(segments F, W, Z)
DIRECTED BY: Kaare Andrews, Angela Bettis, Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani, Ernesto Díaz Espinoza, Jason Eisener, Adrián García Bogliano, Xavier Gens, Lee Hardcastle, Noboru Iguchi, Thomas Cappelen Malling, Jorge Michel Grau, Anders Morgenthaler, Yoshihiro Nishimura, Banjong Pisanthanakun, Simon Rumley, Marcel Sarmiento, Jon Schnepp, Srdjan Spasojevic, Timo Tjahjanto, Andrew Traucki, Nacho Vigalondo, Jake West, Ti West, Ben Wheatley, Adam Wingard, Yûdai Yamaguchi
FEATURING: Too many actors to list individually, and no one appears onscreen for long enough to qualify as “featured”
PLOT: 26 short horror films about death, each inspired by an assigned letter of the alphabet.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: As you might expect from an anthology with a hefty twenty-six entries in a multitude of styles, it’s too uneven and not consistently weird enough for consideration for the List. That said, there are three very, very strange shorts here, and several others that nudge the weirdometer at least a little bit, which makes this worth a look-see.
COMMENTS: Rendered in a wild variety of morbid styles ranging from the avant-garde to the zany, these twenty six short films about death derive from a new breed of up and coming punk directors working in the diffuse genre that now loosely goes by the name “horror.” All the usual disclaimers about anthology films apply to The ABCs of Death, but this compilation faces an additional alphabetical hurdle: if A, B and C are all duds (and I say they are), the movie gets off to a slow start, and there’s nothing the editors can do about it. The order is locked in place and randomized, and the curators can’t impose any sort of flow on the show. The fact that each entry has to be unusually short (after the 11 minutes of end credits are subtracted from the run time we come out to four-and-a-half minutes per mini-movie) is more of a virtue than a drawback, since we aren’t asked to invest much time in the inevitable losers and failed experiments. The necessity for each director to hit hard and fast, with no time to build up true horror, led me to expect shock, gore, and cruel comedy to dominate over true terror. ABCs delivers on that score, but there was also a trend that make me wonder where horror’s head is at. Three out of the twenty-six entries—that’s 11.5%—prominently feature a toilet, and that’s not even counting the one that’s flatulence based. Has horror finally dug to the bottom of the bucket of viscera, and now there’s nowhere else to turn but the toilet to elicit cheap disgust? A more promising development, and one that’s much more to the point of this website, is that the exact same number of shorts (3, or 11%) were unabashedly weird-–suggesting that cutting-edge horror continues to be the last refuge for surrealism in pop culture. Before describing the three bizarre gems, we’ll mention a couple of odd, and not so odd, runners-up. “P is for Pressure,” set in a third-world country and involving a prostitute’s quest to buy an expensive present for her daughter’s birthday, is the omnibus’ only dramatic entry; although it has a morally sickening climax, it is authentically and unexpectedly touching. Though not written by Srdjan Spasojevic (who turns in an extreme but unmemorable riff on “R”), the violent and transgressive porn fantasia “L is for Libido” has a disturbing Serbian Film vibe (with a hallucinatory kick) that soils the mind. On the opposite end of the sexual spectrum, Catette and Forzani’s “O is for Orgasm” is a surprisingly beautiful and experimental explosion of color-filter eroticism that traffics in the concept of sexual release as “la petite mort.” In a normal compilation, “H is for Hydroelectric,” a Chuck-Jones-does-furry-porn style adventure in which an anthropomorphic Nazi stripper fox lures a British bulldog pilot to his doom, would be the WTF-iest entry. Here, however, it’s only an honorable mention, as that title is literally taken by “W is for WTF?” This is a study in surrealistic economy: initially appearing to be a self-aware parody, it quickly establishes a comic book mesh of Satanic gore porn, killer walruses, zombie clowns, and decapitated animators, then spins the images in a psychedelic blender for two gloriously insane minutes. “W” features miniskirted nurses and princess warriors in chain mail bikinis, but for gleefully adolescent gross-out sleaze, nothing beats Noboru Iguchi’s already notorious “F is for Fart.” It’s the tender tale of a lesbian schoolgirl that defiantly expresses a humanistic preference for the gas of an earthly lover over the vengeful flatus of God. “Fart”‘s motto is “let’s pass beyond the boundaries of good taste and become one together,” and does it ever achieve the first part, at least—this is a bad-taste stunner for an unstunable age. Still, top honors in the “weird” category go to Iguchi’s frequent collaborator Yoshihiro Nishimura, who continues to set himself apart as the splatterpunk brigade’s most inventive and audacious talent with ABCs’ capper, “Z is for Zetsumetsu” (“extinction”). A blond Nazi hermaphrodite fights a nude kung fu woman while a Japanese Dr. Strangelove comments on the action; it’s somehow inspired by the 2011 Tōhoku earthquakes, and there are satirical references to American imperialism, the nuclear power industry, and Japan’s own sense of racial superiority. A topless rendition of the 9-11 bombings may have Americans shaking their heads, but it’s hard to be too offended by something that resembles an insane sushi chef’s wet dream (multiple characters ejaculate rice). Whatever associations this stew of mad images raises in the Japanese consciousness, its bizarro bona fides are unquestionable.
Of course, we would have highlighted an entirely different set of segments if this piece had been written for a gorehound journal or a monster blog. One of the issues with what marches under the banner of “horror” these days is that it’s a loose confederation of disreputable interests that encompasses torture porn, black comedy, sick eroticism and experimental imagery alongside traditional stories of vampires, hauntings and madman. With two films prominently featuring pedophilia, and the aforementioned scatology and surrealism joining the expected blood and guts, ABCs‘ selections suggests that the modern horror genre is becoming a final resting place for the generally transgressive rather than for the terrifying per se.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“Wow, what a weird, anarchic, energetic and exciting display, from claymation to puppetry to crazy postmodern collage to regular old live action!… I’ll take the movies that pissed me off too, if in some way they help make possible things as divergent and weird and exciting as Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani’s abstract, erotic ‘O Is for Orgasm,’ Simon Rumley’s grave and dramatic prostitution mini-melodrama ‘P Is for Pressure,’ and animator Jon Schnepp’s hyperactive every-genre-at-once ‘W Is for WTF?’ (probably my favorite of them all).”–Andrew O’Hehir, Salon.com (contemporaneous)