ABCs of Death in Cinemas

Sunday, 21 April 2013 12:21
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The ABCs of Death - catch it in cinemasPerhaps the most bizarre and ambitious anthology movie ever conceived, “The ABCs of Death” features 26 short, alphabet-inspired films by 26 different horror figureheads, including names as internationally diverse as Ben Wheatley (“Kill List”), Ti West (“The House of the Devil”), Xavier Gens (“Frontier(s)”), Srdjan Spasojevic (“A Serbian Film”) and Yoshihiro Nishimura (“Tokyo Gore Police”). It is the idea of producer Ant Thompson.

“26 directors, 26 ways to die”, reads the tagline, but is the concept workable or will it result in an unholy mess? Well to start with, the film certainly contains a huge amount of variety in terms of tone, themes and cinematic styles. As well as standard, live-action tales there are those created via hand-drawn animation and even claymation; some look like they were shot with a mobile phone whilst others appear to have had the help of an entire Hollywood crew despite a spending limit of $5,000.

The result is naturally quite patchy, which is both a strength and a weakness. On the one hand, the audience’s attention is maintained through the less stimulating sections, safe in the knowledge that another, fresh one will be along in a few minutes. As each chapter begins, you find yourself constantly trying to guess the word the makers have picked, a game that is sometimes immediately obvious but at other times it can be completely opaque or result in a choice of half a dozen different candidates. The fact that one or two sections use a foreign word makes it even tougher.

A downside to this rapid-fire anthology approach is that you can never properly settle into the film, and it is more like the experience of watching 26 adverts or trailers end-to-end. With so many slots to fill there is naturally some repetition, though oddly I would not have expected toilets to be a common theme, for example in ‘K is for Klutz’ and ‘T is for Toilet’. Orgasms are another duplicated topic, which I suppose makes sense given the genre trope about characters always dying after having sex!

For a horror film there are not many jump-shocks but then with only a few minutes to play with, the directors do not have the luxury of time to build suspense. As an alternative, some chapters err towards trying to disgust, as in ‘L is for Libido’ (a truly out-there story about a deadly masturbation contest) and Ti West’s unconscionable ‘M is for Miscarriage’. Gens’ ‘X is for XXL’ is a revolting mini-study of our obsession with self image and the catastrophic effects of bullying.

Humour plays a big part in many of the segments, including the zany, bottom burp-obsessed ‘F is for Fart’,  a talking bird that drops its owner right in it in ‘N is for Nuptuals’, and the aforementioned ‘K is for Klutz’ which features a very stubborn poo that refuses to be flushed.

Two sections playfully show us the crews working on their ideas. In ‘Q is for Quack’, the makers moan about having been given one of the difficult letters and desperately try to come up with a concept, whilst ‘W is for WTF’ takes a similar idea but evolves into a completely different and very chaotic result.

There are only a couple of really weak entries: Ti West’s and ‘B is for Bigfoot’ which suffers from being way too obvious, fails to scare and falls very flat. Some of the acting is wooden at best but other elements usually make up for it, as in the glossy, “Robocop” meets “Scanners” hybrid ‘V is for Vagitus’ (which I now know means the crying of a newborn baby).

I really enjoyed this film and found it hugely entertaining. The vivid imaginations of some of the people involved scared and amazed me, and when I was not laughing out loud my jaw was on the floor as anything goes in this movie. ANYTHING! I can also see it starting a craze, not only of sequels but spin-offs such as the A-Z of sci-fi or fantasy films, or perhaps anthologies based on numbers, foodstuffs or colours. The scope is limitless!

“The ABCs of Death” (2012) is released theatrically on 26 April 2013, and on DVD and Blu-ray on 3 June 2013, courtesy of Monster Pictures. The main feature has a running time of 124 minutes approx, carries an ‘18’ certificate and retails for £13.99 on DVD and £14.99 on Blu-ray, or less from www.culttvstore.com

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