On the heels of the recent successful horror anthology revival, The ABCs of Death is one that really stands out in terms of concept. It has a segment for each letter of the alphabet, and each segment is to be conceived and directed by a different director who is assigned their letter. With 26 horror shorts surrounding the theme of death, all done by well known players of the genre, it sounds like a horror fan’s dream. However I was slightly put off by the first several segments. It started to seem to be like the directors were either seeing how shocking they could be, or see who could have the most disgusting sense of humor. There was an abundance of toilet (there is a segment called “T is for Toilet), feces, and flatulence (yes, there is even one called “F is for Fart”) humor that got old really quick. I had the expectation of a horror film surrounding the theme of death, which surely has room for some dark humor just as well as some seriousness. I truly felt like 70% of this film was mostly comedy, and not a very accessible or even consistent form of comedy at that, which really overshadowed those few gems that really nailed the idea behind the concept. Rather than go through all 26, here are just a few of the standouts that I thought made it all worth it and were what I had in mind when I thought of this concept:
- C is of Cycle, by Ernesto Diaz Espinoza – A man essentially observes another version of himself and a cycle repeats. A bit of a mind bender, which I love.
- L is for Libido, by Timo Tjahjanto – This is perhaps the most disturbing of all of the segments, but one of the most effective. It involves men captured and bound, forced to pleasure themselves to various scenes to completion or face their death. Hard to watch, pretty vulgar, but it is a gruesome and twisted way to die which is what this is all about.
- M is for Miscarriage, by Ti West – A woman uses the bathroom only to discover…well you can guess from the title of this segment. Quick and to the point, dark and depressing but totally effective for the subject matter.
- O is for Orgasm, by Bruno Forzani & Héléne Cattet – This one to me didn’t encapsulate the death theme as much as the others, but I was engrossed in the imagery and sounds, not just because of the erotic nature, but the artistic way everything was put together.
- S is for Speed, by Jake West – If I could pick out one segment to show the feeling I think this collection should represent, I would pick S is for Speed. Two women go on the run from a hooded figure, who soon catches up to them, leading up to a final confrontation. Well thought out and executed, and leaves you with a depressing feeling.
- V is for Vagitus (The Cry of a Newborn Baby), by Kaare Andrews – The more sci-fi addition to the line-up involves a futuristic plot with robot cops, tattooed scientists, and telepathic babies. The concept was pretty wild, and I could see a full length coming from this one. Again, this one strays from the death concept a bit, but it was so well done and unique I just had to point it out.
- X is for XXL, by Xavier Gens – An overweight woman is relentlessly taunted on her way home. Once home, she gorges herself on food while a nonstop flow of diet commercials flood the TV. Our character then proceeds to do some body image modifications of her own. The gore element is strong in this one as is its message.
- Y is for Youngbuck, by Jason Eisener – This one plays out more like a music video than a film, with its 80s-sounding synth music in the background. We’re shown an older man hunting with a young boy, later the young boy is playing basketball while the older man is a custodian watching him play. There are some truly uncomfortable scenes to watch, but this one really stands out in terms of style and effectiveness.
In conclusion, in terms of an anthology, I think 26 parts is maybe too many. On one hand you have enough room to have something for everyone, but on the other hand it makes the theme get a little less cohesive. In any case this collaborative effort was certainly an experience and with a part 2 already given the go-ahead, hopefully we’ll have a few more worthwhile ones to look forward to.