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The ABCs of Death(2012)
Twenty-six directors. Twenty-six ways to die. Co-produced by Drafthouse Films, and finally ready to be unleashed-see what happens when you give more than two dozen of the most brilliant filmmakers from around the world free reign to indulge their creative impulses and black humor. From A to Z, it's got something for every genre fan and is like nothing you've ever seen before.
For more about The ABCs of Death and the The ABCs of Death Blu-ray release, see The ABCs of Death Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on May 21, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Directors: Angela Bettis, Jason Eisener, Xavier Gens, Ti West, Jake West, Srđan Spasojević
» See full cast & crew
The ABCs of Death Blu-ray Review
Will it make you L-M-N-O-P your pants?
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, May 21, 2013
The ABCs of Death has a monster of a premise: Producers Ant Timpson and Tim League rounded up 26 horror directors from around the world, assigned them each a letter of the alphabet, and gave them complete creative control—along with $5,000 budgets—to make a roughly three-minute, death-related film based on a word that begins with that letter. The result, as you might expect, is a wildly uneven but rarely boring omnibus movie, a helter-skelter collection of grotesque shorts that veers thematically from dogfights to schoolgirl farts, exhumed vampires to le petit mort of orgasm. It's hard to generalize so varied an anthology, but most of the pieces go for "shocking" over "scary," with a preponderance for quick, gimmicky set-ups, ironic twists, and gross-out imagery that pushes the boundaries of bad taste. None of the directors represented here are household names, really—House of the Devil's Ti West and Kill List's Ben Wheatley probably come closest—but they do collectively represent a generation of up-and-coming genre filmmakers with ideas to burn and retinas to scar. Think of The ABCs of Death as a sampler, a cinematic buffet; you might not enjoy all of the entries—or even the majority of them—but if you're a horror fan, you'll definitely find a few that suit your palate. Read on for a quick rundown of the sort of lunacy you can expect.
A is for Apocalypse: The film starts off with a bit of practical gore right off the bat, with a woman slicing through her husband's hand with a kitchen knife and bludgeoning him with a sizzling hot pan, all so she can kill him properly before the apocalypse arrives in a blaze of red. Directed by Nacho Vigalondo.
B is for Bigfoot: No bigfoot here, but you do get a deranged garbage collector wielding a serrated pizza cutter. Directed by Andrian Garcia Bogliano.
C is for Cycle: A clever little sci-fi riff on a repeating causality loop, with a man who gets sucked through a time rift in his garden, only to find himself in danger from the previous night's version of himself. Look out for the garden hose wrapped in barbed wire. Directed by Diaz Espinoza.
D is for Dogfight: Dog-lovers beware. An underground cage fighter is pitted against a snarling mutt in a match to the death. Filmed entirely in slow-motion, with some shots that make you really hope the end of The ABCs of Death has a "no animals were harmed in the making of this movie" disclaimer. Directed by Marcel Sarmiento.
E is for Exterminate: A man tries to swat a spider to death in his apartment, but the spider has the last laugh. Watch for several references to Aintitcoolnews.com, Fantastic Fest, and the Austin, TX film scene. Directed by Angela Bettis.
F is for Fart: A Japanese schoolgirl with a fart fetish falls in love with her female music teacher's flatulence. Apparently, the two "have the same animal smell on the inside." The first real WTF-inducing short in the collection. Directed by Noboru Iguchi.
G is for Gravity: Following a swimmer who drowns himself, this one's like a GoPro commercial gone awry, shot entirely from a first-person action-cam perspective. The premise is solid, but the execution is lacking. Directed by Andrew Traucki.
H is for Hydro-Electric Diffusion: So, imagine a live-action Tex Avery cartoon with nazisploitation, a reference to WWII London's famous "Keep Calm and Carry On" posters, and a breasty anthropomorphic "furry" doing a strip-tease. Got it? Now, picture a man with a dog's face getting punched in the scrotum so hard his testicles fly out of his mouth. That's about the gist of it. Directed by Thomas Cappelen Malling.
I is for Ingrown: A torture porn-y tale of a husband who keeps his wife tied up in the bathtub. An uncomfortable downer after the high of the last short. Directed by Jorge Michel Grau.
J is for Jidai-Geki (Samurai Movie): A samurai attempting to commit hara-kiri freaks out the helper who's supposed to lop off his head. One of the weirder, funnier entries. Directed by Yudai Yamaguchi.
K is for Klutz: An animated short about a constipated dumb blonde who produces a killer turd that won't flush. Directed by Anders Morganthaler.
L is for Libido: Aaaaaaaaand....yeah. This is probably the sickest short in the collection, a sort of twisted Eyes Wide Shut homage gone gonzo, with a contest between two chained-to-chairs men to see who can masturbate to completion fastest while watching increasingly depraved acts on a stage before them. The loser gets a mean rectal probe. The winner? I wouldn't spoil it. If you can make through this one, you can handle everything else The ABCs of Death throws at you. Directed by Timo Tjahjanto.
M is for Miscarriage: Another why-won't-it-flush toilet-centric short, and a lazy-feeling disappointment considering it was directed by usually reliable Ti West, creator of House of the Devil and The Innkeepers.
N is for Nuptials: A man gets more than he bargains for when he buys a talking parrot to help him propose to his girlfriend. Pretty funny. Directed by Banjong Pisanthanakun.
O is for Orgasm: This one's weird but genuinely sexy, playing out the abstractions that run through a woman's mind while her boyfriend brings her off. Visually, at least, it's definitely among the best in the anthology. Directed by Bruno Forzani and Hélène Cattet.
P is for Pressure: All of the sudden, we're in social realism mode, with a story about a prostitute trying to save up some money for her daughter's birthday. And then it all goes horribly, horribly wrong, with a ripped-from-the-headlines twist about animal cruelty and the "crushing" fetish. Cat people may have trouble with this one. Directed by Simon Rumley.
Q is for Quack: The most meta entry, Quack is about director Adam Wingard being upset that he drew "Q" and was listed last in the ABCs of Death press release. To gain attention for himself, he decides he needs to actually kill something onscreen—a duck—but his plan drastically backfires.
R is for Removed: In what might be a reflection on art being the literal flesh and blood of the artist, the skin of a man trapped in a hospital is developed in a photochemical solution that turns it into processed 35mm film reels. Weird. Directed by Srdjan Spasojevic.
S is for Speed: An O.D.-ing junkie in a crackhouse lives out her final moments in her imagination, pursued by the specter of death across a stretch of southwestern desert. Directed by Jake West.
T is for Toilet: It's strange how many of these shorts involve toilets. In this one—done in crude claymation—a couple tries to potty train their toddler, who's rightfully afraid of the commode. Directed by Lee Hardcastle.
U is for Unearthed: An exhumed vampire hunted through the woods by townsfolk seems like a familiar scenario, but this time it's shot in first-person from the bloodsucker's perspective, which makes for some interesting shots once the villager's pin him down, stake him, and lop off his head. Directed by Ben Wheatley.
V is for Vagitus: Set in "New Vancouver, 2035 AD," a sci-fi future where women are forcibly sterilized, Vagitus is a sort of low-budget Robocop-meets-Children of Men, with J.J. Abrams-esque anamorphic lens flares galore. Directed by Kaare Andrews.
W is for WTF!: Another meta entry, with director Jon Schnepp and his producing partner spitballing "W" ideas—we see brief clips of "walrus" and "warrior" and "wheelchair"—before their studio is overrun with zombie clowns and flying demon babies. WTF, indeed.
X is for XXL: Sick of being harassed on the street for being obese, an overweight woman attempts to cut all the fat from her body with a kitchen knife and electric turkey cutter, all intercut with images from a bikini commercial. Some not-so-subtle social commentary here. Directed by Xavier Gens.
Y is for Young Buck: Okaaaaaaaay. A bow-hunting middle-school janitor and pedophile—who enjoys licking sweat off the seats in the gym— gets his bloody commence, courtesy of a boy wielding a set of deer antlers as a weapon. Features the best music of the film—a throbbing 1980s-style synthesizer soundtrack. Directed by Jason Eisener, of Hobo with a Shotgun infamy.
Z is for Zetsumetsu (Extinction): What a closer. The most overtly political entry to the film, Zetsumetsu is a spastic reflection on post-WWII Japan's identity issues—from xenophobia and extreme nationalism to nuclear energy and economic pandering to the West—featuring full- frontal male and female nudity, a woman wearing an enormous strap-on phallus with a katana that shoots out of the tip, a curry dish made from vegetables shot out of a vagina, and a Peter Sellers-in-Dr. Strangelove look-a-like who ejaculates white rice, closing the movie with a wacko money shot. Directed by Yoshihiro Nishimura.
The ABCs of Death Blu-ray, Video Quality
The ABCs of Death's 1080p/AVC-encoded Blu-ray presentation is as hit-or-miss as the individual entries. It looks like all of the shorts were shot digitally, but the cameras used vary greatly in picture quality, from shaky head-mounted GoPro action cams to prosumer HDSLRs to the Red Epic shooting in glorious 120fps slow motion. So, no, this isn't your latest demo disc. Still, the level of detail that's generally inherent in the image leaves a clear imperative to see the anthology in high definition instead of on DVD. The shorts shot on higher-end cameras definitely look it, with crisp lines and textures, better color grading, and more balanced and consistent contrast, but even at their fuzziest and most shoddily graded—Ti West's M is for Miscarriage seems weirdly soft—none of the lower-quality shorts look harsh or overly mushy. Noise is quite heavy in some of the pieces, and on a larger screen you will notice semi-frequent compression/sensor artifacts—banding, pixelation, aliasing, etc.—but nothing terribly distracting. This is one of those "it is what it is" releases, and for the most part, it looks fine.
The ABCs of Death Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Likewise, the quality of the movie's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track varies depending on the sound design and mastering of each short. Most were clearly recorded with quality gear, while a few others seem lo-fi, bordering on amateurish. By and large, though, the audio is functional and easy on the ears, if never especially noteworthy. Dialogue is always nicely balanced—you'll be hearing English, Spanish, Japanese, Thai, French, and probably a few others I'm forgetting—and when the shorts use music, it's usually rich and spread throughout the soundfield. Otherwise, the surround speakers don't seem to get a whole lot of use, with only occasional cross-channel effects and quiet ambience. What you will hear frequently is the low rumble of your subwoofer, which pulses and roars to emphasize the more horrifying scenes. The disc includes optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles, and defaults to English subs for the sections in other languages, although you can turn these off too if you'd like.
The ABCs of Death Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Magnolia's Blu-ray release comes with a trove of bonus material, including behind-the-scenes featurettes of one form or another for over half of the shorts in the collection, giving some sense of how the different directors approached their assignments. Better yet, the disc includes a filmmaker commentary where each of the twenty-six shorts is discussed by its director, often along with assorted writers, cinematographers, producers, etc. Here's a breakdown of everything under the "extras" tab:
The ABCs of Death Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Omnibus movies are almost always a case of more-misses-than-hits, and The ABCs of Death is no different. That said, there's enough variety and sheer wacked-out ridiculousness on display here to make the experience worthwhile for most hardcore horror fans. Where else might you find a hilarious hara-kiri, a crackhouse fever dream, a time travel paradox, and a "furry" Nazi stripper all in the same place? Magnolia's Blu-ray release also comes with tons of bonus material, including behind-the-scenes pieces for half of the shorts and a filmmaker commentary track featuring all twenty-six directors. This isn't for everyone—there's a lot of crass and uncomfortable material here—but gorehounds and connoisseurs of gonzo low-budget moviemaking should find something to love.
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