The ABC’s of Death (2012)

Posted: May 30, 2013 in Movies

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While almost every genre of movie has fallen trap to the cookie-cutter style of film-making with recycled stories, styles, and outcomes, original concepts in cinema don’t come around very often.

When they do, they often get buried by the money-making, unoriginal film executives who are more interested in the payoff than doing something off the beaten path. The “art” has long been missing from modern cinema, so when something comes along that shatters the mold, I feel it my duty to fill you in.

The ABC’s of Death is one of those instances, albeit a warped, gruesome, inexplicable one.

The concept? Give 26 film-makers from around the world a $5,000 budget, an-eight minute window and a letter of the alphabet randomly drawn from a hat to produce and direct a short film involving death.

The result? The strangest two hours you will ever spend watching a DVD.

The short, impressionistic segments are presented – of course – alphabetically. Each director picked a “word” that started with their assigned letter to follow the “A is for Apple” titling of their works. And that’s about all these 26 stories have in common. Some directors chose direct approaches (like M is for Miscarriage  – directed and written by Ti West) while other stories were a bit more convoluted (most notably C is for Cycle – directed and written by Ernesto Diaz Espinoza).  A few took a comedic approach, like Noboru Iguchi’s F is for Fart and the animated entries of T is for Toilet (Lee Hardcastle) and K is for Klutz (directed and written by Anders Morgenthaler), but death is really no laughing matter as shown by Xavier Gens’ X is for XXL  – a morbid tale of an obese woman literally cutting her flesh and muscle away in an attempt to look like a bikini model.

As with any collection like this, some are better than others. Andrew Traucki’s G is for Gravity was absolutely forgettable, and Y is for Youngbuck (Jason Eisener) breeches the limit of good taste in its tale of child molestation.  In addition, the fact that the director’s were pulled from an international field means a healthy dose of subtitles, and a handful of bizarre, sexual fetish pieces from the Japanese contingent (L is for Libido by Timo Tjahjanto is the most offensive thing I’ve ever witnessed).

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There is, however, far more good than bad at play here.  Ben Wheatley’s U is for Unearthed – focusing on the chase and execution of a vampire – felt worthy of its own feature film, while R is for Removed (directed and written by Srdjan Spasojevic) had the “can’t look away” magic that modern horror so greatly lacks.

With so many unknown directors on board, it was refreshing to see a few familiar names involved – and they happened to pull off the concept a little better than the rest. Adam Wingard (known for his horror/comedy films Home Sick and Pop Skull) brings his weird sense of humor to Q is for Quack, which features Adam and co-director Simon Barrett struggling to come up with an idea for the letter “Q”. The pair settle on the concept of using the word “quack”, filming nothing more than them shooting a caged duck. The dialogue is sharp and witty, the “film of making a film” idea is genius, and the end result is more funny than gruesome – and the duck survives.

Kaare Vitus is widely known for his work on the Spider-Man comics over the last fifteen years, and after directing 2010’s horror film Altitude was invited to take part in the ABC’s of Death. His piece V is for Vagitus (The Cry of a Newborn Baby) plays like a futuristic cyber-comic involving robotic law enforcement, mind-controlling rebels, and a not-so-nice newborn. With all the special effects at work here, I think they cheated on the 5K budget limit, but his entry was definitely a standout.

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Fans of Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim animated series Metalocalypse and The Venture Brothers (which I am definitely one) know the name Jon Schnepp. As director of both shows, he has pushed the creative envelope to its limits, and gets the opportunity to showcase his penchant for the unusual with his entry W is for WTF?. While the rest of the alphabetical entries here at least led to a conclusion, Schnepp’s interpretation is a wild ride through the many “w” possibilities, filled with random (and hilariously cheap) effects and vulgar imagery that makes absolutely no sense – and it’s wonderful.

So maybe you have to be a little open-minded (read: sick in the head) to sit through a couple of hours of this type of stuff. It’s bloody and disgusting, and at times completely tasteless – but beneath it all is a true feeling of art and imagination – and in today’s watered-down Hollywood, that’s a good thing.

No matter how disgusting and offensive it is.

Available on DVD/BluRay now. Rated NR. 130 minutes

7/10

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