The anthology horror film – a fun way to jam-pack as many ideas as possible into one feature film, bringing in a number of directors to inject their own cinematic styles in a grand spectacle of varietal bliss – or so that’s the idea. Although not as popular in today’s horror scene, these types of films do exist, but without proper execution they’ve mostly flown under the radar and been written off by most critics. Films like Chillerama, The Theatre Bizarre, George A. Romero Presents Deadtime Stories, and V/H/S tried their hardest to make the unique sub-genre relevant again, but only V/H/S has seen success over the last year, already spawning the sequel S-VHS. V/H/S was special though, challenging directors to film on alternate recording methods from iPhone cameras to VHS recorders, ultimately giving the whole package an even more unique edge. An anthology is fun, but an anthology with restrictions is even more impressive and marketable – something The ABCs of Death embraces to the fullest. The question is, could this ambitious idea be translated into a cohesive collection of fresh material worth the two hour run time? Or would the insanely bountiful amount of shorts be a sensory overload of “too much and too fast?”
Sorry, for those of you with no background on one of horror’s more ambitious projects in recent memory, the idea is as follows – twenty six directors each picked a letter from the alphabet and were challenged to create a short death story themed around whatever word they pick for their corresponding letter – all on a $5,000 budget. Glued together with a cutesy children’s book vibe, the overall project carries a darkly comedic tone, complete with bloody alphabet blocks which spell out each short’s title.
For example, Nacho Vigalondo got A, so his short is “A is for Apocalypse,” depicting a brutal murder based around the end of days. Violent, gory, quick, and to the punch – Vigalondo does exactly what he’s asked and does so with enough thought to create thrilling horror in only about five or so minutes.
Sadly, not every director finds the same success, under-utilizing the concept immensely, while other creative minds flourish given the specific parameters.
Herein lies the problem with movies of the collaborative nature – with so many talents being used, it’s obvious not every short will appeal to every single viewer’s tastes, but the question remains will enough of the content win audiences over? I’ll admit, some shorts featured in ABCs of Death are downright atrocious, making me lose faith in the directors attached just a tad, but overall I can confidently say enough insanity ensued to hold me over during the dullest of letters. I wouldn’t recommend Ant Timpson and Tim League’s Frankenstein of a movie to anyone but hardcore horror/extremist fans, but this f#cked up story-time wannabe kept me entertained with a multitude of skits, mixing numerous genres together in a mish-mosh of unbelievable ridiculousness. Horror, laughs, chills, and thrills all await viewers with an open enough mind, but some will no doubt find the whole production rushed and ill-planned. Trust me, I won’t argue with any opposition who throws hate towards such a rambunctious collection of shorts, but for certain audiences, ABCs of Death will strike a curious chord worth the one-of-a-kind watch.
Alright, let’s be honest, I don’t have the time to touch upon each singular letter, but I will discuss my favorite and least favorite shorts amongst the horror-themed assembly of chaos, riding each soaring high and dipping low. ABCs of Death is far from perfect, but let’s analyze why, first starting with the good!
My top three shorts are as follows – “D is for Dogfight,” “L is for Libido,” and “H is for Hydro-Electric Diffusion.” Honorable mentions absolutely recognize “Y is for Youngbuck,” “S is for Speed,” “T Is for Toilet,” “X is for XXL,” “Q is for Quack,” and “W is for WTF,” but for conversation’s sake, I’m sticking with the cream of the crop to highlight what enticing qualities are found in ABCs Of Death.
Directors Marcel Sarmiento (D is for Dogfight), Timo Tjahjanto (L is for Libido), and Thomas Malling (H is for Hydro-Electric Diffusion) deserve top honors for their cinematic contributions, taking advantage of both the microscopic budget and no-holds-barred mentality each director should have come in with. Each segment is visually astounding, offers something extremely original in terms of horror deaths, jams as much enjoyable atmosphere as humanly possible into their short time frame, and ends up with an incredibly passion-filled horror-gasm which almost makes the entire film recommendable thanks to the triumphant trio. From Sarmiento’s slow motion visuals which make you feel like you are on Slo-Mo from Dredd, Tjahjanto’s disturbing exploration of sexual boundaries, or Malling’s furry-inspired Nazi torture story, each short exudes waves of creative life which I’m sure producers Ant Timpson and Tim League had in mind when conceptualizing the ABCs of Death.
But, with the good you inevitably have to take the bad, and I’m looking at three shorts directly when I say bad – “E is for Exterminate,” “G is for Gravity,” and “M is for Miscarriage.” Each failing for their own reasons, at least Angela Bettis (E is for Exterminate) and Andrew Traucki (G is for Gravity) tried something – I’m not sure I can say the same for Ti West (M is for Miscarriage) though. Be warned, I’m going to spoil them slightly because it won’t hurt your viewing experience at all. Hell, it might even help because now you’ll be smart enough to fast forward through them.
All of these shorts exhibit exactly what I was afraid of – underdeveloped ideas, a lack of horror, an apparent misuse of funds, weak creation, and an overall forced feeling of wanting to fit in, almost like the short knew it wasn’t up to snuff with the other entries. But as I said, at least Bettis and Traucki TRIED.
Bettis’ short centers around a pesky spider which a man thinks he kills, only to find later on the spider’s kin want revenge. Short an silly, but neither darkly comedic or brutally engaging, the spider doesn’t even show a spec of realism, looking like a cheap little CGI creation Photoshopped on the wall. I mean, points for going somewhere interesting, just the execution could have been immensely tighter.
Traucki on the other hand goes for a first person camera view angle death, showing a man drowning himself in a clear blue ocean, I think? No, I’m not kidding, the short but sour entry literally just has a man swim into the ocean on his surfboard with a backpack full of bricks, we see him submerge himself in the ocean, we watch the screen slowly fade a blueish black, and then we just see the surfboard sticking halfway out of the ocean like a buoy. Boring, dull, shows no payoff – but at least it’s over rather quick.
All of those statements can be used to describe Ti West’s entry as well, except it visibly looks like he went about his short the same way a college student would waking up to realize he has a paper due in 2 hours he didn’t even start yet. By that I mean it seems like Ti West cranked out a shallow piece of weightless garbage in no time at all just to get his segment done, creating something that looks like it cost about $5.00 to make. Honestly, do you have red food-coloring and random bits of fleshy looking garbage? Well then my friend, you could have shot “M is for Miscarriage” yourself! All you would have simply had to do is dump the before mentioned contents in your toilet, film a random girl getting a plunger, and then shoot her walking into the bathroom, ending on a close-up of the “bloody” bowl. That’s it. The result? Lazy, cheap, uninspired filmmaking which doesn’t even compare with the worst ABCs of Death has to offer – and this is coming from a man who generally likes what Ti West does. I can’t imagine how West-haters are ripping into this pathetic excuse for watchable filmmaking, short film or no short film.
What about the other twenty shorts, you ask? Well, I’d love to sit down and rate each and every single one, which I will do someday I’m sure, but for this simple review’s sake, just know I found more to enjoy than disregard. Yes, there are still undeniable problems scattered about the other shorts, but for what ABCs of Death set out to accomplish, I’m going to say most of these directors contributed stellar enough efforts to make the package a worthwhile treat.
Only for the most hardcore and adventurous of horror fans, The ABCs of Death provides a palatable take on the anthology horror genre for those with a devilishly savvy horror-obsessed mind. The highs are sky-high and the lows are damned low – but this collaboration provides a multitude of new material delivered in a completely unorthodox manner. No one person will like every short, that I can promise you, but for the gems buried about this evil alphabet adventure, it’s worth the strange viewing experience at least once – preferably with like-minded buddies for a raucously entertaining night of debauchery. Feel free to check out the entire list of segments and directors as well if that will help make your decision!
Enough winning shorts can be found throughout this terrifying alphabet to appease die-hard horror fans, but the journey will absolutely test each viewer's patience at some point.