It’s a concept that would make any horror fan wet themselves.
26 genre directors from across the world are assigned a letter of the alphabet with which to create a short film. They are given a small budget and complete creative freedom. The results are then compiled into a feature portmanteau, produced and distributed by (the already beloved) Drafthouse Films.
Of course, it could easily become an absolute mess. While the general theme of death creates a small level of thematic consistency, the actual content is massively diverse. A humorous short featuring an anthropomorphic Nazi dog or a stop motion tribute to toilets can be immediately followed up with gritty, hyper-violent and disturbing imagery (which I won’t spoil here). The whole thing can feel like whiplash, and the pace of the project as a whole can be rather overwhelming. Thankfully, even some of the somber entries tend to have a wicked streak of black humor, though more squeamish audience members will have plenty to wretch about.
I was actually pleasantly surprised by the variety, and the quality, of the shorts as a whole. While the directors and content tend to blend together (the purpose of the letters actually gets abandoned fairly quicklyy, with the final result only tangentially relating to the already vague words), there was never a point where I felt exhausted or burned out by the sheer barrage of imagery. Perhaps oddly, some of my more anticipated contributors – Ti West’s entry and TIMECRIMES’ Nacho Vigalando in particular – fall mostly flat, while some I was more weary of – the D IS FOR DOGFIGHT contribution by DEADGIRL director Marcel Sarmiento; Srdjan Spasojevic’s (A SERBIAN FILM) R IS FOR REMOVED – ended up being notable highlights. Perhaps most surprising was my enjoyment of Noboru Iguchi’s (MACHINE GIRL) closing entry, which combined his usual insane FX work with a truly apocalyptic tribute to DR. STRANGELOVE designed (as stated by Iguchi in the post-screening Q&A) specifically so it could never be shown in Japan. I usually don’t care for Iguichi’s rubbery style, but the sheer audacity felt appropriate to end on.
It’s hard to review a film like THE ABC’S OF DEATH without just listing the films that do and don’t work, or at least the shorts that make an impression. Adam Wingard’s hilarious Q FOR QUACK ends up taking a unique, documentary-style approach to how the director chose his particular subject matter, while Jason Eisener’s Y FOR YOUNGBLOOD continues his streak of inventive, 80s-inspired horror goodness. But it’s a film that will thrive on DVD/BLU-RAY where fans can skip the weaker entries to get to, say, Noboru Iguchi’s F FOR FART – which is truly one of the most bizarre things I’ve seen this year.
Necessarily inconsistent, THE ABC’S OF DEATH makes for thrilling initial watch, simply because you never know what’s coming next. Thankfully, the best of the bunch are worthy of repeated viewings, with it’s 60% hit rate more than enough for a strong recommendation. With so few complete flops, and enough humor to sustain the more somber moments, it’s a must-see for genre fans of the youtube generation.
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