Let’s get it out of the way right now; as a film, The ABCs Of Death is virtually impossible to review. Principally because it isn’t a film – it’s a mini-film festival with all the strengths, weaknesses, quality, tone and taste issues inherent in such an event.
So, The ABCs Of Death gives us 26 short films by 28 of the most interesting, inventive and talented directors (almost exclusively male – the likes of theTwisted Twins, Jennifer Lynch and Elisabeth Fies are notable by their absence) currently working in the horror genre from 15 countries around the world. Each film costs around five grand and lasts around five minutes with no space to breathe between segments and there’s no thematic framing story or link other than that of the alphabet and the child’s building blocks floating in blood that act as titles for each episode – oh, and each film must involve at least one death, often the more splatterific the better. There’s slasher movies, monster movies, revenge movies, torture-porn, sci-fi, CGI, Japanese pink films, puppet films and claymation starring killer robots, Nazi stripper foxes, murderous toilets, flatulent schoolgirls, vampire hunting mobs, Man’s Best Friend, Russ Meyer-esque Amazons, doomed samurai, innocent ducks and Death himself.
Wildly uneven, often childishly crude – there’s almost as much farting, excrement, and gouting semen as there is blood, guts and gore – the films themselves are something of a mixed bag; some gritty, some surreal, some stunning, some stunningly bad. Some, most notably Kaare Andrews dystopian sci-fi V is for Vagitus are begging for a big-budget, feature-length remake. Others, like Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett’s hilarious comedy of errors Q is for Quack (which involves two men, two guns and one duck) or Timecrimesdirector Nacho Vigalondo’s poignant A is for Apocalypse are simply good-natured fun while Ti West’s M is for Miscarriage is a supremely bad taste joke. Though modern horror feminist icon Angela Bettis disappoints with her spider’s eye view E is for Exterminate, Britain’s own Jake West surprises withS is for Speed, an ambitious, adrenaline-fuelled Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!pastiche that owes as much to Ambrose Bierce and Ingmar Bergman as it does Russ Meyer.
Yoshihiro Nishimura’s Z is for Zetsumetsu may contain ABCs’ most deliberately, shockingly, transgressively calculated image (rest assured – naked jiggling breasts are involved) but for sheer balls out, jaw-dropping nastiness that makes you want to wash your brain out with bleach, the masturbationcontest at the heart of Indonesian director Timo Tjahjanto’s L is for Libido may be the most unsettling, upsetting exploration of the dark side of human desire since Srdjan Spasojevic’s (who contributes the bloody R is for Removed) A Serbian Film. Perhaps the angriest, most overtly political (and the only truly feminist) film however is the brilliant, stunning X is for XXL by French directorXavier Gens, a graphic critique of body image, self-loathing and society’s obsession with thinness and traditional concepts of beauty.
The most satisfying segment though is Deadgirl director Marcel Sarmiento’s D is for Dogfight, a breathtaking, brutal, visceral and beautiful tale of love and loyalty that’s as heartwarming as it is disturbing; more A Boy And His Dog than Man Bites Dog (though it does feature a man biting a dog!).
Like a Sesame Street segment for serial killers (think a coked up Cookie Monster with a chainsaw carving his ABCs into Elmo), how much you enjoy The ABCs Of Death may depend on just how sick your sense of humour may be but the beauty of the concept is its diversity. It doesn’t matter if you hate one film, chances are you’ll like the next. Or the one after. Or the one after that. Hugely ambitious and gleefully boundary-pushing, The ABCs Of Death is destined to be a late-night cult classic.