The ABCs of Death (2012)
Directors: Angela Bettis, Ti West, Ben Wheatley, Nacho Vigalondo, Srdjan Spasojevic, Xavier Gens, Adam Wingard, Noboru Iguchi, Kaare Andrews, Jason Eisener, Lee Hardcastle, Timo Tjahjanto, Jake West, Yoshihiro Nishimura, Anders Morgenthaler, Jon Schnepp, Jorge Michel Grau, Banjong Pisanthanakun, Simon Rumley, Marcel Sarmiento, Andrew Traucki, Bruno Forzani, Adrián García Bogliano, Thomas Cappelen Malling, Yudai Yamaguchi, Hélène Cattet, Ernesto Díaz Espinoza
Starring: Eva Llorach, Alejandra Urdiain, Harold Torres, Matías Oviedo, Steve Berens, Brenden McVeigh, Arisa Nakamura, Yui Murata, Martine Arnes, Johannes Eilertsen, Adriana Paz, Takashi Nishina, Paul Foster, Wiwatt Krongrasri, Orn-Arnin Peerachakajornpatt, Yvanna Hilton, Adam Wingard, Simon Barrett, Slobodan Bestic, Darenzia, Lucy Clements, Kyra Zagorsky, Michael Rogers, Jon Schnepp, Tommy Blacha, Sissi Duparc, Tim Dunn, Rylan Logan, Je$$ica, Hiroko Yashiki, Seminosuke Murasugi, Arata Yamanaka
(out of 4)
Purina again? Come on!
Warning: Some screenshots in this post are probably NSFW.
One good thing about anthology films is that if you don’t like a particular segment, just wait awhile for the next one. Typically, you’ll get about 3 to 5 stories in your horror anthology film, but The ABCs of Death is nothing if not ambitious: in the span of 2 hours, it gives you 26 short films from 26 different directors from around the globe. The idea behind The ABCs of Death is that each director was asked to make a short film about death based on a word starting with a certain letter of the Latin alphabet. You may recognize the names of some of the contributors: Jason Eisener, Xavier Gens, Noboru Iguchi, Yoshihiro Nishimura, Srdjan Spasojevic, and Ti West, to name a few. The concept for the film was invented by producer Ant Timpson (the ending credits say it was “based on a nightmare” by him) who was inspired by his son’s ABC books. (Ant Timpson is a programmer for the New Zealand International Film Festival among other things; right now he’s working on a project with Jason Eisener called Turbo Kid). Helping to produce the horror anthology is Tim League, co-founder of The Alamo Drafthouse. I think the best way to review this film is to look at each short individually, so let’s relearn our alphabet and start with the letter A.
A is for Apocalypse
Director: Nacho Vigalondo
It begins violently, as a woman attacks her bed-ridden husband with a large knife and then follows up with a frying pan. It all has to do with a plan to slowly poison him, but the apocalypse seems to have arrived, which has accelerated her timetable. At first I didn’t get this one, then I figured it – here’s a woman who always finishes what she starts, end of the world be damned.
B is for Bigfoot
Director: Adrián García Bogliano
A woman (Alejandra Urdiain) convinces her boyfriend’s little cousin to go to bed early by telling him a story of a vicious snowman who eats the hearts of children who don’t go to bed when they are supposed to. Then the real bogeyman shows up (but it’s not Bigfoot). Well directed, but where’s Bigfoot?
C is for Cycle
Director: Ernesto Díaz Espinoza
Weird short about a guy (Matías Oviedo) who seems to have copies of himself running around. I didn’t really get this one; seems like it was inspired by Timecrimes or something similar, but there’s not much going on here to hold interest.
*Note: in the DVD special features section, there are some deleted scenes from Cycle that suggest there’s some kind of body-snatchers thing going on. I’m not sure it helps to figure out the plot, though.
D is for Dogfight
Director: Marcel Sarmiento
One of the best shorts in the film, in terms of pure visuals. A man (Steve Berens) is forced to fight a dog (Riley the Dog), who gains the upper paw. That is, until doggie realizes the dude he’s fighting is his long lost owner. Played like a music video (to “An Adagio for Tandems Stacked” by Teargas & Plateglass), this is a well directed, energetic short that’s fun to watch.
E is for Exterminate
Director: Angela Bettis
A guy is really annoyed by a spider in his house. He eventually crushes the spider, but it’s too late – the spider has already laid its eggs in a place he doesn’t suspect. Kinda predictable.
F is for Fart
Director: Noburo Iguchi
Just blame it on the radiation. Always blame it on the radiation.
One of the most bizarre (and gross) shorts in The ABCs of Death, and that’s saying something. Japanese director Noburo Iguchi (RoboGeisha, Machine Girl) shows off his fascination with bodily functions as a girl (Arisa Nakamura) who is embarrassed by her farting runs away from a black gas cloud with Miss Yumi (Yui Murata), whom she has a crush on. Has a funny line: “Maybe this black gas is a fart from the ass of God.” With death closing in, the girl tells Miss Yumi she’d rather breath in her flatulence then the deadly gas coming for them, so Miss Yumi obliges. It all ends in a very weird, Japanese way. As gross as it is, I think Iguchi is trying to make a comment on intimacy, which means accepting both the good and the not-so-good (smelly) sides of your significant other. As Miss Yumi says “Let us pass beyond the boundaries of good taste and become one together.” No doubt – Iguchi leaves good taste in the dust.
G is for Gravity
Director: Andrew Traucki
Point-of-view cam used on a surfer who heads out to the ocean and then sinks to the bottom. The end. You might be asking “That’s it?” until you remember the quick scene of the dude putting bricks in his backpack. Poetic in a way but not particularly compelling.
H is for Hydro-Electric Diffusion
Director: Thomas Cappelen Malling
Told in the style of a live-action cartoon, complete with a dog-man soldier at a club watching a feline-woman stripper. The time period is WW2, the dog-man is a Brit and the stripper reveals herself to be a Nazi, who tries to kill him. In his head, Winston Churchill urges him to “keep calm, carry on, never surrender!” This one is amusing as WW2 propaganda cartoons are, director Malling being a fan of propaganda as an art form. As a bonus, there’s cat-woman boobs.
I is for Ingrown
Director: Jorge Michel Grau
This is without a doubt the most sad segment, and features a very disturbing death scene, where a woman (Adriana Paz) is tied up and injected with drain cleaner by her dirtbag husband. We hear her thoughts during her last moments. Things are made a bit more clear about the director’s intentions during the ending credits, which state “2015 women murdered in the last 10 years in Mexico; 200 women a month; the horror is not on the screen.” Powerful.
J is for Jidai-Geki
Director: Yûdai Yamaguchi
The samurai ritual of seppuku involves not only a man disemboweling himself, but having an assistant standing by, ready to perform kaishaku, cutting the man’s head off. This short features the assistant (a “kaishakunin”) who can’t help laughing at the ridiculous facial expressions on the face of the guy committing harakiri. I admit to laughing at this one; director Yamaguchi (Meatball Machine) knows how to find humor in the most unlikely places.
K is for Klutz
Director: Anders Morgenthaler
Animated short about a party-going woman who can’t seem to flush her little poo down the toilet. With other guests banging on the door, the poo turns the tables on her, killing her in the process. This one is ok for what it is, I suppose.
L is for Libido
Director: Timo Tjahjanto
I find this difficult to maturbate to. Or do I…
The most perverse of the bunch, I think, this one features a “game of death” to the delight of onlookers. Two men are strapped to chairs as nude women appear in front of them. The object is to masturbate and climax first. The loser gets a wooden spike shoved through him, ass-to-mouth (real nice party). Each level gets harder, as the people on the stage become less attractive (one legged woman followed by a small boy being raped). Losing out to a pedophile contestant, the man later finds a female on top of him and is enjoying himself until she pulls out a chainsaw. I’m not sure what Tjahjanto is trying to say here other than to comment on how sex and violence seem to be intertwined. Perhaps he sees our current internet age as something that destroys our imagination and sense of eroticism; only the most perverted imagery is able to arouse us now. It’s pretty twisted stuff, anyway.
M is for Miscarriage
Director: Ti West
Trying to get rid of all copies of Cabin Fever 2.
If the Libido segment wasn’t enough to drive people out of the theater, perhaps Ti West’s Miscarriage segment would do the trick. A woman (looking like a girl out of the 50s) can’t flush her toilet; she finally finds a plunger and the camera zooms into the toilet bowl, showing us the bloody remains of… well, you know. Honestly, I don’t know why this particular segment would be more offensive than the previous one. This one is just a lazy entry from West; it shows that he didn’t really care about his entry into the film other than to give a very basic gross-out joke. Yawn.
N is for Nuptials
Director: Banjong Pisanthanakun
Guy gets a bird for his girlfriend, which he taught to speak. “Will you marry me?” the bird asks. His girlfriend is ecstatic, until the bird starts reciting things like “Don’t be scared… my girlfriend won’t know” and sounds of another woman in throes of orgasm. Worth a chuckle, I guess, but it’s a very old joke.
O is for Orgasm
Director: Bruno Forzani
An artistic entry by Forzani and writer Hélène Cattet, showing, I think, the thoughts going through a woman’s head as she orgasms. The end shows her being choked with a belt (autoerotic asphyxiation). I assume that she dies (given that this is a film about death, after all) but it’s not made clear. Visually and aurally, this short is impressive.
P is for Pressure
Director: Simon Rumley
A woman in poverty is forced to resort to prostitution to care for her three children. Her boyfriend steals her hidden cash and she is forced to give sexual favors to her landlord. Desperation leads her to a mysterious man who films her crushing the head of a cat with the heel of her shoe. This one actually isn’t bad, for its tragic portrayal of a desperate woman and it has good street scenes. Animal lovers take note: you never see the actual cat-crushing.
Q is for Quack
Director: Adam Wingard
Even though I saw the end coming, I still enjoyed this meta-take, as Wingard and his writer Simon Barrett film themselves talking over what to do for their Q segment. They decide to kill a duck on camera but it doesn’t go as planned. (The ending credits dedicated the short to “Mr. Quackers the Duck”). The pair also manage to get in a crack at Nacho Vigalondo. Some good lines: “American pigs… they’re the real killers, not us!”
R is for Removed
Director: Srdjan Spasojevic
Another one that is among the best of the shorts, this is a symbolic take on the death of film. A man has patches of his skin sliced off and put in water, out which comes strips of film. The man escapes from his captivity and makes it to a train station car before he dies. Might be confusing if you don’t understand the connection to the birth of film. Remember that at one point, the man’s captors are watching The Great Train Robbery on a television. Very smart and a bit surprising coming from the director of A Serbian Film.
S is for Speed
Director: Jake West
This is another one I liked: a woman (Darenzia) and her hostage (Lucy Clements) are pursued by a hooded man who can’t be killed, either by bullets or fire. Turns out she’s being pursued by death. This one is also a bit predictable, but I enjoyed the style of it, which is in the form of a desert/road movie.
T is for Toilet
Director: Lee Hardcastle
This one is done in claymation. The parents of a young boy help him get over his fear of using the toilet. By the end of the short, the audience realizes that the boy’s fears were well-founded. The stop-motion animation allows Hardcastle to do some good gore stuff. It’s kinda like Sloaches Funhouse but easier to take, since you don’t have to see closeups of feces or semen.
U is for Unearthed
Director: Ben Wheatley
A fun segment, shot from the point of view of a vampire who awakens, kills villagers, then is finally slain. Found footage style; not groundbreaking but it does the job.
V is for Vagitus
Director: Kaare Andrews
Probably the most creative short, Vagitus takes place in “New Vancouver,” 2035, where the government has a division called Propagation Control. An infertile female police officer (Kyra Zagorsky) takes out a bunch of terrorists along with her robot companion Nezbit (what the hell, just call it ED-209). The officer is hypnotized by a family of “mentals” but the robot isn’t fooled, and kills the man, woman, and child. She soon finds out that this is no ordinary child, even with its head separated from its body. This one plays out like a feature film; what’s cool about it is that in the space of only a few minutes, we get a full story and even a character arc of sorts, and we have a general idea of what it’s like in the dystopian future of 2035. Kudos to Andrews.
W is for WTF!
Director: Jon Schnepp
Dude, OMG WTF BBQ
This one has divided people as well but I love the randomness of it. It goes meta, like the Q segment, where Jon Schnepp is trying to figure out what to do for “W”. All of a sudden, the TV news says there are weird chemtrails in the skies, followed by an invasion of clown zombies. Things just go absolutely haywire from then on – a giant walrus with lasers, warrior women killing trolls, heads being ripped off, a monster with a giant mouth for a face, a giant brain in space, and a cartoon warlock. All while the TV newsman spouts insanities like “Lie in the waste of your own vision, gutter punks to bigger words that you ate years ago!” You’ll be asking “What the fuck?!” which happens to be the name of this segment.
X is for XXL
Director: Xavier Gens
An overweight woman (Sissi Duparc) is brought to her breaking point from being taunted by strangers over her size while being exposed to messages from a slim supermodel (Yasmine Meddour) on television. She grabs a knife and decides to give herself a makeover… XXL comes from French filmmaker Xavier Gens (Frontier(s), The Divide), and while it’s an obvious commentary on self-image and how the media portrays the “perfect” female form (to unhealthy effect), it’s no less effective. The pain shown on screen is just as much emotional as it is physical. Stinger: the woman, now badly mutilated, tries to strike a pose before collapsing.
Y is for Youngbuck
Director: Jason Eisener
When a twisted janitor walks into the empty school gymnasium and begins lapping up “youth dew” from the sweaty benches, you know you’re crossed over into the world of Jason Eisener (Hobo With A Shotgun, Treevenge). In this short, said janitor (Tim Dunn) is also shown in flashback forcing a young boy (Rylan Logan) to shoot a deer, after which Dunn’s character cuts its head off and pisses on it. Needless to say, the kid has been traumatized, and the janitor gets his comeuppance. There’s a bit where the kid wears the severed deer head but nothing as gross as that sweat-drinking scene. I can handle spurting blood but that’s just gross. The whole thing is shot dreamlike, to a great cheesy score by the band Powerglove which brings to mind 1980s-era video games and workout videos featuring scantily clad females with large hair and leotards.
Z is for Zetsumetsu
Director: Yoshihiro Nishimura
Another truly WTF moment in an anthology full of them. Yoshihrio Nishimura (Tokyo Gore Police) lets loose with an abstract series of images featuring nudity, a guy spoofing Dr. Strangelove, nods to Nazisploitation (actress Je$$ica channeling Dyanne Thorne, I think), shooting sperm that looks like rice, and an ending fight between the nude Ilsa and a nude Japanese woman, where the blonde has a giant penis (from which a blade shoots out of the tip). I think Nishimura wants to talk about the return of fascism but in a new form, the (seemingly unhealthy) alliance between Japan and America, and the recent nuclear accident in Fukushima. Zetsumetsu means “extinction” – Nishimura is suggesting we are on our way. In the end, though, this one truly gives the WTF segment a run for its money.
Ending Thoughts on The ABCs of Death
Uneven, to be sure, and filled with more themes of “perversion” than that of “death” if you ask me. Lots of toilet humor, nudity, gore, poo, semen, and sweat; never boring, but if you are looking for truly deep insights into the nature of death, well, keep looking. However, for all the dull, lazy, and inexplicable shorts, there are a handful of really good ones, making The ABCs of Death worth the viewing. The film takes the philosophy of “let’s throw everything + the kitchen sink against the wall and see what sticks.” But because there are 26 of these damn things, that position works out in the end. Shame on Ti West, though, for being so damned lazy.
- Bill Gordon
Comin At ya!
Bill’s Favorite Letters are:
- D for Dogfight. Visually great.
- I for Ingrown. Depressing and powerful.
- Q for Quack. Funny.
- R is for Removed. Symbolic and quite brilliant in a way.
- S is for Speed. Energetic and well done for what it is.
- V is for Vagitus. Good, violent sci-fi.
- W is for WTF! Totally random, chaotic. I laughed at this one too.
- X is for XXL. Powerful in its message.
- Y is for Youngbuck. Worth it for Eisener’s style alone.
- Z is for Zetsumetsu. Inexplicable. Must be seen to be believed.
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The ABCs of Death, Part 2 will arrive sometime in 2014.