The ABCs of Death


US/New Zealand | 2012 | Directed by 26 directors

Logline: Twenty-six short films that involve death and are individually based around a word beginning with each letter of the alphabet.

Unusual bedfellows; American and New Zealand, this concept from co-producer Ant Timpson (well-known in NZ for being the director and programmer of the Incredibly Strange Film Festival) is far more successful on the page than it is in the flesh, so to speak. A two-hour anthology of twenty-six short films with the tenuous thematic content of “death”, each short directed by, mostly, up-and-coming horror directors from various different countries, each short (roughly five minutes long) is a single word title (with one curious exception) from a letter of the alphabet.

I was expecting great things from this ambitious project. I’d heard good things, and there were numerous directors onboard whose feature work I had enjoyed. I was bitterly disappointed. Of the twenty-six shorts there were just a precious five that stood head and shoulders above the rest of the compilation in terms of the calibre of execution and wit (admittedly their word selection lacked imagination, but they made up for it with interpretation).

I was really disappointed with the results of several of the directors whose previous work I know and like; “P is for Pressure” by Simon Rumley (Red, White, and Blue) seemed completely out of place, lacking any kind of horror elements, “M is for Miscarriage” by Ti West (The House of the Devil) was a bad gag that wasn’t even slightly funny, just made you gag as the camera plunged into the bloody debris, and “R is for Removed” by Srdjan Spasojevic (A Serbian Film) was nowhere near as outrageous and nightmarish as it should have been, and “Y is for Youngbuck” by Jason Eisener (Hobo with a Shotgun) left a truly unpleasant taste in my mouth.


Then there was the mediocre efforts of “B is for Bigfoot” by Adrian Garcia Bogliano (I'll Never Die Alone "I is for Ingrown” by Jorge Michel Grau (Let Sleeping Corpses Lie), both of which had the potential to be much more frightening and disturbing than they actually were. Grau’s personal message in the end credits stating that 200 women are murdered in Mexico each month, “the horror is not on the screen”, was the anthology’s most powerful indictment. But it’s the POV surfer “G is for Gravity” by Aussie Andrew Truacki (Black Water, The Reef) that had me bewildered. I watched it three times and still didn’t get it.


I’m not sure what Ant Timpson’s original brief was to the director’s (apart from giving each director six months, six weeks and six days to deliver), but the scatological element that reared its ugly head in more than a few of the shorts failed to impress me, let alone tickle my fancy (and where, pray tell, was the token Kiwi-directed short?!) The shock aspect of a few also to move me in any intelligent way; any horror aesthetic lost under the weight of contrivance; Timo Tjahjanto’s “L is for Libido” was far from titillating, Yudai Yamaguchi’s “J is for Jidai-geki” was that perverse splatstick sub-genre that is either your cup of green tea or not, while Noboru Iguchi’s “F is for Fart” was utterly execrable.


So, just what were the half-decent shorts then? The expressionistic colour-texture wash, “O is for Orgasm” by Hélene Cattet & Bruno Forzani (Amer), who played with the French phrase “petit mort” (little death), the wry “Q is for Quack” by Adam Wingard (You're Next), one of two shorts (and easily the better one) that dealt with the filmmakers struggling to fit the anthology brief, “X is for XXL” (one of two shorts that weren’t based on actual words) by Xavier Gens (Frontiers) saved its horror ‘til the end, and delivered properly, and the two best shorts of the entire bunch: the urgent, creepy, and bang-on effective “U is for Unearthed” by Ben Wheatley (Kill List).


Lee Hardcastle’s brilliant “T is for Toilet”, whose claymation shorts and horror spoofs on are a highlight (check out Chainsaw Maid 2 and Done in 60 Seconds. With Clay), delivered the anthology’s best short. Despite my dislike for scatological humour, Hardcastle’s little boy’s worst nightmare was superb filmmaking. It was also the “goriest” and most inspired, considering the title. I hope to see a feature from him one day.

Anthology’s are a tricky thing to get 100% right. The ABCs of Death bit off far more than it could ever hope to chew, however, the clutch of good shorts - especially Lee Hardcastle’s – make the crap ones worth enduring (or skipping entirely, depending on your tolerance).

The ABCs of Death is released in Australia by Monster Pictures.