The ABC's of Death

The ABC's of Death
Even the most thematically assured anthology films tend to be a mixed bag. The structural gimmick driving The ABC's of Death takes this tendency to the nth degree. Twenty-six directors (mostly from the horror and sci-fi world) were given a letter of the alphabet, a 5,000-dollar budget and tasked with coming up with a short film depicting a way to die based on a word of their choosing that starts with their assigned letter.

They were also given carte blanche to indulge in their most grotesque whims, which to some contributors meant an excuse for sexually explicit and excessively graphic violence. Others created works of unadulterated, depraved ridiculousness and still others used it as an opportunity to spin some cutting gallows humour.

Time Crimes director Nacho Vigalondo kicks things off at "A", which turns out to be the craftiest entry in the entire program, guiding startling violence into cartoonish comedy before delivering a genuinely surprising and emotionally complex, but still darkly funny twist.

While each letter is presented sequentially, the director's chosen word isn't revealed until the end of each short. Some use the title as a punch line or revelation, some to underscore or elucidate the piece's theme, while weaker efforts (like Ti West's Miscarriage) just give a name to obvious events or are a cheat to justify a disgusting fascination (Jason Eisener's horrible, distasteful Young Buck).

Between existentialist musings about shame and social etiquette by way of fart fetishizing (set to classical music, a school girl asphyxiates on her female choir teacher's butt perfume) and a labia-baring Nazi brandishing a dong-sword at a naked lady who shoots vegetable projectiles from her vagina (good luck guessing which letter that applies to), the Japanese submissions easily walk away with the Bizzaro award.

Each individual approach varies wildly in style, intent and quality. Style often wins out over substance (Dogfight is grittily pretty, in that high contrast lighting, super-slow motion way, but slight). However, the two do meet a few times, most noticeably in the expressionistic comingling of pleasure and pain with "O" and even more so in the uncompromisingly bleak sci-fi population control parable of "V" (the only short that begs for expansion).

It's not especially surprising that some horror directors have issues with bodily functions, with at least three shorts focused on toilet anxiety (the Claymation killer crapper is kind of funny), nor is it unexpected that there's a lot of harsh self-seriousness (Pressure) and a few attempts at mocking cop-outs (Quack).

Without much room for consistency, it's hard to imagine many viewers enjoying even half of what's offered, and the draw of curiosity won't be enough for all but the most entrenched horror fans. (VSC)