Divided into 26 chapters, each helmed by a different director assigned a letter of the alphabet, given free rein in choosing a word to create a story involving death with a budget of $5,000, this anthology was always going to excite those who crave surreal violence and bloody bedlam. The list of directors is impressive too. Jason Eisener (Hobo With A Shotgun), Xavier Gens (Frontiers), Noboru Iguchi (The Machine Girl), Ti West (The Innkeepers) and Ben Wheatley (Kill List) are just a few of the revered auteurs serving up a slice of savagery for your entertainment, but who slays and who should be bumped off?
It’s probably easiest to start with the most disappointing entries in this congregation of chaos. Andrew Traucki, director of The Reef (2010) and Black Water (2007) clearly has an obsession with water, but his entry G is for Gravity – about a surfboarding trip – fails to stay afloat mainly because it feels a bit lazy. He isn’t the only one who fails to understand the brief, or perhaps how serious some directors have taken the project. While some submissions astound, bearing in mind the budgetary constraints, there are those that have seemingly squandered the cash on something entirely different; like a new surfboard, or something.
There were high hopes for Srdjan Spasojevic, director of the perverse A Serbian Film (2010), but his entry R is for Removed – about a man attached to an IV – delivers on the blood and yet the plot is muddled and doesn’t make much sense. Jake West’s S is for Speed suffers a similar fate, hindered further by abysmal acting. Ti West disappoints with M is for Miscarriage, even if his brief stab is arguably the most horrific. Fortunately, apart from these four attempts there are things to enjoy from every other player, which is why such an anthology should be considered a massive success.
A is for Apocalypse, directed by Nacho Vigalondo (he made the brilliant Timecrimes), starts proceedings with a humorous encounter between a bed-ridden man and his wife. Indulging in the red stuff, it makes the perfect forerunner to B is for Bigfoot (Adrian Garcia Bogliano), one of the more creepy outings despite its unsatisfying conclusion. Ernesto Diaz Espinoza’s C is for Cycle plays cleverly with time-travel until its uninspiring finale, while E is for Exterminate from Angela Bettis (more actor than director) also starts promisingly as a man attempts to kill a large black spider in his home. Ending all too abruptly, we’re left with a short that promised far more than it delivered.
A male dog at a strip club aroused by a female fox in Thomas Malling’s H is for Hydro-Electric Diffusion indulges in brilliant slapstick comedy, which is hardly surprising considering he was responsible for the nonsensical Norwegian Ninja (2010). Yudai Yamaguchi’s J is for Jiai-geki – in which a man holds a sword over another man while trying to keep his composure – offers similar amusements but to less exhilarating affect, while Banjong Pisanthanakun (Shutter) delivers a fun and irredeemably trashy tale about a man trying to win over a woman with the aid of his pet bird (N is for Nuptials).
O is for Orgasm from Bruno Forzani and Helene Cattet is provocative but oddly captivating. It’s also the perfect excuse for those men unable to meet their partners’ sexual needs. Seriously, why bother when women have to endure such an extreme mix of pain and pleasure? An alternate version from the man’s perspective, perhaps slightly briefer, would have been just as welcome. Jorge Michel Grau follows up We Are What We Are (2010) with another curious flick, this time subjecting the viewer to the bleakest offering of the collection as a woman bound and gagged in a bathtub contemplates her poor choice in a husband (I is for Ingrown).
But if you like your horror with some far-out humour there is still plenty to be had. Crowd-pleasing F is for Fart from the legendary Noboru Iguchi (RoboGeisha, The Machine Girl) tells the malodorous story of a schoolgirl who has lost her faith in God because he allows sensitive girls to fart. Romantic feelings for her teacher are put to one side as an earthquake releases poisonous gas and kills pretty much everyone. Will they get it together, or will Iguchi dish out one of the most ridiculously entertaining oddities since – well - Dead Sushi, his previous hair-brained flight of fancy? Silly question, obviously, and some won’t like it, but the majority will find the outcome is hugely entertaining.
Two animated shorts add further frivolity, with K is for Klutz from Anders Morgenthaler delighting us with a woman’s struggle to defecate. When the discharge does finally make an appearance it refuses to be flushed. High jinks ensue in this clever and rather distasteful creation. Equally impressive is the winner of Alamo Drafthouse’s 26th Director competition, Lee Hardcastle’s T is for Toilet, about a small child finally plucking up enough courage to use the toilet, and then wishing he hadn’t. Hardcastle beat 170 other submissions from all over the world to become the final part of the anthology horror jigsaw and we hope to see bigger and better things from both animators.
Simon Rumley, the Englishman who impressed with Red White & Blue from 2010 is responsible for the letter P, offering some interesting titbits and an ending that surprises after his tale of prostitution leads you down the wrong dark seedy path, while Jon Schnepp, renowned for his visual effects, entertains with a bonkers journey taking in some rather random but vulgar scenes and culminating in its clever punch line for the letter W. Packed with bizarre tonal shifts, The ABCs Of Death has thus far provided the viewer with fascinating interpretations of horror which for the most part offer an entertaining evening, but there are eight more shockers that truly stand out from the crowd.
Q is for Quack, from Adam Wingard (A Horrible Way To Die), stars himself, as he and fellow writer/director buddy Simon Barrett grumble about being given the letter Q. From its title you can probably guess which direction they decide to take their horror film, with ludicrous results. Ben Wheatley also ups the ante with U is for Unearthed; a brilliant piece of horror that thankfully doesn’t have the rubbish twist ending that ruined Kill List (2011). Y is for Youngbuck, a bittersweet – or is that sweaty – tale about a boy, a deer, and a creepy janitor who taught the boy to shoot is from Jason Eisener, the mastermind behind Hobo With A Shotgun (2011); the result is just as insane as the Rutger Hauer vehicle.
V is for Vagitus is the most ambitious, but is one of the finest too, as Kaare Andrews (director of the underrated Altitude from 2010) goes all sci-fi on us as a female police officer’s application to have a child in a world in which women are infertile is denied. Robots, shootouts, some cracking special effects and a bit of body horror thrown in to the mix makes Ti West’s and Andrew Traucki’s disheartening contributions look utterly outrageous. L is for Labido, from Timo Tjahjanto, one half of the Mo Brothers and proud father of the bloody and brilliant Macabre (2009), stakes another claim to be the one to watch as his tale of a man forced into a masturbating competition (you heard that right) delivers in the shock and gore departments and shoots one’s wad – for want of a better phrase – with some savage bloodshed.
Deadgirl, in which two high school boys discover an imprisoned woman in an abandoned mental asylum who cannot die, was a surprise hit for Marcel Sarmiento in 2008, but he’s done nothing until D is for Dogfight, an astonishing short that’s more pop video than movie, in which a man goes up against a mutt in a no-holds-barred street fight. Brilliant visuals add weight to some astonishing action, so add a neat twist to appease dog lovers and you have arguably the best of the bunch.
Having said that, Xavier Gens (Frontiers) will disagree. X is for XXL is for those that love their horror crimson, as a middle-aged, overweight woman, harassed and made fun of as she rides the train and walks home, takes desperate measures to look like the beautiful model in a bikini shown wherever she goes. The final reveal is wonderfully nasty. Last but not least, and rounding up proceedings is Z is for Zetsumetsu, one of the most abstract of all the short films, with some wacky humour involving erections, resurrections, games shows and World War 2 references. Directed by Yoshihiro Nishimura (Tokyo Gore Police and the excellent Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl), fans will know exactly what to expect, and won’t be disappointed.
It was an ambitious project, and unsurprisingly there are a few misfires as well as the odd disappointment, but for the most part The ABCs Of Death is an astonishing collection of horror shorts that will leave you breathless, bewildered and begging for more. DW