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The ABCs of Death (2013)
Movie Reviews

The ABCs of Death (2013)

An unwatchable horror anthology consisting of twenty-six international shorts, all helmed by different directors, all representing a letter of the alphabet.

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The ABCs of Death is an anthology horror movie consisting of twenty-six international shorts, all helmed by different directors, all representing a letter of the alphabet, all in some manner or form examining the concept of death. The directors, an opening title card tells us, “had complete artistic freedom regarding the content of their segments.” This would be admirable had the end result not been so unwatchable. Some of the shorts are so disgustingly over the top with its visuals that the intention was obviously not to tell a story, but merely to be shocking and sensationalistic. Some tackle subject matter too morally repugnant to be regarded as entertaining. Some are so bizarre in concept and execution that the only reaction they elicit is confusion. Some are a combination of all of the above.

It would take too much time to describe all the shorts, so I’ll narrow my discussion down to the ones I felt stood out the most. Bear in mind, that doesn’t mean I enjoyed them. If anything, they stood out because they were so bad – not bad in a fun, campy way, but just plain bad. A select few of the shorts are surprisingly scatalogical. Take, for example, F is for Fart, written and directed by Noboru Iguchi; as the title makes abundantly clear, flatulence is involved, but so is homoeroticism, a volcano, a gas attack, and a posterior that has the power to both release a noxious yellow cloud and to magically suck in an entire person. Or take K is for Klutz, a cartoon short written and directed by Anders Morgenthaler; a woman who has just had a bowel movement finds that it’s alive and doesn’t want to be flushed away. It crawls all over the floor and ceiling, sounding like a cross between an infant and a squeak toy.

Some of the shorts deal with mature subject matter and yet are not depicted maturely. There’s X is for XXL, Xavier Gens’ story of an overweight French woman who goes to the ultimate extreme in an effort to lose weight. There’s Simon Rumley’s P is for Pressure, which tells the story of a single mom who resorts to the worst kind of prostitution for the sake of her daughter, who wants an expensive bicycle for her birthday. There’s Jake West’s S is for Speed, which we think will be a stylistic homage to a grindhouse exploitation film but is in fact a cautionary tale of drug addiction. There’s Jason Eisener’s Y is for Youngbuck, which involves what I strongly suspect to be a pedophiliac relationship between a junior high basketball player and an old janitor, who seductively licks sweat off the bench the players sit on. And then there’s Ti West’s M is for Miscarriage, the title of which tells you everything you need to know.

There are two shorts that are not only annoyingly self-referential but are also so conceptually weak that they’re essentially about nothing. One is Q is for Quack; the director of this short, Adam Wingard, and the writer/producer, Simon Barrett, play fictionalized versions of themselves as they struggle to come up with a segment for The ABCs of Death inspired by the letter Q; they decide it would be best to capture an actual death on film rather than a simulated one, so they capture a duck and take it to the desert with every intention of shooting it. The other is Jon Schnepp’s W is for WTF? which is essentially just a series of surrealistic images edited together in lightning-quick cuts while hard rock music thrums on the soundtrack. The only thing audience can mentally process is the appearance of zombie clowns.

There are three shorts I would single out as the absolute worst. One is Marcel Sarmiento’s D is for Dogfight, in which a homeless man engages in an underground deathmatch with an abused dog; if there’s anything I cannot morally justify, it’s slow motion footage of a dog getting punched and bloodied. One is Timo Tjahjanto’s L is for Libido, in which two bound and half naked men are forced into a contest over which of them can ejaculate first; the loser of each round is immediately killed. Their visual stimuli includes a wheelchair-bound amputee who masturbates with her own prosthetic leg and a man having sex with a boy no older than eight or nine. And then there’s Yashihiro Nishamura’s Z is for Zetsumetsu, a nonsensical visual catastrophe in which involves a man who looks vaguely like Dr. Strangelove, mostly naked women battling each other with weapons that cannot be described on a family website, and naked men eating dishes that were prepared used said weapons.

There are only two shorts I would admit to enjoying. One is Andrew Traucki’s G is for Gravity, a genuinely frightening ocean segment shot entirely from the main character’s point of view. The other is Angela Bettis’ E is for Exterminate, a surprisingly fun segment in which a spider takes revenge against the man that tried to swat it. But that’s all the praise I can muster for The ABCs of Death. I can see this movie doing well with the editors and devotees of genre sites like Fangoria, Dread Central, and Bloody Disgusting, but I can’t fathom it doing much of anything for general audiences. I personally was thankful that each short ended with reading blocks floating in blood, spelling out the titles. It served as a countdown of sorts; each successive letter of the alphabet was one step closer to the end of the movie, at which point I could finally leave.

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03/08/2013

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NR

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Magnet Releasing

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About the Author: Chris Pandolfi