bizarre combination of grindhouse Nazi exploitationism mixed with strippers and humans with animal heads. You really need to see it to believe it. Writer/Director Ben Wheatley's Unearthed is a short, twisted horror classic. My personal favorite goes to Joe Swanberg's Q Is For Quack, a giggle-inducing bit of meta-filmmaking that really packs a sharp, sly punch. I generally don't enjoy Swanberg and his mumblecore ilk (particularly considering how much I disliked his last anthology entry in V/H/S), but he satirizes himself effectively here.

The ABCs of Death is far from a consistently great film, but there's certainly enough in it that works to make it worth a look. The biggest problem will be slogging through the lesser efforts -- not to mention the downright horrible ones -- in order to find the ones you'll enjoy. There are some diamonds buried deep in the rough though, and given that this is a compendium assembled by mostly-unknown film makers, it will be interesting to see which of them eventually evolve into regulars in the genre. In that sense it sometimes feels a little too student film-ish at times, but it can still occasionally provide some solid laughs and scares.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • Jadashay

    Overall I enjoyed it, although I had to put my head under the covers for D is for Dogfight, never made it through that one. There were some stinkers int he mix though.

  • grin

    Ben Wheatley had one of the better shorts, and I'd say the best horror flick of the past 10 years or even 20 with Kill List.

  • Lovely Bones

    I've been really looking forward to this, but I knew it would have to at least partly be a mixed bag. I'm mostly optimistic for the sheer amount of diversity in the various subgenres that will be included. Also, I saw T is for Toilet over at Badass Digest, I had fun with it, largely because I could relate to the kid.

  • Robert

    Did they abandon the central conceit of death inspired by the letters of the alphabet?

  • PDamian

    Given my love of horror, I was all set to see this. Child rape is a dealbreaker for me, though, and I would have been devastated for a week had I seen it. Long ago, I worked for an attorney who was a CASA (court appointed special advocate) for children, and some of the shit I saw still haunts me. Many, many thanks for the warning.

  • TK

    Generally speaking, when I have to review a movie I try not to read anything about it leading up to my viewing. This is the one case when I wish I had, because I'll be honest - had I known that beforehand, I probably would have backed out of the review.

  • Z is for Zetsumetsu (Extinction) wins the movie hands down. Asian Dr. Strangelove, Crazed Nazi Lady with big rice shooting penis, and inappropriate political commentary involving fake tattoos and gratuitous nudity FTW. I honestly couldn't stop laughing.

    P is for Pressure, however, can go die in a fire. One of my kittens looks like the victim, and no one in my viewing could get behind that. I was watching it at a friends house, and the ladies were traumatized.

    Honorable Mention of Awesome: W is for WTF? Nothing like some Metalocalypse style animation.

  • eaterofbirds

    not entertaining in the slightest..terrible movie. I actually bought this On Demand and thought about calling afterwards to say I accidentally hit confirm when I purchased it.

  • Pinky McLadybits

    If I can ever watch just specific letters? I'll give that a go. I also agree that C and D were good, as was A. But F is for Fart just...I mean it made me want to punch my screen out with rage at the idiocy. AND I LOVE FART JOKES. Ugh. UGH.

  • God Of Bal-Sagoth

    Thing about fart jokes is that they only work if they're funny. It sounds like that wasn't very funny.

  • Pinky McLadybits

    It really wasn't funny at all. Or scary. Or smart. Or good.

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