*. OK, let’s cut to the chase. You watch horror movies because you want to see people die. Or really, you want to see people being killed. In interesting ways. You want them to be “good kills.”
*. So we’ll get rid of all the other stuff. You end up with something like the Final Destination franchise. Lots of good kills there, and not much else. But you want more.
*. What you then get is The ABCs of Death, a series of which this is the second instalment (you can read my notes on the first, which I liked a lot more than this one, here). The ABCs are the twenty-first century version of the classic portmanteau or anthology horror movies put out in the ’70s by studios like Amicus, and later imitated by films like Creepshow. Except those movies only told a handful of stories. Too much time was wasted on talk and character development! In the ABCs you’d get an alphabet (that’s 26) vignettes based on various horrible ways to die, showcasing the work of an international collection of new directors.
*. Because the stories are so short, some of them only a couple of minutes, the effect is less like the classic horror anthologies and more like one of those traveling film festivals featuring the best (or dirtiest) commercials or animated shorts. Without any coherent narrative to focus on, one’s attention is free to wander among the hits and misses. We’re not looking for anything deep or moving but only shocks and laughs, shits and giggles.
*. Another problem with the films being so short is that it is often very hard to understand what is going on. This is something you’ll find I complain about a lot in my notes on the individual chapters, which I’ll now run through quickly:
*. A is for Amateur: sort of clever, but not as much as it would like or needs to be. It’s just a quick essay in irony.
*. B is for Badger: done as all one cut, but it’s a pretty standard shaky-cam parody. Nothing new here at all.
*. C is for Capital Punishment: more irony. The difficult decapitation is authentically rendered but that’s the only thing to recommend it (if that’s your thing).
*. D is for Deloused: perhaps the most original looking piece, done with stop-motion puppetry that manages to still be quite disgusting. I’m not sure what the point of it all was, but it works as a kind of “Kafka goes to hell” short. Assuming “Kafka goes to hell” isn’t redundant.
*. E is for Equilibrium: made me think I was watching a beer commercial. Then at the end it’s revealed that it is a beer commercial. Really weak.
*. F is for Falling: you’d think a story about a Palestinian confronting an Israeli soldier stuck in a tree would have more bite. Or maybe you wouldn’t. I guess it’s supposed to be a parable about the tragic consequences of misunderstandings, but I found all the attention given to the woman’s cleavage to be distracting and a bit ridiculous.
*. G is for Grandad: I’m not sure what they were going after here, but whatever it was I don’t think they got it.
*. H is for Head Games: animated battle of the sexes. Very short and unsurprising.
*. I is for Invincible: again, the short format works against communicating a full sense of what’s going on. As with the “G is for Grandad” episode there seems to be some point being made about generational conflict, with old people presented as both weird and wicked. Beyond that I didn’t come away with much.
*. J is for Jesus: another political parable, this time using the conventions of torture porn to deliver a message about tolerance and its enemies. Crude and unedifying.
*. K is for Knell: directed by Kristina Buozyte and Bruno Samper. I’m giving their names because this is one of the few films that really made an impression. I didn’t much care for where it went, but the intro, with the dark sun revolving in the sky and the faces in the apartment building all staring out at the protagonist, was very creepy.
*. L is for Legacy: seems like a pretty simple monster vignette, with some terrible effects. I can’t say I understood what was going on.
*. M is for Masticate: well, I enjoyed it, but again I felt like I was watching a commercial for something. The punchline at the end at least gave a sense of an ending.
*. N is for Nexus: just an exercise in style, but a pretty accomplished bit of hyperkinetic storytelling. Death by a million cuts.
*. O is for Ochlocracy: the zombies have taken over and now we have “mob rule” (ochlocracy) by the dead. Interesting idea, but that’s all.
*. P is for P-P-P-P Scary!: I’ve seen many different rankings of the different stories, and this instalment almost always comes in dead last. I can’t disagree with that assessment. It’s terrible, and goes on (or at least seems to go on) far too long.
*. Q is for Questionnaire: just a gruesome joke, but it works. Also a witty PSA about being suckered into taking those streetside intelligence tests. A better slam against Scientology than the “J is for Jesus” episode was against fundamentalism, just for being wittier.
*. R is for Roulette: works well enough, but it’s kind of hard to go wrong with a game of Russian Roulette. And I’m not sure if this is how the game works when there’s only one chamber left to play and you know it has the bullet in it. Isn’t the game over then? The ending is pointlessly enigmatic.
*. S is for Split: a stunt. The story is told in split screens. It’s done well enough (the timing seems off to me in several places), but in the end . . . it’s just a stunt. And seeing as De Palma was doing this stuff better forty years ago, it’s certainly not breaking any new ground. Another gag ending.
*. T is for Torture Porn: meh. Shades of Cronenberg. Or maybe Species. I guess it’s meant as a kind of feminist fantasy, but I didn’t think it was anything new or interesting.
*. U is for Utopia: standard satire of the brave new world of conformity and consumerism. Nothing to see here, move along.
*. V is for Vacation: nasty but effective revisiting of the shaky cam, tourist-terror tropes. Directed by Jerome Sable.
*. W is for Wish: clever idea, nicely realized. Takes a dig at violent children’s toys and the fantasies they embody. Be careful what you wish for.
*. X is for Xylophone: heartless and sickening, but that’s what you came for isn’t it?
*. Y is for Youth: a girl with low self-esteem has violent fantasies of taking revenge on her parents. Whacky in the usual Japanese way.
*. Z is for Zygote: a nightmare of codependency, and I’m not sure if it’s anything more.
*. If you sit through the end credits there’s a cameo appearance by Martin, the degenerate anti-hero of The Human Centipede II. He complains that the films don’t cut it as wank material.
*. Final thoughts. I like the concept here, but the results are very disappointing. If these shorts are meant as a showcase of up-and-coming talent they offer little in the way of calling cards. If I were a film producer I don’t think there’s much here that would make me sit up and take enough notice to want to give any of the directors a chance to helm a feature. Outside of the animated films, there’s little that’s original or particularly creative going on. Instead we just get examples of how the directors can work more or less proficiently in already established horror idioms. The one possible exception I flagged was the work by Kristina Buozyte and Bruno Samper in “K is for Knell,” and even that only had a couple of moments. But then, moments are really all a movie like this has to offer. You have to enjoy them whenever you can.