The ABCs Of Death brings you twenty-six different short stories, each to do with death, from twenty-six different filmmaking teams and presented in alphabetical order no less. These shorts run the gamut from hilarious to horrifying and involve all different manner of techniques and tactics. Producers Ant Timpson and Tim League searched high and low for a wide array of talent from not only their native United States but also Canada, South America, Europe and Asia as well. Some of the names here will be pretty familiar to horror fans, others maybe not so much and the end result is as eclectic as you'd expect. The only thing that the films really have in common is that they have to deal with death and they had to be made for a cool five grand. Keeping this low budget at the forefront of our minds while evaluating this production, it should not come as a surprise then that the emphasis here is on wild creativity more so than on spectacle, but we get a surprising amount of the later quality in addition to the first.
Some vague descriptions of the movies, trying to avoid spoilers:
Nacho Vigalond kicks things off first with A Is For Apocalypse, a quickie that starts off with a woman attacking her husband with a butcher knife. Andrian Garcia Bogliano's B Is For Bigfoot shows us what happens when we try to scare little kids into going to sleep early, while Diaz Espinoza's C Is For Cycle is an odd little parable about what can happen when you come face to face with yourself. D Is For Dogfight is Marcel Sarmiento's unsettling parable about the evils of man on beast underground fighting. This is much darker than any of the first three stories and quite a grim watch, but it's very well done and the twist is a good one. E Is For Exterminate, directed by Angela Bettis (yes, the star of May), plays off of the common fear of spiders with some darkly comedic plot devices thrown in while Noboru Iguchi's F Is For Fart is a tale of the unrequited love that exists between a schoolgirl and her music teacher, both of whom have strange flatulence fetishes. No seriously. God bless you, Noboru Iguchi, we expect nothing less than total insanity from you and this short does not disappoint in that regard.
Moving right along, Andrew Traucki's G Is For Gravity is one of only two â€˜first person' style shorts in the feature and it follows someone on a surf board as they head out to sea. It's very quick, to the point, and kind of depressing. On the complete opposite side of that spectrum, next up is H Is For Hydro-Electric Diffusion from Thomas Cappelen Malling. Here we see a WWII era British airman or, actually, air dog watching a cat stripper who turns out to be more than just a foxy dancer. Fans or furries will enjoy this one. It's bizarre and it's got a lot of flying body parts in it, obviously inspired by old Looney Tunes cartoons. Jorge Michel Grau;s I Is For Ingrown is a stick and nasty bit about a man who holds a woman captive, while K Is For Klutz, by Anders Morganthaler, is a bizarre and fairly gross cartoon about a woman whose bowel movement gives her more than she bargained for when she tries to flush it down.
J Is For Jidai-Geki is a humorous bit about on man's awkward attempt at Harakiri directed by Yudai Yamaguchi. L Is For Libido, by Timo Tjahjanto, is one of the most repulsive inclusions in the short ï¿½ï¿½" basically two men are bound to chairs and forced to masturbate. Whoever ejaculates first wins and makes it to the next round, the loser of each round meeting an increasingly gruesome fate. It might sound like it's played for laughs but it's not, it's actually pretty horrifying and a bit of an endurance test. It should make you feel very uncomfortable while watching it, which is likely the point. M Is For Miscarriage is the entry form Ti West, the man behind The Innkeepers and House Of The Devil. Those expecting the classy slow burn style of those two features will likely be taken aback by this one ï¿½ï¿½" the title more or less tells you everything that you need to know. N Is For Nuptials is a humorous short from Banjong Pisanthanakun in which a man, with some help from his new talking pet parrot, proposes to his obnoxious girlfriend. O Is For Orgasm, directed by the duo of Bruno Forzani and Helene Cattet, is an artsy, sexy piece that explores the blending of fantasy and reality as a man makes a woman climax. It makes amazing use of color and is visually the most genuinely impressive short in the feature. It actually could have gone on longer than it does and probably not have suffered for it.
Simon Rumley's P Is For Pressure is a depressing story about a young woman who will go to whatever lengths she needs to in order to get her daughter what she wants for her birthday. When her money is stolen by a boyfriend, she goes beyond the simple prostitution she's relied on into a whole different, more extreme arena. This is well made, quite thought provoking and reasonably disturbing. Adam Wingard handles directorial duties in Q Is For Quack, a short in which he basically plays himself, disgruntled that he was given the letter â€˜q' and going back and forth with his producer as to what to do with one of the lousiest letters in the alphabet. It's amusing but it doesn't take too long to figure out where it's going. R Is For Removed is a twisted, gory and allegorical take that mixes art and life in strange, macabre ways. It's as unexpected as you'd expect it to be, given that it's directed by Srdjan Spasojevic, the man behind A Serbian Film. Jake West directs S Is For Speed, which starts out like a crime/chase movie with a supernatural twist but finishes with an obvious but appropriate metaphorical conclusion. Lee Hardcastle's T Is For Toilet is a Claymation piece in which a mother and father urge their young son not to be afraid of the toilet only to find out his concerns were more warranted than they'd imagined. It's funny, gory, and ridiculous.
As we start running out of letters, Ben Wheatley teaches us that U Is For Unearthed in which we see what happens when a vampire is caught by a few men from a town which he was terrorizing. This is the other first person piece, it shows it all unfold from the POV of the vampire. V Is For Vagitus is more of a sci-fi piece than a horror piece but Kaare Andrews' short is interesting. Set in â€˜New Vancouver' we're told the story of a government agent who hunts down, with the aid of a robot, a couple who have illegally had a baby. Given current population control efforts in China, it's rather eerie. Jon Schnepp's W Is For WTF is appropriately titled. It begins with Schnepp and his producer bouncing ideas off of one another but soon descends into visual and aural madness. Best known for his work on Metalocalpyse this one is as out there as they come but has the same sort of over the top black humor that makes that cult hit Adult Swim show as popular as it is. Xavier Gens, director or Frontier(s), takes on society's obsession with weight in X Is For XXL, a nasty little short about a heavy woman who is teased about her size until she hits her breaking point and does something about it. It's gory, it's clever, it's twisted and it's quite well acted on the part of the female lead. Jason Eisener, director of Hobo With A Shotgun, tells us that Y Is For Young Buck. Here we see what happens when a school janitor lets his taste for young boys collide with his penchant for bow hunting. Last but not least, Yoshihiro Nishumura's Z Is For Zetsumetsu turns out to be one of the most over the top shorts of the entire feature. Describing this one is tough but it's obviously a take on Japanese nationalism, their relationship with America and their search for a cultural identity in modern times. It's told through a series of scenes involving â€˜sushi,' rambling political leaders and a battle between two women that involves a giant bladed strap on penis and some vaginally launched vegetables. Nishumura has directed Tokyo Gore Police among a few other recent and notorious low budget Japanese gore pictures, and if you're familiar with his work, well, it'll still come across as insane.
There is truly something here to get under the skin of anyone and everyone. The stories are all over the place but no one here seems afraid to take chances or experiment and the short format and low budget nature allows them to do just that. We wind up with an interesting mix of serious, cerebral horror, trashy pulp stories, art films and comedy sketches made by a generally very talented crew. Not every short will come up a winner for every viewer but the good far outweighs the bad and anyone with an interest in the recent crop of horror movie directors to have emerged over the last five years plus ought to find a whole lot to like about this one.
The ABCs Of Death is presented on Blu-ray in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed at 1.78.1 widescreen. Understandably, the shorts vary in quality generally because it seems different cameras were used and under different conditions at that. As such, the transfer is a bit inconsistent in terms of clarity, detail and authoring. G Is For Gravity for example shows some minor macroblocking on some of the waves while others look perfect. Some look a bit soft, others are crisp and remarkably sharp. Color reproduction is consistently good across the board and there are no issues with heavy edge enhancement or any sort of dirt or debris (shooting digitally eliminates that). Overall things do look quite good here, just keep in mind that like the shorts themselves, each visual representation will differ from the next.
The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio tracks again differ from one short to the next. Some, like M Is For Miscarriage, are subtle and quiet even, while something like W Is For WTF is loud and completely over the top, aggressive even. Levels are consistently well balanced and dialogue is generally quite easy to understand. When music is used it sounds good and if rear channel activity isn't a constant in each and every one of these twisted little stories, it's definitely there when the filmmakers need it to be. Bass response is fine, and there are no issues with hiss or distortion. You have the option of watching the movie without any subtitles, with English subtitles for the foreign language shorts only or with English closed captioning enabled for the entire feature.
Each one of the twenty-six shorts that makes up The ABCs Of Death is accompanied by a commentary track wherein the director, usually but not always accompanied by a partner in crime such as an editor, cast member or producer, discusses their experiences working on the project. Here we learn where various ideas came from, what it was like working under time and budget restraints, how they feel about the finished product and more often than not why they took the material in the direction that they took it. For the most part, these are pretty interesting and they're often done with the same sense of humor that the shorts themselves are. These are worth listening to, they're generally pretty interesting.
From there, we move on to a series of featurettes and extra bits and pieces that are laid out as follows:
A Is For Apocalypse gets a quick segment on the oil burn that occurs in the movie (1:10). B Is For Bigfoot gets a 2:56 general behind the scenes piece. D Is For Dogfight gets a 6:57 behind the scenes/making of piece that should set aside concerns of anyone concerned about the use of animals in that short. F Is For Fart has a 9:46 behind the scenes segment that shows how some of the more bizarre sequences were handled and which is, in many ways, just as odd as that entry itself. H Is For Hydroelectric Diffusion gets a lengthy 18:10 segment that explains â€˜how they did it.' I Is For Ingrown gets a 6:43 segment while J Is For Jidai-Geki's behind the scenes piece runs 6:30. The awesome Claymation T Is For Toilet gets a 3:04 behind the scenes segment. W Is For WTF, a contender for the most unusual entry, gets a 13:03 long behind the scenes piece that includes behind the scenes, bonus flubs and outtakes, while Z Is For Zetsumetsu, another top contender, gets one that runs 11:07. Some of these segments cover some of the same ground as their respective commentary tracks but the added visual representation and documentation makes them worth checking out anyway.
You'll also find a few other bits and pieces here: R Is For Removed gets a good sized behind the scenes still gallery; C Is For Cycle has 3:28 worth of deleted scenes included and P Is For Pressure contains 18:48 worth of cast and crew interviews ï¿½ï¿½" Simon Rumley and director of photography Milton Cam. V Is For Vagitus, a fairly complicated entry, lets us spend 19:09 with the cast and crew exploring how New Vancouver was brought to life ï¿½ï¿½" additionally there are deleted scenes with director's commentary and some animatics included too. Rounding out the extras are a couple of trailers for the feature, trailers for a few other Magnolia properties, a four minute EPK style promo piece called AXS TV: A Look at The ABCs of Death, menus and chapter selection. All of the extras on the disc are presented in high definition.
The ABCs Of Death is all over the place in terms of impact, tone and intent but it is nothing if not interesting. For the most part, what's here is good. There are, of course, a few misfires but by and large the filmmakers involved in this project have turned in some wildly creative work. The easily offended need not apply, as we frequently voyage into some fairly extreme territory as the film thrusts taboo after taboo in our face, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Magnolia's Blu-ray looks and sounds good and contains a pretty impressive array of extra material as well. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.