What happens when you take 26 filmmakers, give them one letter of the alphabet, and ask them to create a short horror film based around a word that starts with that letter? Why, you get The ABCs of Death, of course! Between movies like this one, V/H/S, and Little Deaths, it’s been a big year for anthology films, and it’s only fitting that one of the more ambitious ones is probably that last one I’ll see in 2012. Although it won’t be released on VOD until January, ABCs has been making the rounds of film festivals and I had heard nothing but good things. I was glad to have been able to see this film in theaters with a sold out crowd, because most horror movies really deserve to be seen with a packed house. Considering all the things I had been hearing, I definitely made this film my top priority at the Chicago International Film Festival.
I’m glad there was a warning at the BEGINNING of the film that there were no dogs harmed in the filming of this movie.
The only thing that tied all the films together was that the filmmakers were given a letter, all given the same (small) budget, and all given the same amount of time (6 months, 6 weeks, and 6 days) to complete their film. The film then showed all of these short films, ranging anywhere between one minute to five minutes, in alphabetical order. It’s kind of hard to talk about the plot of these films without giving everything away, because the title wasn’t revealed to the audience until the end. Some of the segments, like “D is for Dogfight”, which featured a man fighting a dog, had a more obvious connection to the letter, whereas some segments, like “P is for Pressure”, made you wait until the end of the segment to realize how the letter came into play. Also, with some of the segments, the entire plot can be summed up in one sentence, so I’m even nervous to tell you too much about any segments in particular, but in two hours, The ABCs of Death covers everything from doppelgängers to spiders to electrocution to farts to ducks to razors to pedophilia to dead fetuses to sodomy and everything in between. If that’s not a quote for a poster, I don’t know what is.
Is this happening inside the mind of EVERY Japanese person, or just the freaky ones?
One risk that you take with an anthology film is that some segments will be stronger than others and set the bar really high for all the other segments to be compared to. Some of those stronger segments were Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett’s “Q is for Quack”, which involved the two filmmakers playing themselves as they discuss how hard it is to be stuck with the letter Q and how they were going to make their segment stand out, Jason Eisener’s “Y is for Young Buck”, which was about a creepy old janitor getting justice served to him for thins he had done to a young boy, and Ben Wheatley’s “U is for Unearthed”, which was a segment about some sort of zombie or vampire or whatever wreaking havoc in the woods, with everything being shot through the creature’s point of view. All of these segments were the perfect length, had a unique style that set them apart from all the other segments, and were highly entertaining. There were some segments, for example Ernesto Diaz Espinoza’s “C is for Cycle”, was a segment that, although entertaining, made you wish that the director had more time or money to make something longer. The same can be said for Srdjan Spasojevic’s “R is for Removed” or Jake West’s “S is for Speed”, but it was still interesting to see where they went with their interpretation of the letter given to them. Which reminds me, before I forget, I have to commend every single filmmaker for the unique ways they interpreted their letter, because not a single one of them did anything expected or obvious with their method of demise.
I guess technically the producers only approached 25 filmmakers, because the segment “T is for Toilet” was put on the table for anyone to participate and then a winner was selected from all of the submissions. Pretty awesome opportunity that the producers put out there.
With the good segments in anthologies, there also come the bad. The bonus that the ones you might consider “bad” have is that even if you don’t enjoy it, you know it will be over soon. Rather than pointing out the ones I didn’t really enjoy, because it seems pretty pointless to tell you guys why I didn’t like certain ones without giving away their plot, I’d like to point out some that were fucking insane. One segment featured a bulldog-human hybrid puppet attending a burlesque show being put on by a cat-human hybrid Nazi during World War II, another segment involved a Japanese schoolgirl who wants nothing more than to smell her schoolteacher’s farts, while another involved a masturbation competition where the loser was killed and the winner forced to compete again, masturbating to more and more disturbing acts taking place in front of them. Lots of really weird, fucked up, but imaginative and twisted stuff. Another thing worth pointing out is to see the vast difference in production value, seeing one segment which I’m sure only cost the price of a camera and some film, but then seeing other segments, like Kaare Andrews’s “V is for Vagitus”, that was a not too distant future dystopia where only certain humans are given the right to reproduce and featured robots and special effects and lots of crazy visuals. Just makes you wonder where some of the money went with certain filmmakers, or if it was possible that some of the filmmakers were given smaller budgets.
No, those aren’t my legs, because if they were, my balls would be dangling and blocking out that little kid.
Of all of those segments I’ve listed, especially the ones I mentioned really enjoying, some of you guys might be familiar with the names of the minds behind them. It should be of no surprise that those segments were written/directed by people behind movies like You’re Next, Hobo with a Shotgun, and Kill List, all of which have been some of the more entertaining films of the genre of the past few years. In fact, just from looking at the poster, you can see that those films and filmmakers are featured on it, along with the people behind the notable films Tokyo Gore Police, A Serbian Film, and one of my favorites, The House of the Devil. As excited as I was to see what Ti West, writer/director of The House of the Devil, came up with, his segment ended up being the most disappointing. It had a clever punchline, yes, but it couldn’t have lasted more than a minute. I guess I had kind of figured that if you were promoting certain films/filmmakers being responsible for segments, you knew their films might gain more of an audience, so maybe the minds behind this whole project would give a bigger budget to those segments. If not a bigger budget, then maybe give them a couple of letters to work with, rather than just the one, to ensure the quality of the film as a whole. I was able to get in touch with one of the producers of ABCs of Death, Ant Timpson, and he was able to shed some light on the whole production. Even though all the filmmakers were given the same amount of time to film and given similar budgets, it was almost eight months between the time they received the first completed segmented and when they received the last completed segment, with that last one not coming in until February of this year. Theoretically, some of the movies listed on the poster weren’t even released by the time the filmmakers were offered the opportunity to create a piece, and it’s only after those filmmakers completed their segments that they made a bigger name for themselves in the horror community. I’m glad to have learned how long of a process the culmination of all these films was, because it made clear that the producers hasn’t picked out the heavy hitters ahead of time, but rather the marketing campaign knew that they could draw a bigger audience by highlighting filmmakers who had made names for themselves since this whole thing started. Ultimately, this whole movie was quite an ambitious project and I must commend Drafthouse Films for committing to the concept of giving people they liked money and letting them produce anything they wanted. Given that criteria, other than maybe reorganizing the alphabet in order to pace the films a little bit differently, everything worked out really well and I’m sure everyone’s proud of the result. Some of the segments are great, some of the segments offer interesting concepts, some segments were fucked up and insane, and some were just bad, but that doesn’t mean that the whole movie wasn’t a ton of fun to watch.
Wolfman Moon Scale