The sub-genre of horror anthologies has been around for years, but it's starting to become popular again. After all of the buzz that circulated around V/H/S, it didn't take very much to get similar audiences excited about another anthology. With The ABCs of Death's announced video-on-demand release date, it started to get the same buzz from target horror audiences across the Internet. After premiering at film festivals and releasing a few trailers, it led me to believe that it could possibly be an absolute blast. Don't let any of that fool you, because this flick doesn't come close to anything Trick 'r Treat accomplished as a horror anthology. Unfortunately, once you see it, you'll never be able to unsee it.
The ABCs of Death is a 26-chapter horror anthology that showcases death. Twenty-six directors were given a letter of the alphabet and they had to pick a word that begins with that particular letter. They each created a short about death revolving around that letter with a $5,000 budget and had absolute creative freedom. Each entry runs about four minutes long, creating a two-hour anthology featuring each letter of the alphabet chronologically.
The initial concept of this project intrigued me, even though it's a gimmick. Unfortunately, this film isn't anything that I thought it would be, since I mistakenly thought that these directors would take this picture seriously and create shorts that would convey fear or dark humor. Only a few filmmakers put effort into this picture. The majority of the entries shouldn't even be categorized into the horror genre. There's a lot of crude humor that didn't receive a single laugh from the audience at my screening. Perhaps some of these directors thought that they were participating in a project just to show their group of friends? That's where a lot of them should have stayed, and directors who would have taken this movie seriously should have been hired in their place. I could write for days about how some of these filmmakers squeezed the life out of a potentially decent anthology.
With involvement from directors such as Ti West (The House of the Devil), Ben Wheatley (Kill List), Xavier Gens (Frontier(s)), Srdjan Spasojevic (A Serbian Film), I hoped for some truly interesting shorts. Unfortunately, almost all of them convey disappointment. Expect to see a lot of material similar to that of "F is for Fart," which is about a Japanese schoolgirl obsessed with natural gas. There's an insane amount of bathroom humor, and absolutely none of it is funny. The ABCs of Death plays one stupid short after the other with letters such as C, F, H, I, J, K, L, M, P, V, W, Y, and Z. Therefore, half of the movie is an absolute failure. Fortunately, these shorts are only about four minutes each, but these feel a lot longer.
Ignoring the ones listed in the previous paragraph, the remainder of the feature is a mixed bag. The entries in this category aren't awful, but they aren't the best this anthology has to offer. Letters such as A, B, D, G, N, Q, R, and S are watchable, but are quickly forgettable. Some of them are completely predictable and it comes across as if the directors put the stories together in matter of minutes. None of these managed to dig under my skin or cause me to sit at the edge of my seat. "A is for Apocalypse" was a good way to open the movie, but it should have increasingly become better from there. Shorts such as "D is for Dogfight" simply don't fit with the rest, making them stick out like a sore thumb. Perhaps some communication between these filmmakers would have benefited the picture.
After regrettably sitting through the entire running time, only a few managed to be well-worth watching. Unfortunately, you have to watch a lot of bad skits to see only a few decent ones. Angela Bettis, Bruno Forzani & Hélène Cattet, Lee Hardcastle, Ben Wheatley, and Xavier Gens are the only directors to take this project seriously with E, O, T, U, and X respectively. Each entry delivers a completely different emotion, but they work. "E is for Exterminate" might not be enjoyed by everybody, but it has a certain "creep factor" that isn't easy to shake off while watching. "O is for Orgasm" is just as disturbing as it is beautiful, which is an incredibly difficult task to pull off. "T is for Toilet" is an incredibly violent claymation mixed with dark humor. While the letter is for "toilet," it doesn't include the stupid humor seen previously. This short tells the story of a child being terrified of the toilet as he becomes potty-trained, which proves to be quite funny. "U is for Unearthed" isn't anything new, but it sticks out from the rest in a good way. It feels as if you're watching a nightmare play out, which caught my attention. "X is for XXL" is shocking and grotesque for all the right reasons. It plays off of our culture and obsession to be thin and attractive. It's a shame that these shorts couldn't stand by themselves, as I would recommend each one mentioned in this paragraph.
One of the only positive things that can be said about The ABCs of Death's format is the combination of visual styles. Each filmmaker has his or her own signature technique. Some of them are animated and the live-action entries utilize a variety of different filters and speeds. I appreciated seeing entries from horror directors across the world and their eye for visuals. Each individual only had a budget of $5,000, so don't expect a visual masterpiece, but everything looks better than average.
Once the ending credits started rolling, I was going to provide The ABCs of Death with a 0.0 star rating, which is the lowest possible star rating on DVD Talk. After giving it some thought, it wouldn't be fair to the directors who made something of worth. Even though they're in the far minority, I enjoyed them. It's incredibly disappointing that most of the filmmakers put almost no effort into their entries. Ultimately, I have a difficult time classifying this as a horror film. Instead of trying to scare you or even utilize elements from the genre, a lot of the shorts simply try to be as shocking and stupid as possible. The ABCs of Death is a horrendous film with only a few entries worth your time. Skip it.