The ABC’s of Death is probably one of the most ambitious horror spectacles ever conceived: 25 letters of the alphabet, 25 directors from all over the world, and total free reign on the choice of project other than sticking to your letter. Obviously with something this big, spanning numerous countries and cultures, the outcome was always going to be eclectic and, most of all, utterly bizarre.
Directors like Jason Eisener (Hobo with a Shotgun), Ben Wheatley (Kill List), and Ti West (House of The Devil) answer the call to add their own short vision of horror, but most important perhaps is that the ABC’s consist of new and upcoming talent. Adam Wingard and Ti West are of course no strangers to anthology horror having been responsible for two segments of last year’s VHS, however while Wingard’s humorous Q is for Quack steps out of the screen to offer a break from excessive gore and disturbia, West’s short M is for Miscarriage is a dull and disappointing attempt from an accomplished new name in horror. This perhaps best encapsulates the spirit of the project, the ABC’s is not a compendium of horror shorts, it’s an exploration of the limits and potential contents of horror. Some of the films are wonderful, and leave us wanting more than the peak we’ve had, whilst others can’t finish quick enough.
One of the most endearing qualities of the ABC’s is the vast array of styles and tones which combine to make it a true variety performance. Marcel Sarmiento’s D is for Dogfight channels Guy Ritchie-esque grit whilst boasting one of the roundest and most accomplished stories. Timo Tjahjanto’s L is for Libido is hands-down the most disturbing of the films achieving genuinely sickening reaction and proving to be the most troubling to watch. In terms of visual impact Bruno Forzani and Helene Cattet’s O is for Orgasm wins top prize, addressing the death/sex relationship in the most experimental, beautiful, and accomplished entry to the film. The ABC’s is far from perfect viewing though, many of the films dwindle into obscurity or punch a little too high, or sometimes even achieve a level of abrasion that surpasses discomfort and goes straight to irritating. F is for Fart and Z is for Zetsumetsu, two of the Japanese entries, are so utterly bonkers and ridiculously anti-narrative that they become tiresome quickly. I could go through the whole lot but it would ruin some wonderful/awful surprises since watching the ABC’s totally blind is perhaps the best way, especially when the titles are often the punch lines to elaborate and unsettling tales.
Horror gets a bad rap as a dead-end genre with little left to say except ‘scream, stab, and torture’: there are no more lines to cross, or envelopes to push. Yet here we find a truly interesting cross-section of modern horror from across the globe, addressing a varied selection of subjects. The ABC’s of Death is far from perfect, the bad films tend to be the ones that blatantly go for the shock factor, whilst the really bad are the ones that inspire no reaction what so ever. Thankfully there’s not too many of those. Somewhere in there are the makings of something great: many of the entries are unsettling, some are hilarious, others are simply batshit bonkers insane. Key to this film are the constant feelings that things are being examined, mulled over, situations are being addressed whilst the viewer tries to figure out what the hell is going on. The envelope has indeed been pushed.
Dir: Jason Eisener, Ti West, Ben Wheatley, Marcel Sarmiento, etc
Stars: Steve Berens, Michael Smiley, Tim Dunn, Rylan Logan,