Murder capitals – The ABCs of Death review

TheABCsofDeath1

By Simon Miraudo
June 7, 2013

Pick a letter, any letter. And now contemplate your mortality. Producers Ant Timpson and Tim League (of the infamous Drafthouse cinema chain) asked this of 26 filmmakers, who each submitted a short film for their compendium The ABCs of Death. The resulting compilation is thus a nightmarish, psychoanalytic bear trap. The shorts range from gory tone poems to goofy flights of fancy to … well, whatever you call a movie wherein a Japanese schoolteacher sucks one of her students up her butt through a fart. (That one comes from Noboru Iguchi, of Zombie Ass fame! Ahem.) As you can imagine, the results are varied. If we can make any overall assessment of this demented Rorschach test, it’s this: had this been a real medical study, it would demand the institutionalisation of all participants.

The highlights include Nacho Vigalondo’s unsettling opener (which impressively switches gear about three times in three minutes); Jorge Michel Grau’s deeply upsetting entry I is for Ingrown; Ben Wheatley’s first-person POV chiller U is for Unearthed; and Yudai Yamaguchi’s offbeat ‘samurai movie,’ which captures best the right balance between comedy and genuine tension (it’s also one of many to echo Tex Avery’s cartoons; an unexpected recurring reference). As the basic mathematicians among you may have already gleaned, that leaves 22 non-highlights. Mercifully, one of the unique pleasures of an anthology – particularly one with this many separate pieces – is that even the worst entries are over in a hundred or so seconds. But, if you’re feeling especially time conscious, feel free to fast forward through the cheap-looking, undercooked C is for Cycle, E is for Exterminate, and R is for Removed, which lack the visual ingenuity and eccentricities of the others (even the bad ones).

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Oddly, there is a chronic fear of all things feminine throughout; a bizarre coincidence considering the helmers apparently worked in isolation. In one, a buffoonish, animated woman struggles to evacuate her feces. In another, a nude lady is bound and whipped (this instalment is titled O is for Orgasm). Ti West – perhaps the most talented of the assorted directors – is responsible for the briefest, and arguably most insensitive of the lot. That is quite a feat considering it follows a tale in which men are forced to masturbate over increasingly violent and offensive sights, for fear of being speared up their rectum. We have Timo Tjahjanto to thank for that gem.

If you’re dead set on watching a horror anthology, I’d sooner recommend Michael Dougherty’s Trick R Treat. That, however, is the work of one creative mind. Maybe try out The Signal instead; the combined effort of three artists picking up each act anew from wherever their predecessor may have left off. The first act is genuinely terrifying, the second blackly hilarious, and the third … well, the third is an incoherent mess.  And I suppose there’s the rub with these kinds of features. With this many cooks in the kitchen, someone’s going to stick their finger in the broth and spoil it for everyone. Seeing 26 directors wear their influences on their sleeves and reveal their interpretations of the topic is only fascinating to an extent. The ABCs of Death might prove to be more enjoyable on second watch; when you can skip straight to your favourites without subjecting yourself to the filler. Despite what the title may suggest, this is far from ‘all killer.’

2.5/5

Check out Simon Miraudo’s other reviews here.

The ABCs of Death is now available on Quickflix.

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