Tuesday, March 24, 2015

#1,681. The ABCs of Death (2012)

Directed By: Kaare Andrews, Angela Bettis, et al

Starring: Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, Iván González, Kyra Zagorsky

Tag line: "26 Directors, 26 Ways to Die"

Trivia: The opening shot of each of the 26 short films features the camera panning away from something red

It’s a hell of a concept, isn’t it? A horror anthology featuring 26 shorts by 26 filmmakers, each dedicated to a different letter of the alphabet?

Yeah, it’s a hell of a concept, and with more hits than misses, The ABCs of Death is a hell of a movie, too.

Released in 2012, The ABCs of Death was a true global effort, with short films produced in countries like France, Canada, Mexico, Surinam, and Japan, just to name a few. How it worked was: 26 young directors, most specializing in genre cinema, were assigned a letter of the alphabet and then given a small amount of money (somewhere around $5,000) to produce a short that, in some way, relates back to that letter. The stories themselves were left entirely up to the filmmakers, who had the freedom to do whatever tickled their fancies. Some of those chosen, such as Ti West (The Innkeepers) Noboru Iguchi (Mutant Girls Squad) and Andrew Traucki (Black Water), were established directors, while others were relative newcomers (known more for her work in front of the camera, actress Angela Bettis directed “E is for Exterminate”, a short about a spider that takes its revenge on the man who attempted to kill it).

Right out of the gate, The ABCs of Death gets the adrenaline pumping with “A is for Apocalypse”, a violent story about a man (Miguel Insua) and his wife (Eva LLorach) directed by Nacho Vigalondo, who also helmed the wonderful 2007 sci-fi / thriller Timecrimes. This is followed by “B is for Bigfoot”, Adrian Garcia Bogliano’s unique take on the Yeti mythology in which a horny couple (Harold Torres and Alejandra Urdiaín) tries to get the guy’s younger sister (Greta Martinez) to stay in bed by telling her a Yeti will eat her heart if she doesn’t. Both movies are extremely effective, as is “D is for Dogfight”, a stylish short by Marcel Sarmiento about a boxer (Steve Berens) forced to fight a savage dog. Other films worth noting are Ben Wheatley’s “U is for Unearthed”, a first-person perspective in which the audience watches events unfold through the eyes of a hunted vampire; “Q is for Quack”, a self-referential comedy by Adam Wingard (You’re Next) where he and his writer, Simon Barrett, lament the fact they’ve been saddled with the difficult letter “Q”, and try to come up with an idea to make it work; and Thomas Cappelen Malling’s “H is for Hydro-Electric Diffusion”, a cartoon-like fantasy set in World War II about a dog in uniform who’s seduced by a sultry night-club dancer (and she’s a real fox. No, I mean it… an actual fox!). Speaking of cartoons, we’re also treated to the animated short “K is for Klutz”, about a woman who, after using the bathroom, is tormented by her own turd; and, along those same lines, “T is for Toilet”, a Claymation flick centering on a young boy’s fear of the toilet, which has thus far hindered his parents’ attempts to potty-train him.

Of course, there are some duds as well. Noboru Iguchi’s “F is for Fart” is an overly-bizarre “comedy” featuring a teenage girl (Arisa Nakamura) who longs to smell the farts of her pretty teacher (Yui Murata); and after getting off to a strong start, The ABCs of Death ends with the disappointing “Z is for Zetsumetsu”, director Yoshihiro Nishimura’s nudity-infused crapfest that wants to insult as many people as possible (it even makes references to tragedies like 9/11). While not bad, per-se, Timo Tjahjanto’s “L is for Libido”, about a sex-centric contest in which the loser is viciously murdered, definitely crosses the line into poor taste (including child molestation). That said, the worst offenders were, quite surprisingly, from a pair of directors I usually admire. Andrew Traucki’s “G is for Gravity” is a (very) short film about suicide that left me scratching my head, but even this wasn’t as bad as Ti West’s “M is for Miscarriage”, a movie so incredibly minimalistic that it was almost embarrassing.

On the whole, however, I’d say The ABCs of Death was a worthwhile experience, and I can’t wait to check out its sequel, last year’s The ABCs of Death 2. With the likes of the Soska Sisters (American Mary), Vincenzo Natali (Nothing, Haunter), and Julien Maury (director of the excellent 2007 French horror film Inside) tossing their hats into the ring, I’m betting this second installment will be as much fun as the first.

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