The ABCs of Death (2013)
123 min., not rated (but equivalent to an NC-17).
Or, "O is for Overkill." On the heels of "V/H/S" (which already has a follow-up on the way), "The ABCs of Death" is another horror anthology, yet more experimental and even longer. Running through the alphabet from A to Z, this ambitiously conceived project has gathered an impressive roll call of 27 international genre filmmakers, each assigned a letter to make their own "short tale of death" with complete artistic freedom. Proof positive that compiling 26 shorts was a pretty dodgy, intimidating proposition: there are peaks and valleys in quality and the viewer will have to wade through the crapola to get to some of the good stuff. Though it will probably be some folks' idea of a recommendation, this grab-bag of wildly off-the-wall shocks and gross-outs will desensitize and soon wear you down, especially when only a handful of them are actually worth the effort. Regardless, it has cult potential.
The two-dozen plus directors accredited to this omnibus include but aren't limited to Nacho Vigalondo ("Timecrimes"), Xavier Gens ("The Divide"), Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett ("V/H/S"), Ti West ("The Innkeepers"), Ben Wheatley ("Kill List"), Simon Rumley ("Red White & Blue"), Jorge Michel Grau ("We Are What We Are"), Banjong Pisanthanakun ("Shutter"), Srdjan Spasojevic ("A Serbian Film"), and actress Angela Bettis. Their lopsided collaboration never met a death it didn't want to exploit, tossing everything into the pot but a human centipede in a kitchen sink—an abominable snowman, a man-eating toilet, flatulence-obsessed lesbians, a Nazi fox dancer, an unearthed monster, a gagged woman vomiting, a pesky spider, an unflushable Mr. Hankey, giggly samurais, a home-wrecking bird, a sadistic masturbation contest, baby-killing robots, a prostitute stomping on a kitten, speed junkies, kinky sex, zombie clowns, and much more! What more could you ask for?
"A" gets things off to an auspicious, mordantly humorous start, where a woman can't seem to kill off her already-dying husband, but the next eight or so are of the take-it-or-leave-it variety. Like "F is for Fart" and "G is for Gravity," some are either asinine oddities or so ineffective that they just seem to occupy space so the alphabetical concept could still go forward. An exception would be Marcel Sarmiento's "D is for Dogfight," expertly edited in balletic slow-motion and creating a wrenching story of man's best friend within such a short time span. The most twisted creation of all is Timo Tjahjanto's "L is for Libido," which is mostly a shock-for-shock's-sake exercise in sadism but does indeed shock. Fans of up-and-comer Ti West might not even realize he contributed the simple, three-minute-long "M is for Miscarriage" because he only gives the bare-minimum. Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett pair up and go meta with their amusingly ironic entry "Q," where they both appear as themselves making a short film for $5,000 ("This isn't a snuff film, it's art!"). Also making a memorable impression is the result of a YouTube competition, Lee Hardcastle's inventive claymation short "T is for Toilet" about a boy afraid of using the toilet. And no, it's not for children.
Thankfully, there's an ebb and flow between segments. It's not until letters W, X, Y, and Z that the top that! shock factor and sensory overload really get cranked up to eleven. Xavier Gens' "X is for XXL" actually has something to say, specifically about female body image, in which a freckled, heavy young woman finally gets tired of being called "fat" and other derogatives. The aforementioned Gens somehow one-ups his 2007 gore shower "Frontier(s)" in just six minutes with one of the saddest, most shockingly gory and aurally disconcerting tales of death, and one viewing of it will be more than enough. On to "Y is for Youngbuck," from Jason Eisener ("Hobo with a Shotgun"), this sicko exercise is stylized with a synth score and garish, over-saturated colors, but its subject—a pedophilic janitor preying on a young boy—is stomach-churning in its sleaziness. Finally, Yoshihiro Nishimura's "Z is for Zetsumetsu (Extinction)" is an insanely in-your-face wackadoo, offering the action of naked Japanese women fighting with dildos and shooting veggies out of themselves (would I make this up?). Blood, sushi and nudity definitely don't mix.
Whereas most films of this anthological ilk are rarely strong across the board, "The ABCs of Death" is distinctly uneven and erratic, to say the least. It's like sitting through a two-hour film festival of eclectic submissions, where the bad mostly outweighs the good. All 26 segments are bound by the goal of killing someone or something but range from juvenile and amateurish, to just plain bizarre and worthless, to sick and disturbing, going over the line of even NC-17. The tenderhearted should consider themselves warned, but the midnight-movie crowd might not want to pass it up.