Various Writers, Directors & Stars
Producers – Ant Timpson & Tim League
UK DVD Release – 23rd March 2015 from Monster Pictures
“Another 26-chapter anthology that showcases death in all its vicious wonder and brutal beauty.”
Anthologies are always divisive in the horror community, not least collaborative releases like this series and V/H/S – some find the sharp shifts in tone & content and most importantly the uneven quality a turn-off while others enjoy the opportunity to discover directors established and new to the scene trying out new ideas, or just having a bit of fun (or in Ti West’s case, offending and disappointing practically everyone). I have to say I’m quite firmly in the second camp – I think the idea behind ABCs of Death is fantastic, where 26 directors each choose a letter of the alphabet & are given $5000 to produce a short. As with the first instalment, and with every collaborative anthology movie I’ve seen, it goes without saying that the resulting shorts vary wildly; some are slickly produced on the meagre budget while some look like a few friends bought some ketchup & spent the rest of the money on booze. I think it’s only fair to judge them individually before remarking on the movie as a whole, so first I’m going to look at each segment.
A is for Amateur – Directed by E.L. Katz (Cheap Thrills)
This is a stylishly shot short about a hitman that balances comedy & tension superbly. It’s not massively gory but I personally find myself squirming more at someone slamming their hand down on a nail than someone getting their arm chopped off, so it was suitably cringeworthy for me. The final scene feels disappointingly scruffy in comparison to the rest but overall it’s a very decent bit of fun. 7/10
B is for Badger – Directed by Juilan Barratt (The Mighty Boosh)
Fake B-Roll footage from a nature documentary, I’m really happy to see some dry, sarcastic, and ultimately goofy British humour here. Barratt also stars as the smarmy host of the documentary, building a hateful character in a matter of a couple of minutes. No scares but some very funny gruesome moments, this would not be out of place in a Monty Python episode, and that’s very high praise in my books. 8/10
C is for Capital Punishment – Directed by Julian Gilbey (A Lonely Place to Die)
The Brits are taking over this movie! A strange ‘local’ court convenes in a pub to sentence a man accused of kidnapping a young girl. Think The League of Gentlemen without any comedy. This short swiftly creates a high-tension situation and has a particular protracted scene of gore that is shot so directly, in daylight, with astonishingly good effects, that it’s the first time gore alone has made me feel physically sick in a number of years. For that alone I’d give it credit, but the short also carries a heavy message. You can’t ask for much more than this offers. 9/10
D is for Deloused – Directed by Robert Morgan
A stop-motion short that is impenetrable in the sense that I have no idea what it was about, it nonetheless offers excellent twisted, gruesome visuals from the beginning. If Jan Svankmajer directed an episode of Salad Fingers you’d end up with this. 8/10
E is for Equlibrium – Directed by Alejandro Brugués (Juan of the Dead)
Two castaways meet a beautiful woman in this funny, dialogue-free short. Despite extremely heavy-handed grading it’s shot very simply, with long handheld takes that have a few tricks up their sleeves in some impossible timing. This camera trickery alone makes the short worthwhile, otherwise it’s enjoyably whimsical, even if certain members of the audience might not find it’s ending so funny… 6/10
F is for Falling – Directed by Aharon Keshales & Navot Papushado (Rabies, Big Bad Wolves)
An Arab boy encounters an Israeli woman who has crash-landed her parachute in a tree. Respect is due to the duo for submitting a serious segment to this anthology but while it’s clearly trying to convey some meaningful point, it’s not entirely clear what it is. It isn’t boring, but unfortunately forgettable. 5/10
G is for Grandad – Directed by Jim Hosking
An irritating young man lives with his Grandfather, berating him for his outdated ways & décor. It feels odd straight away, but soon becomes much more so. It’s shot well but features a specific type of humour where things are straight up odd for the sake of it and I just found it a bit pointless. 4/10.
H is for Head Games – Directed by Bill Plympton
Animated in a deliberately scruffy, scribbly style, a man & woman kiss resulting in bizarre visuals assumably representing some sort of “battle” between them. There’s no denying the imagination shown, but I’d expect to find this in the ‘dark part of youtube’ rather than here. 3/10.
I is for Invincible – Directed by Erik Matti
A group of siblings are trying to kill their seemingly invincible mother to inherit her wealth. This is brilliantly shot, with hyper-real visuals and gothic set design. The sheer desperation of the siblings is hilarious, and the ending is somewhat inevitable but it doesn’t take away from the rest of the short. 7/10.
J is for Jesus – Directed by Dennison Ramalho
A tense opening soon turns into a brutal depiction of a wealthy man having his gay son tortured by some sort of priests to ‘cure’ him. Nightmarish visuals portray the victim’s fear brilliantly, and the whole thing is very well acted. Another meaningful entry, it covers a topic rarely touched on in horror. 8/10.
K is for Knell – Directed by Kristine Buozyte & Bruno Samper (Vanishing Waves)
A woman sees an strange “goo-orb” floating over a neighbouring apartment block before everyone inside starts killing each other. Soon this black goo starts pouring into her apartment. I didn’t find it anywhere near as tense or clever as it seems to aim for & the woman never seems more than slightly troubled by what’s happening. The effects of the “goo-orb” are the main highlight here. 2/10.
L is for Legacy – Directed by Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen
An African tribe set out to sacrifice a man, but things to wrong resulting in a visit from one of the worst movie monsters I’ve ever seen. The acting & effects are beyond awful, making it hilarious for the wrong reasons. It is the first Nigerian horror movie I’ve seen though so that’s something I guess. 1/10.
M is for Masticate – Directed by Robert Boocheck
Somehow the winner of a competition set out for the public to submit their ‘M’ entries, this features an almost nude man in contact lenses running amok down a street in slow motion, with garish contrasty visuals like a 90’s music video. The final comic reveal pushes the limits of tasteless humour but I suppose this film isn’t supposed to take the moral high ground. 4/10.
N is for Nexus – Directed by Larry Fessenden (Beneath)
A young man hurries across town to meet his girlfriend on Halloween. Camerawork is very basic, verging on awful, making it on one hand come across as amateurish, but on the other it works in giving the short a claustrophobic and disorientating feel. It is however quite clever, with a morbid ending that works brilliantly with the title. 6/10.
O is for Ochlocracy (Mob Rule) – Directed by Hajime Ohata
This Japanese short puts zombies in control of a court, trying the uninfected humans who were killing zombies before a serum was found to reanimate them. A brilliant twist on the old zombie trope, it builds up its mini-universe with a number of great ideas & plenty of awesome imagery. 9/10.
P is for P-P-P-P-SCARY!!! – Directed by Todd Rohal
Filmed in the style of a 1920’s short, with three characters talking like they belong in a Looney Tunes cartoon, this runs the risk of being plain annoying, but kept my attention whilst they encounter a creepy man and a baby. It’s totally bizarre; I’m not entirely sure what I watched. 5/10.
Q is for Questionnaire – Directed by Rodney Ascher (Room 237)
A rather simple, streamlined short featuring a man excelling at a street-side intelligence test. I can’t say much more without spoiling anything but it’s unexpected, funny and unpleasant in equal measures. 7/10.
R is for Roulette – Directed by Marvin Kren (Blood Glacier)
A black & white noir showing three people playing Russian Roulette in a basement, this is high-energy despite no action, with excellent acting & skilled editing drawing every bit of tension out of the situation. A very clever ending defies our assumptions of the game’s purpose. 8/10.
S is for Split – Directed by Juan Martinez Moreno
A man phones his wife while away on business. This is shot very simply, but a cleverly employed split-screen effects means we are constantly watching every character & their actions/reactions, never cutting away. Unashamedly brutal in places, but the ending is slightly underwhelming. 7/10.
T is for Torture Porn – Directed by Jen & Sylvia Soska (American Mary)
A young woman is being treated awfully at an audition by the misogynistic crew, making an unexpected discovery after forcing her to undress. It offers up some disturbing imagery with the unpredictable twist but it did still feel a bit weak. 7/10.
U is for Utopia – Directed by Vincenzo Natali (Cube, Splice)
Visually stunning with fantastic effects, this is a very slick portrayal of a seemingly perfect future with a dark twist. Straight forward, with the simple message that perfection isn’t necessarily all that great being portrayed very effectively without being totally overt. 9/10.
V is for Vacation – Directed by Jerome Sable (Stage Fright)
A guy videocalls his girlfriend from his hotel while on holiday, the entire short being seen as though we are looking at the girlfriend’s phone. It’s pulled off pretty well but the plot amounts to little more than an excuse for nudity & gore. 5/10.
W is for Wish – Directed by Steven Kostanski (Manborg)
If you saw Manborg you know what to expect from this short, featuring two boys who wish themselves into the world of their favourite toys with gruesome results. It features the same deliberate, faux-retro visual style mixing squishy practical effects, miniatures & stop motion creatures together with some ropey greenscreen work. It looks terrible and the acting is awful, but just like Manborg it’s all clearly deliberate and somehow being so bad makes it fantastic. 9/10.
X is for Xylophone –Directed by Julien Maury & Alexandre Bustillo (Inside & Livid)
A little girl is playing her toy Xylophone as her mother sits by. This compact short ends on a mortifying, taboo-breaking image that genuinely shocked me, and crucially makes that seem like a good thing. An understated gothic styling really adds another layer to this short. 9/10.
Y is for Youth – Directed by Soichi Umezawa
A teenage girl fantasises about various brutal & imaginative ways for her abusive & neglectful parents to die. Her internal monologue narrates the gruesome and totally bizarre imagery, all pulled off with rudimental but effective practical effects. I think it could only be a Japanese short that could manage so well in portraying hilariously ridiculous visuals whilst simultaneously invoking genuine sympathy for the main character. Very basic filming works in its favour, with some fantastic editing elevating it further. 9/10.
Z is for Zygote – Directed by Chris Nash
Dark fantasy & body horror meet in this twisted short about a woman eating mysterious roots to prolong her pregnancy while waiting for her husband to return from wherever he’s gone. The child continues to grow however, and the effects are fantastic at selling impossible to comprehend images. Defying the odds, it gets many times more horrifying before the end. I loved this short but if I met the person who dreamt these images up I don’t know if I’d shake their hand or run away! 9/10.
All in all, it’s obviously a mixed bag, but that is unavoidable when 26 very different directors are given free reign. That said, the good outweighs the bad and there are very only a small handful of segments that I thought were awful. While many anthologies have the luxury of mixing the order to perhaps bury a poorer segment in between particularly good ones for example, ABCs restricts itself to a definite order, so there are some unfortunate low points, particularly in the middle from K to M, but luckily the last 4 are consistently some of the strongest in the whole film.
It’s interesting also to see how many segments take the opportunity to say something, rather than just being exploitative. Speaking of which, sit through (or fast-forward) the gargantuan credit sequence for a cool post-credits scene with a cameo from a certain controversial figure. Taking an average of my scores for the shorts works out to about 6.5/10 and actually, factoring in the cool styling between segments and generally the fact that I love the whole idea, despite the restrictions of the anthology format meaning it’s not consistently great from start to end, I think that’s near enough right.