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Movie Review: “The ABC’s of Death”

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Here’s the pitch.

Take 26 ambitious, creative film directors, assign each of them with 1 of the 26 different letters of the English

Movie Poster for "The ABCs of Death"

Death’s favorite book to read to his son besides this one: “Freckleface Strawberry” by Julianne Moore.

alphabet and give them the daunting task of coming up with a word (or in certain instances, a phrase) that starts with their assigned letter.

No, I’m not talking about the premise for the final exam for USC film school students? And no, I’m not explaining the rules of some drunken bar wager between the members of the Quentin Tarantino and Kevin Smith fan clubs.

Oh, I guess I also forgot to mention that the genre of choice is horror and that the subject matter of the entire project is death?

Give up.

The end result is the ultra-twisted and wildly inappropriate indie horror anthology “The ABC’s of Death.”

According to the end credits, the idea for the concept apparently stemmed from a nightmare that one-half of the producing team Ant Timpson (along with Tim League) suffered through one night. Sometime after waking up from one of the most creative dreams I’ve ever heard of (my dreams usually consist of pedestrian and random imagery, when I can remember them), Timpson got a hold of a handful of, for the most part, unknown horror film directors, offered them each a total of 5 minutes and $5,000 to make a short film that revolves around anything and everything that might make an audience squirm.

I don’t know about how the directors initially felt, but as a fan of the genre, the second I learned of this concept I was bags-packed, seatbelt securely fastened and on-board.

If causing the audience to manually have to shut their gaping jaws due to shock and awe, then the filmmakers have reached success in every facet of the word. If the goal was to make a film that combined the feelings of disgust, uneasiness, contempt and mental helplessness, then they have succeeded. If their intent was to make a balanced film that was fantastic from minute 1 to minute 121, then they have failed miserably.

There are two major problems that plague “The ABC’s of Death” – from “A is for Apocalypse”  - directed by Nacho Vigalondo to “Z is for Zetsumetsu ” – directed by Sushi Typhoon member Yoshihiro Nishimura. The first is lack of consistency in the tone of the films and the second problem is something that not enough films these days can point out as a flaw – too much damn ambition.

There’s nothing wrong with a little cinematic ambition. In all actuality, that’s what the horror genre needs during this time of generic remakes and retreads. The thing is, a lot of the entries from this anthology just wouldn’t be considered horror.  In fact, almost half of them have the artistic merit of a really strange student film or a neo-avant-garde. It’s almost as if Man Ray had procreated somehow with Sam Raimi – you might call it Man Raimi. Or in the case of one of the films, “Y is for Youngbuck” by “Hobo with a Shotgun” (which was brilliant) director Jason Eisener, you might call it Man Rape-me – more specifically Old Man Rape-me. Just watch “Y is for Youngbuck” before you judge me, you’ll understand once you experience all that is “The ABC’s of Death.”

There’s a great deal of uncomfortable subject matter that is breached during the two-plus hours of the film. Without giving away too much – and let’s be honest, could a five-minute short possess enough plot in it for me to actually spoil anything?

No. Well, at least not in 3/4 of the entries there isn’t. That’s another small problem when you put an art house director’s piece next to a straight-forward director. It doesn’t always mesh. It’s like watching “Alien,” then “Aliens,” then “Alien 3,” then (the deplorable) “Alien Resurrection” – in succession. It’s supposed to go together, but something about them as a package doesn’t click.

First off, I’ll go down the list, in alphabetical (what other choice do I have) order, and summarize the ones that were just plain weird – or in some cases,  too offensive; even for an old gorehound like me.

  • ·         Noboru Iguchi’s “F is for Fart – a lesbian affair featuring “Sailor Moon,” her hot teacher, and their severe stomach problems.

 

  • ·         Ti West’s ultra-short and super disappointing “M is for Miscarriage” – West is normally great, (see “The House of the Devil” and “The Innkeepers”) However, this one has all the signs of someone who just didn’t care about the project at hand.

 

  • ·         Mexican filmmaker Jorge Michel Grau’s “I is for Ingrown” – a PSA for spousal abuse and hypodermics filled with household cleaners.

 

  • ·         Indonesian director Timo Tjahjanto’s “L is for Libido” – an entry so foul, so disgusting, and so
    "L is for Libido" from "The ABC's of Death"

    Drip. DRIP. DRiiiP. DRRRIIIPP.

    uncomfortable to watch that even explaining the premise might get me banned from this site forever.

 

Without these entries though, the film would’ve been less memorable. I mean, the fact that these hard-to-stomach pieces were the ones that I remembered the most ,speaks for itself. In fact, after watching it I was trying to explain the concept of the film to somebody that would never watch it in a million years. Specifically, the ode to masturbation epic – “L is for Libido” (that’s all I’m gonna say about it), which is, to me, the one that most embodied the “vanguard, indie spirit” of the project. So I’m not really saying that these were bad entries, I’m just saying that they were the strangest and most hard to swallow out of the bunch.

There were some letters of the alphabet that really stood out to me. First off, as being enjoyable to watch and most of all, as being the most similar to a horror flick. Without going into great detail, as this review is hovering around novel status as it is, plus you need to experience them without a lot of preconceived notions –I’ll give a brief synopsis of my favorite ones in alphabetical order:

  • ·         Marcel Sarmiento’s “D is for Dogfight” – sort of like Mike Vick meets Fight Club
  • ·         Adam Wingard’s “Q is for Quack” – Great exhibition of art imitating life… in the form of a pet duck in a cage.
  • ·         Jake West’s “S is for Speed” – Metaphorically race against the devil. Complete with muscle cars,
    "S is for Speed" from "The ABC's of Death"

    “No, this isn’t a phallic symbol. It actually represents something else, thank you very much.”

    dudes in cheesy latex makeup, and chicks in sleazy latex bodysuits. Totally embodied the “spirit” of the project in its own Robert Rodriguez-esque kind of way.

  • ·         Ben Wheatley’s “U is for Unearthed” – My favorite entry. First-person POV from the perspective of an unnamed and never shown creature. THIS is how every entry should’ve been approached.
  • ·         Kaare Andrew’s “V is for Vagitus” – Most impressive entry, visually. Still can’t believe they stayed on budget for this one. Interesting concept, full of gore and shock value, and with some commentary on the state of overpopulation and motherhood to boot. It also gets points for tying with Simon Rumley’s “P is for Pressure” for “the most uncalled-for stomping death.”  I still can’t believe this film had TWO of these moments in it.

So is this movie good? I can honestly say that if you put at least 10 people in a room and make them all watch it, from beginning to end, I guarantee that either a verbal or a physical argument will break out. Not just due to the arguments stemming from the conceived quality of the film, mind you, but simply from the emotions that this film stirs up – both in stable and unstable human beings.

If that’s not the definition of “success,” I don’t know what is.

  Amazon Image

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