What You’ll Like:
- Large diversity of short films
- Some very impressive uses of limited budgets
- The lot of very good shorts
What You May Not:
- The lot of very good shorts are also very few
- More extreme and demented ideas get too carried away with themselves
- Majority of shorts are either pointless or outright ridiculous
What You’ll Remember:
- How downright psychotic the last few shorts become
Given the current crop of modern CG heavy cookie cutter horror, mostly of the PG-13 persuasion and very unlike their grittier 80s father films, The ABCs of Death could be seen as not necessarily a breath of fresh air, but at the very least an oddball addition that could spice up the mix and bring something more uniquely visceral to the forefront. Produced by Ant Timpson and Tim League, The ABCs of Death brings us 26 consecutive short horror films by 26 different directors all hailing from 15 different countries around the world. As the intro of the film states, all of these directors were given completely free artistic expression with their own shorts and granted one letter of the alphabet for which to begin the title of their films. While there is no overarching story or theme behind this series of shorts, as some may remember from the older Creepshow films that had a boy reading various horror stories from his collection of evil comic books, the tone tends to consistently shift in ABCs, making it perhaps the most satisfyingly unpredictable horror anthology ever created. While producers Timpson and League could have very well gone through a bit of a more rigorous screening test before choosing what films could take part in this collection, at the very least we know that there was full freedom of vision here and no sort of corporate intermingling which could have deterred even a bit from some of these director’s extremely twisted, demented, and potentially tastelessly offensive ideas.
ABCs opens fairly standard with a couple of shorts that walk the line of your usual low budget horror; one being a story of a woman who severely hurts a middle-aged sick and bed-ridden man she works for, as her plans for poisoning him over the last few years never seemed to work out. Proceeding is one about a Hispanic couple who tell their niece a horror bedtime story about a man that comes at night to take awoken children, only to be killed themselves by a similar mysterious man. Both shorts have an exaggerated and schlocky gore factor, which right off the bat sets the viewer up for an experience that is perhaps not to be taken seriously in the least. Such a presumption would be correct considering that rather soon the anthology tends to degrade into shorts that become so off the wall, silly and at times outright ridiculous, that ABCs does legitimately not really even deserve to be categorized as a horror film but perhaps just very indie and weirdly collection of various film tones. Maybe perhaps shelved in the special interest section? Granted, ABCs does inject some incredibly creative ideas sprinkled throughout the anthology, such as one wonderfully directed vision of a slow-mo and fluidly moving underground dog fight somewhat akin to the atmosphere in Fight Club, featuring an older man fighting a violent real life dog; the effects of which look so realistic that it’s pretty shocking PETA hasn’t come out to speak and create an exaggerated hoopla as is their usual habit. Yet as a whole, the vision for this particular short has a purpose and works almost like a morality tale. Unfortunately, the same can’t really be said about the vast majority of the shorts on ABCs, as they do not seem to have anything really solid to say about any aspect of life, yet work more to simply either shock the audience, weird them out, or go to places so perverse and twisted that they can come off to many as downright offensive. Which of course is fine as long as there’s some semblance of substance. A couple of culprits begin with one short where a man dog (that is, a dog with the body and personality of a man) who is dressed as a fighter pilot is at a strip club watching a woman cat seduce him, only then to reveal herself as a nazi soldier, then proceeding to kick his own testicles out of his mouth and hook them up to a fan, whereas he turns around and kills her instead. Yes, it’s as absurdly ludicrous as it sounds, but ultimately with absolutely no real point or purpose at all. A second example being a woman who has a miscarriage in her own toilet. Yes, that is it. Not only gross, but again, completely devoid of purpose. Similarly to these, other shorts do not even represent the genre of horror, nor do their titles serve any real connection to the very thin theme of alphabet letter titles; they make decent filler though. It should also be mentioned that almost all the shorts on this collection have little to no dialogue whatsoever, hence many of their countries of origin remain unknown, as well as making ABCs very accessible and easily understood. While this may seem like a positive, it leaves any potential depth of content of ABCs to remain near non-existent, leaving just a shallow set of shorts which do very little to create any sort of message to the audience who would do best to turn their brains to the off setting.
Thankfully, Timpson and League did not fail completely when it came to picking directors, as even if the small handful that are good do for the most part succeed, others do a good job of impressing visually, considering that all directors had a more limited budget on what they could create. A couple of shorts work more like urban legends, including a story of a single man in an apartment who gets consistently bitten and harassed by what seems like a mutated spider, only to set off some kind of alarm in his brain and ears once he successfully kills the spider, presumably leading to his death. Another more intelligent short features a man who has a kidnapped woman in his bathtub, and poisons her with an injection. She proceeds to itch relentlessly, causing all her scratching to her weak flesh to cause persistent bleeding – a disturbing yet impressively artistic short on a visual front, with a dark and brooding tone that makes it work. Another great being two leather-clad sexy women who are being chased on a desert highway by a mutated pig-man character; a more gritty short with a big budget Hollywood look and almost Tarantinoesque vibe, all becoming a dream of two trashed women addicted to speed, who shoot up in a very disturbing final shot. Furthermore, the short ‘XXL’ does seem to have something intelligent to say about how overweight women with extreme self-esteem issues may at times feel, featuring one woman who is consistently harassed by strangers about her weight, going into her apartment and proceeding to literally cut off chunks off her body, but achieves a very grotesque thinness before dropping dead. It’s an impressive use of make-up for the director’s small budget, not to also mention actually having something to say. But perhaps the best for yours grinch truly in the entire collection would be one entitled ‘Vagitus,’ (yes, it loosely regards what you’re thinking) taking place in Vancouver in the year 2035. It is the only sci-fi/action themed short in ABC’s, with very satisfying visuals, and deals with infertility in the future, and one female officer’s struggle with her own inability to have children. It’s so good visually in fact, that creating even a spin-off on such an idea would perhaps make for an even better film on its own terms. Unfortunately, it ends too abruptly, leaving the viewer wanting more, whereas when making comparisons, the majority of the shorts here seem to make the viewer want less. Considering the lack of real story with many of the shorts, it even does not make due with its publicized idea of being a film that features 26 ways for people to die, and surprisingly many of the shorts do not even have a death in them at all.
Rounding things off are a last few set of more demented and psychotic shorts, beginning with ‘WTF,’ a complete acid trip of a senseless mish-mash of vulgar and potentially offensive scenes edited together quickly, featuring evil but sexy clad women, satan, rampant insane clown zombies (at least that’s original), decapitations, and some apologetically twisted animations; the filmmakers here truly have some imagination. Another being the more sexually perverse and depraved Youngbuck, featuring a pedophile old man who works at a middle school and has some extremely shocking scenes with his imagination after viewing a boy’s basketball practice. Like other previous shorts, I would not be surprised if many were just skipped over by viewers (as they probably should be, as they aren’t very well made anyway). Finally, the grand finale, Zetsumetsu, is a more satirical arrangement of scenes featuring a depraved food eating contest featuring full-frontal male nudity, references to Dr. Strangelove, and a game show environment with elements of World War II and nuclear weapons – perhaps a statement on war politics? These last few films almost work together like random nightmares – no real connections or purpose, but lots of fast editing, disturbing imagery, and random grotesque shots this side of extreme Lloyd Kaufman Troma films. Actually, it seems many of these directors may have gotten inspiration from Kaufman and Troma directly, as ABCs would easily fit into that particular realm of horror and appeal to those specific fans.
In the end, if you can stomach much of it, the ABCs of Death as a compilation is a great idea that should have had more control over its construction and execution by the producers; perhaps even if allowing directors complete freedom of expression, League and Timpson maybe could have been more picky about the quality of the shorts, not simply taking absolutely anything handed to them without question. A real message or set of messages, more mature and serious films, or running themes and purposes could have all helped ABCs be more than just a series of mostly trashy shorts with no other purpose than to gross out its audience. It’s a shame that the better shorts had to be set alongside the more mediocre attempts, perhaps thus never being able to garner the respect and recognition they deserve. By the end, ABCs feels more like it some kind of grindhouse film than anything resembling something challenging, even for horror audiences, and it would be best suggested to only watch the more worthy shorts (as few as they are) while skipping the rest.
A very satisfying lot. Not only did producers League and Timpson allow the film directors complete freedom in their film short content and artistic vision, they also did the same for any behind-the-scenes or extra bonus features the directors wanted for the special features section. Therefore, while not all the directors took advantage, most did, and there are some fairly brief but still interesting featurettes for each individual short, all done in their own unique style. Standout featurettes include for shorts “Hydro-electric Diffusion,” the man-dog and lady-cat short mentioned earlier in this review, and “Vagitus,” the sci-fi/action short also mentioned described earlier. A few others are decent enough. Aside from this we’re given a few trailers.
Graphics and Sound:
Mixed all around. While all films display a passable degree of decent HD quality, it seems they may have been all transferred by various individuals, as the first few shorts seem to look good enough visually, yet real issues come in sound, where a few come off with some muffled dialogue effects. There are some segments in the first few shorts where background music seems like it may be playing under a pillow, and we should be hearing more of it but simply aren’t. On the other hand, other shorts come off with clearer picture and sound, yet there is never any significant distortion during any of the films. Much of this may simply come from the sound recording of the original prints, considering many of the directors had to work on more limited budgets, therefore the complaints listed for some sound issues may not entirely be the fault of the transfer.
There is no doubt that ABCs will offend many, and perhaps that was the entire point from the beginning. While the anthology may warrant a second play-through considering all the content therein, that is something many who only found it to be somewhat average may not care to do again, except of course to repeat view the few handful of better short films. Yet after viewing it may seem as if this collection did deserve something a bit more, perhaps better production control in order to create an anthology series that will lead the way for copycats and establish itself as THE horror compilation of our modern times. Yet in the end the entire thing has a sort of cheapness to it, a lazy feeling that the producers simply may have given too much liberty to not only the directors, but also their own vision of what this was perhaps meant to originally be. It is unknown exactly how League and Timpson went about choosing their directors, considering they all come from various countries around the world, but one cannot help but complain that giving a bit more time to choose ones with better film resumes may not have been an entirely bad idea. As a more underground series to the likes of Troma, ABCs can definitely hold a spot, but do not count on this to ever hit a mainstream audience if such low quality shorts continue in the foray of future projects. Considering the upcoming sequel in 2014 ‘More ABCs of Death,’ we can only hope that the producers will take more of an ear from critics. Great ideas and ambition cannot mask a mostly failed execution, but I do hope the good shorts become more recognized despite its more average and ridiculous constituents. I’d say this would be more fitting exclusively to hardcore underground horror fans. 1.5 clown zombies out of 4.