A sadistic masturbation competition; a bloodied, slim fast surgical procedure; a stripteasing Nazi fox; a sex-pest school janitor, an hysterical, face-bending samurai; and a Japanese schoolgirl who dies of her teacher’s stinking flatulence. All that, and then some, feature in the partly entertaining, wholly disturbing horror anthology film The ABCs of Death.
Co-produced by Drafthouse Films and the wonderful bunch at Austin’s Fantastic Fest, the ambitious project sees 26 directors – from 15 different countries – each given $5,000, one letter from the alphabet and one method of death, and the complete creative freedom needed to produce a short film that taps into the most devilish and decrepit stories their horrifying minds can think up. The results are gross, hilarious, nauseating, bewitching and, perhaps unsurprisingly, mixed.
It’s a full on, in-out exercise. The 2-6 minute shorts roll through at such a rollicking speed that, just when you are recuperating from a ‘death by turd’ sequence, you’re thrown into a genital mutilation romp. Bad taste is top of the menu here, meaning that some of the shorts are narratively threadbare, while others are tedious, regressive parodies. Despite all the blood splattery and exploitation tactics, the merciless two-hour minute running time feels more like a petulant, gross-out comedy exercise than a horror fest.
As if the name wasn’t a clear shot signifier, ‘M is for Miscarriage‘ is the worst of the bunch. From the anthologies most renowned filmmaker, Ti West (The Innkeepers, The House of the Devil), it’s unnecessarily crass. So poorly executed and lazy that it insults the rest of the work it’s sandwiched along side. Another poor entry comes from Metapocalypse director Jon Schnepp in ‘W is for WTF!‘, a humourless example of how an irreverent ‘film within a film’ meta-narrative can go disastrously wrong.
It’s not all bad, though. In fact, at least a solid third of the entries are great. American director Marcel Sarmiento (Dead Girl, Heavy Petting) creates a thing of macabre beauty in ‘D is for Dogfight‘, which sees a slack jawed, bare knuckle boxer take on a pernicious Lassie, in almost beautiful slow-motion effect. Equally ambitious and artful is English claymation director Lee Hardcastle’s ‘T is for Toilet‘ vignette, which hilariously encapsulates the irrational fears of a toddler as they embark on their first trip alone to the potty. Wrapping up things in brilliantly barmy fashion is Japanese nut-bar filmmaker and special effects extraordinaire Yoshihiro Nishimura with ‘Z is for Zetsumetsu‘ (meaning ‘extinction’). I could try to analyse this audacious Japanese self-loathing short, but I’m afraid that I couldn’t do justice to it’s eccentric free spirit, vegetable catapulting vaginas and rice-packed penis canons. Yes, you read that correctly.
Despite some lacklustre execution, the project itself is an audacious and impressive one. Financed solely through indie stalwart Magnolia Pictures, it thrusts twenty six ambitious new purveyors of genre-film into international cinemas, their horror hungry fans, and film financiers hoping to find the next Guillermo del Toro, John Carpenter or Takashi Miike. Unfortunately for them, talent or radical terror-vision is scarcely here. Oh well, apparently The ABCs of Death, Vol.2 will be invading your cinema screens in 2014, so we’ll get the chance to relive the nightmare all over again.
The ABCs of Death is screened as part of CPH PIX Film Festival’s ‘Midnight Madness’ series. Find out more, and book tickets, at the festival website.
The Top 5 Shorts, and directors worth keeping an eye on:
1) ‘D is for Dogfight‘, dir: Marcel Sarmiento
2) ‘Z is for Zetsumetsu‘, dir: Yoshihiro Nishimura
3) ‘X is for XXL‘, dir: Xavier Gens
4) ‘T is for Toilet’, dir: Lee Hardcastle
5) ‘L is for Libido’, dir: Timo Tjahanto