Stephen R. Covey once said, “Strength lies in differences, not in similarities.” That’s certainly the case with The ABCs of Death, a 2012 American anthology horror film produced by Ant Timpson and Tim League. Their plan was simple, one movie consisting of 26 short films, shot by up and coming directors from 15 countries. Each director was assigned a letter of the alphabet and given free rein in choosing a word to create a story involving death.
While the individual chapters were always going to be a little hit and miss, depending on your taste in horror, the quality of filmmakers is undeniable. Marcel Sarmiento (Deadgirl), Noboru Iguchi (The Machine Girl), Yudai Yamaguchi (Tamami), Ti West (The Innkeepers), Banjong Pisanthanakun (Shutter), Adam Wingard (A Horrible Way to Die) and our very own Ben Wheatley (Kill List) lend their skills to a disjointed, occasionally offensive, often engaging and highly recommended movie going experience.
Spanish filmmaker Nacho Vigalondo is an ideal choice to get the ball rolling, having directed the sublime time travel thriller, Time Crimes. His entry, A is for Apocalypse, sets an awkward tone that ABCs never quite recovers from, but then one might argue that’s also the reason why it remained so captivating. Apocalypse is a darkly comic offering that sets a relatively high standard, one that the following two chapters fail to live up to.
One of the standout chapters arrives as early as D, with Marcel Sarmiento (Deadgirl) delivering a savagely entertaining short that delivers in every sense of the word. A lot of the stories lack closure but D is for Dogfight feels complete, and if I had to choose a favourite chapter it would probably be this. There are several gems littered throughout and the diversity at times is staggering. Q is for Quack takes a self mocking tone and is all the more enjoyable for it, Y is for Youngbuck veers into revenge territory and U is for Unearthed earns points for injecting new life into a saturated sub-genre.
If you’re looking for something a little insane you’re bound to find it here, with the Asian entries in particular offering up a heady dose of light relief. Or in the case of Noboru Iguchi’s F is for Fart, a heady dose of light release. Yudai Yamaguchi (Tamami) blends samurai styling with goofy humour in J is for Jidai-geki and Banjong Pisanthanakun (Shutter) takes us on a bloodthirsty flight of fancy. All surpassed by Lee Hardcastle’s entry, the winner of an online competition to find talented new filmmakers, who gives the concept of toilet humour an amusing and literal spin.
Lacklustre entries are inevitable of course; not least the inexcusable M is for Miscarriage, an ill-conceived shocker that smacks of laziness and distaste. The fact that it comes from Ti West – the director of The Innkeepers and The House of the Devil – makes it doubly disappointing. G is for Gravity fails to find it’s footing too, leaving you with an overwhelming sense of, ‘oh, is that it?’ They’re not the only ones either, B is for Bigfoot, E is for Exterminate and I is for Ingrown open promisingly but fail to engage in the way that they should.
There are still highlights waiting to be discovered though, with one chapter in particular proving just how far $5000 can go. V is for Vagitus (the crying of a newborn baby) is an electrifying sci-fi movie that bleeds creativity from every pour. Kaare Andrews – a Canadian comic book writer, artist and filmmaker – puts the other directors to shame in terms of jaw-dropping spectacle. His 2010 directorial debut, Altitude, is also worth checking out.
Extreme cinema finds a home in Timo Tjahjanto’s L is for Libido, an uncompromising entry that deals with ejaculation, masturbation and chainsaws. P is for Pressure has the potential of pushing animal lovers over the edge and X is for XXL makes a powerful point about appearance. Directed by Xavier Gens (Frontiers), XXL really goes for the jugular, earning its place with a sickening display of self-harm and social commentary. I’m not sure if I should be more disturbed by the subject matter or the fact that it was one of my favourite chapters.
The second half of the movie is stronger than the first, with Jon Schnepp’s entry for ‘W’ summing up the whole experience perfectly, but fans of the horror genre are bound to find something to enjoy along the way. With entries varying from 30 seconds to 5 minutes in length, there’s never enough time to get bored and the scattershot approach actually works in its favour. The ABCs proves, if nothing else, that there’s plenty of life in death, and the horror genre seems to be in very safe hands indeed. AW