I have an appreciation for the horror anthology film. In my opinion, there’s not enough of them out there. However, that’s not to say that all of them are gems. Movies like Trick ‘r Treat, Twilight Zone: The Movie, and Tales From the Hood are Halloween staples in my house, but there’s always room for disasters like last year’s V/H/S. In the latter category, is The ABCs of Death. An ambitious gimmick wherein twenty-six directors from all over the world were given a letter from the alphabet in order to create a short film yields promise and ambition, in spurts. The three or four good shorts are trampled by the twenty others that are mediocre or downright unwatchable. I can tolerate a lot in horror, but when several shorts deal with animal cruelty, child molestation, and Asian nudity it makes you wonder how seriously the directors took the movie in the first place.
The movie doesn’t have a connecting wraparound story as V/H/S or the other films I mentioned above do, so each short is able to stand, or in most cases fall, on their own merits. This works best when the short is good, but when the short fails it can make the two-hour run-time feel interminable. In fact, I wished I’d just watched the few shorts I knew were good, and simply skipped the rest. Out of the twenty-six mini-movies there’s only a handful that are worth watching. The rest are a bizarre hodgepodge of comedy, or gross-out with nothing more than shocking the audience. The shorts helmed by the Asian directors, in particular, are enough to make you turn off the film entirely. I understand, I’m not well-versed in Asian cinema, so I had to ask a friend who loves those films to explain to me the interest in inflatable penises, explicit female nudity, and a love for….a particular bodily fluid. All the shorts put out in this category are the same, they’re gross, and in the case of Z is for Zetsumetsu God-awful! You also have two shorts that involve animal cruelty. While the former, entitled D is for Dogfight provides catharsis for all the horror you’re watching, the latter, P is for Pressure uses a kitten’s skull being crushed as a grotesque punchline. Since there’s no clear-cut review I’ll simply list the five shorts I enjoyed, and the five I loathed.
Five I Liked:
B is for Bigfoot: This opening story presents the horrors inherent in an old-school parable. In this case, a horny teen and his girlfriend tell the teen’s little sister if she doesn’t go to bed an abominable snowman will come eat her heart. Sure, the story is not age appropriate, making you hate these teens, but boy does it have a slasher twist that would feel at home in an 80s movie. A solid way to start the film.
D is for Dogfight: I originally hated this one when it was over because for half the time you’re forced to watch a man abuse a dog. But, on second thought, it has an ingenious twist that redeems the abuser and punishes the true villains. It’s difficult to watch, but the love of a man for his dog comes through when everything is revealed.
E is for Exterminate: I despise bugs and body horrors. In “E is for Exterminate” both are blended in the story of a guy who can’t seem to kill a spider. If you believe in urban legends, let’s just say you’ll figure out this twist quickly, and find your skin crawling. Actress Angela Bettis directs this one, and proves she could have a career in directing horror.
T is for Toilet: I’d seen director Lee Hardcastle’s short when it was in the running, along with several other shorts, for the T slot. Regardless, it’s still an expert attempt at the bleakest humor out there. The story of a little boy who’s afraid of the toilet becomes a cautionary tale for parents to take childhood fears seriously!
X is for XXL: I’ve hated director Xavier Gens output, but he establishes a lot of goodwill with this tragic, but realistic take on body image. The short tells of an overweight woman who’s harassed and bullied. Fed up, she decides to take matters into her own hands, and literally carve her body into what society desires. A gory payoff at the end gives the audience a stark reminder of what goes into passing for “beautiful” in our country. A sly bit of social commentary.
And the Five I Loathed:
F is for Fart: There’s far too much poop humor in a movie that wants the audience to find the basic modicum of horror in every short. This is one of two shorts where the punchline literally involves crawling into someone’s ass! In this case, an Asian schoolgirl has a lesbian love for her teacher, and during an apocalypse where gas is consuming the world, the young girl decides to die by her teacher’s gas. Yes, because nothing’s scarier than being farted on. Where T is for Toilet told a story that could have involved poop jokes, and didn’t, this is just insultingly stupid.
K is for Klutz: The second short about poop involves a dumb girl trying to flush a toilet and being unable to get the poop down. Simply writing about the plot of this animated film is ridiculous, and much like the above short it involves something jumping into a person’s ass.
V is for Vagitus: An interesting premise that felt constrained by the short run-time I’m not saying this warranted a stand-alone film, but the ideas and production values were too grandiose for an anthology film. This sci-fi short follows an infertile woman tasked with killing children under a dystopian law. The sheer amount of explanation needed to set up the plot takes up a fair chunk of time, making this short feel longer than the most. It’s well-shot, but far too convoluted for such a short form.
W is for WTF: Truer words were never spoken. Coming at the end of the movie, this and last short embody the “WTF” mentality to the point of incomprehensibility. It seems like the attempt was to make this in the vein of Heavy Metal with bizarre animation, but the meta elements are done far better, and funnier, in the previous short Q for Quack.
Z is for Zetsumetsu: I can’t even describe what the plot of this short is. Wiki says it’s a revisionist take on the interactions between Japan and the US, but I never got any of this. I did get the explicit Dr. Strangelove reference…and that’s it. This is a garish display of inflatable penises that actually….do stuff; Asian ladies having the camera placed right under their naughty bits; and enough bodily fluids being shot out to make you want to shower after. It being the last short, in a two-hour film, leaves a bad taste (that was TOTALLY pun not intended) in the audience’s mouth.
Overall: 5 out of 10