One of the most anticipated horror films of 2013, The ABCs of Death, hit On Demand services today, before its limited theatrical release come March. A collaboration between artists from all around the world, ABCs is an anthology of a whopping 26 short films, each based on one of the letters of the alphabet. 26 different filmmakers were each given a letter, and their goal was to come up with a word starting with that letter, and make a short film based on that word, dealing with the overall topic of the big D; DEATH. Each filmmaker was given $5,000 and full creative freedom to do whatever the hell they wanted, as long as they depicted death in some way, shape or form.
Pretty cool idea for an anthology? That's for damn sure!
But a cool concept doesn't always make for a good film, as last year's anthology V/H/S proved (oooh, low blow!). Does ABCs live up to the awesomeness of its concept? I plopped down my hard earned $9.99 on VUDU tonight, to find out!
ABCs of Death runs just about two hours long, and the shorts are presented in alphabetical order, each one somewhere in the ballpark of around three minutes a piece, with the names of the directors and titles of each short being shown at the end of each one. This way, you get to play a fun little guessing game, to try and figure out what word is gonna come up at the end.
As you'd probably expect, the 26 short films range from good to bad, ugly to downright way too fucking weird for words. Though I never in my wildest dreams expected every single short film included in here to be of a high quality, my main hope for ABCs was that the good would outweigh the bad.
So does it? Or is the other way around?
Well, I separated a sheet of paper into two columns, Good and Bad, and I kept a running tally as I was watching the film; the ones I enjoyed, on any level, went in the Good column, while the ones that didn't do anything for me were relegated to the Bad column.
11 slashes in the Good column, 15 slashes in the Bad column.
(And if I'm being honest, looking back, I was a bit generous with at least a few of those slash marks)
The fact of the matter is that more than half of ABCs of Death just isn't very good. And though there are a few standouts, and a few others that can at least be appreciated for either their creativity or downright weirdness and/or depravity, the bad shorts outweigh the good ones in this anthology, which is pretty much the worst quality any given anthology could possibly possess. But even though they are out numbered, ABCs is not without its worthwhile installments.
Now I'm not gonna sit here and review all 26 short films, nor do I care to sit here and bash all the ones I didn't like. Rather, I figured I'd focus on my favorites of the bunch. Yea, let's go with that.
My hands down favorite of them all was XXL, directed by Xavier Gens. Gens won me over a few years back with Frontier(s), a brutal French film that I quite enjoyed. XXL is about a fat chick that's constantly teased about her weight, and bombarded at every turn with images of beautiful looking, thin women. So she decides to take matters into her own hands, and perform her own highly crude form of liposuction on herself. XXL is both the grossest of all the shorts in the anthology and, in my opinion, the best. Now that's a solid short film, with a nice tight beginning, middle and end.
My second favorite was Libido, directed by Timo Tjahjanto, a filmmaker that I am not at all familiar with. Libido is without question the most disturbing short in here, about a sick twisted game of torture where two men are strapped down to a chair, and forced to masturbate to increasingly twisted images, playing out live in front of them. Whoever gets off first moves to the next round, and the other person gets a spike driven through their ass and out their mouth, Cannibal Holocaust style. Libido traverses into some insanely dark territory, and is very uncomfortable to watch, in the most intended of ways.
Coming in at a close third is Marcel Sarmiento's Dogfight. Sarmiento co-directed a recent horror film that I'm a big fan of, Deadgirl, and Dogfight is another win for him. An insanely stylish criticism of dog fighting, Dogfight pits a man and a dog against one another, in a Fight Club style battle to the death. Completely devoid of dialogue, and driven by music and incredible visuals, Dogfight is the segment that will likely stick with me as time goes on, more than any other one in here. And goddamn, is the dog in it one damn fine actor!
Those are really the main three that stick out to me, but I also enjoyed the entries for the letters P, Q, S & T. Simon Rumley's Pressure shows the dark depths a mother will go to provide for her children, while Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett's Quack takes a more humorous route. Wingard and Barrett play themselves in their meta installment, as they try and figure out what the hell to do with the letter Q. The results are pretty humorous, and much more enjoyable and clever than a similarly meta installment that comes later on, with the letter W.
Jake West's Speed is a pretty interesting depiction of drug abuse, with probably the most stylish overall depiction of death in all the shorts. As for T, which in this case stands for Toilet, that one was directed by Lee Hardcastle, who was brought on board after winning a contest, designed to find a 26th director. Toilet is a super gory claymation short, about a killer toilet, and it's definitely one of the most entertaining of the pack. So job well done on that, Mr. Hardcastle!
Also gotta give shout outs to Thomas Malling's Hydro-Electric Diffusion, Srdjan Spasojevic's Removed, Jason Eisener's Young Buck, and Yoshihiro Nishimura's Zetsumetsu, all for being so fucking off the wall crazy, that they're actually enjoyable to watch. I'm really not sure what was happening in any of them, and I wouldn't exactly consider them all 'good', but there's just something about Nazi fox women, dudes with skin made out of film cells, little kids wearing severed deer heads and girls with giant dicks that have swords in their urethrae that just kinda works for me. Call me crazy!
The most downright disappointing of them all was Ti West's Miscarriage, which is pretty surprising given West is probably the most well known and respected filmmaker whose work is on display here. Miscarriage is the shortest short of the bunch, and it's also the laziest, which I'd have to say makes it my least favorite segment. While everyone else at least put forth some effort, it seems like West just didn't even give a shit, and took the easiest way out that he could've possibly taken. Shame, because I typically love the stuff he does.
Also shame on Adrian Garcia Bogliano for making a short called Bigfoot, that had nothing to do with Bigfoot. Should've just called it Betrayed, because that's damn sure how I felt!
So yea. Any of the shorts that I didn't mention just really did nothing for me, either good or bad, so that about covers my overall thoughts on everything in there. I will say that Kaare Andrews' Vagitus is the best candidate for a feature length expansion, and Nacho Vigalondo's Apocalypse has some quality gore, if that counts for anything. Mhmm.
Though there are more bad short films in ABCs of Death than there are good ones, I certainly can't call the film a total failure, given a few of the filmmakers really did a hell of a good job on their shorts. If nothing else, ABCs is at least completely original and totally unique, two factors that probably make it worth the price of admission alone. Given there's so much going on in it, and so many different styles on display, there's sure to be a little something for everyone.
Do I recommend you check it out? Yea, sure, why not. It's nothing incredibly special, but it's worth a watch, and I can almost guarantee you'll come out of the whole experience happy that you at least saw a few of the short films on display here. It's kinda like attending a short film festival, really. You're gonna love some, you're gonna hate some. You're gonna enjoy some, you're not gonna care for others. Just gotta sit through the boring ones, to get to the good ones!