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Review: The ABCs of Death (2013)

The ABCs of Death (2013)

Directed by: Kaare Andrews, Angela Bettis, Hélène Cattet, Ernesto Díaz Espinoza, Jason Eisener, Bruno Forzani, Adrián García Bogliano, Xavier Gens, Lee Hardcastle, Noboru Iguchi, Thomas Cappelen Malling, Jorge Michel Grau, Anders Morgenthaler, Yoshihiro Nishimura, Banjong Pisanthanakun, Simon Rumley, Marcel Sarmiento, Jon Schnepp, Srdjan Spasojevic, Timo Tjahjanto, Andrew Traucki, Nacho Vigalondo, Jake West, Ti West, Ben Wheatley, Adam Wingard, Yudai Yamaguchi

Premise: A horror anthology. Twenty-six filmmakers were assigned a letter of the alphabet and created a short film involving death.   

What Works: The title The ABCs of Death is misleading. The movie isn’t a directory of ways to die. Rather, it is an anthology of horror and cinematic style and on that count The ABCs of Death impresses with how wide ranging it is. The segments vary in style and subject but that diversity is part of what makes it work as an anthology. While many of these shorts are done in a conventionally realistic style, quite often the most extraordinary segments take advantage of the short format to push both horrific and cinematic envelopes. One of the best of the segments, titled “Dogfight” and directed by Marcel Sarmiento, uses only music and folly effects on its soundtrack while presenting a traditionally structured story. Other shorts are more experimental such as “Orgasm,” directed by Bruno Forzani and Héléne Cattet, which is more expressionistic than narrative. Other contributions to this anthology delve into the surreal such as “Hydro-Electric Diffusion,” directed by Thomas Malling and the picture includes several animated segments, most notably “Toilet,” directed by Lee Hardcastle. The goals of the filmmakers of The ABCs of Death differ greatly. Some are simply trying to shock or frighten, as in “Bigfoot” directed by Adrian Garcia Bogliano, which is essentially a five minute slasher film, but others reach further. Shorts like “Ingrown,” directed by Jorge Michel Grau, and “Zetsumetsu,” directed by Yoshihiro Nishimura, contain political statements. Other filmmakers use the opportunity presented to them by this anthology to deal with fetishes or phobias like “Fart,” directed by Noboru Iguchi, and “Exterminate,” directed by Angela Bettis. The filmmakers also frequently incorporate humor; horror and comedy are often intertwined in both movies and in life and the filmmakers of “Quack,” Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett, play on the inherent absurdity of manufacturing horror. With so many styles, subjects, and objectives, what The ABCs of Death demonstrates, in total, is the rich possibilities of cinematic horror. The genre needn’t be just teen slashers or found footage hauntings and The ABCs of Death allows viewers and filmmakers to entertain the potential of the horror film.

What Doesn’t: Because The ABCs of Death is essentially a showcase for up and coming directors, it will be of most interest to dedicated horror fans and coinsures of extreme and experimental cinema. The horror of The ABCs of Death is often far beyond mainstream filmmaking conceptually but also viscerally. The film has a lot of sexual and violent content and it is not for viewers who think Paranormal Activity is the scariest movie ever made. But even gore hounds are likely to find some of the shorts in pretty poor taste and a few segments are so self-indulgent as to be obnoxious like “WTF” directed by Jon Schnepp. As with any anthology, the quality of the segments varies. A few of them are too brief such as “Miscarriage” directed by Ti West while others like “Vagitus” directed by Kaare Andrews, play like a teaser for a feature length movie. The most serious drawback of The ABCs of Death is the lack of scares. Some segments do possess a macabre mood and often include horrific imagery, but they aren’t very frightening. That is partly a result of the anthology format. An atmosphere of terror takes time to cultivate but with each segment only lasting five minutes there isn’t time to do that.

Bottom Line: The ABCs of Death is a noteworthy movie but for a niche audience. Anthology horror has been gaining some traction in the last few years with Trick ‘r Treat and V/H/S and of those releases The ABCs of Death is the most interesting and accomplished. It isn’t going to appeal to general audiences but for its intended viewers The ABCs of Death is an exciting demonstration of the possibilities of the horror genre.

Episode: #432 (March 24, 2013)