The ABCs of Death

A Review by Alexis Feynman


In 2012, a horror anthology film was released with an intriguing premise. 26 directors from around the world were assigned a letter of the alphabet. The director then had to choose a word beginning with that letter, and create a short film, themed around both their chosen word and the topic of death.

The quality and tone of these products varies, of course. Some of the stories are very serious and poignant. Others are straight-up comedy or... something else. Some of them made me yearn for more; others just made me want to scrub my brain. We'll go through a breakdown of each piece so you can get an idea of what they're about.

A is for Apocalypse

Nacho Vigalondo

The visuals in this one are INTENSELY visceral. They were painful, yet excellent, to watch. My only complaint is with the ending, which simultaneously changes, explains, and somehow weakens the whole thing.

B is for Bigfoot

Adrián García Bogliano

This is the first piece that I would really consider "excellent." It seems to perfectly understand the irrational fears that I had as a kid and bring them to life perfectly. I appreciate how it's never established whether the myth they were telling was intended to be real or not - the fact that it's there is enough to drive home the horror.

C is for Cycle

Ernesto Díaz Espinoza

The writer was trying to achieve something, I guess? The main character's motivations don't make any sense. He is OBVIOUSLY dealing with a tunnel of time travel, yet he somehow thinks it's a good idea to kill his "duplicate" past self. Why? No clue. Apparently he's a dumbass.

D is for Dogfight

Marcel Sarmiento

This short is fantastic on every conceivable level. What starts out as brutal, yet strangely sympathetic combat soon turns into a heartwarming tale of reunion.

E is for Exterminate

Angela Bettis

This is a thoroughly unimaginative retelling of a trite and unimportant urban legend that just needs to go away.

F is for Fart

Noboru Iguchi

I am at a loss to describe this piece. I applaud its creativity, and yet it probably should never had been made. It's a touching, yet disgusting love story. About gas.

G is for Gravity

Andrew Traucki

Featuring some of the most frantic, panicked surfing you're ever likely to see, this short is more confusing than anything else. Stars a very charismatic surfboard.

H is for Hydro-Electric Diffusion

Thomas Cappelen Malling

You know what WWII was missing? Feline furry strippers, dog-man pilots with removable testicles, and enough death traps that James Bond might be tripped up for a couple minutes. Oh, and Winston Churchill.

...Actually, Winston Churchill is probably what makes this thing work.

I is for Ingrown

Jorge Michel Grau

There's not much of a plot to this one, but it doesn't really need it. It conveys its idea simply and brutally, and is real enough to leave me feeling vaguely unsettled afterward.

J is for Jidai-Geki

Yudai Yamaguchi

This one took the theme of death thoroughly into the realm of hilarity with something I absolutely will not spoil. Is the protagonist imagining things? Is the dying man actually transforming horribly from the pain of his sacrifice? WE MAY NEVER KNOW. And that's awesome.

K is for Klutz

Anders Morgenthaler

The first animated piece in this anthology, and definitely one of the more surreal. If you've ever had that one floater that JUST WOULDN'T FLUSH, you'll probably relate to this. And yet, if you do, I don't want to know what your life is like.

L is for Libido

Timo Tjahhanto

This film had some great ideas going. The concept is something that should never, ever have been made into a film (short or otherwise), which, in a weird paradoxical way, makes it all the more impressive that it was made. It's gross and terrible and engaging all at the same time, but I really only want to have watched it once.

M is for Miscarriage

Ti West

Easily the shortest in the entire collection, but it didn't need more than a few seconds to disturb.

N is for Nuptials

Banjong Pisanthanakun

This is easily one of my favorites. The story starts out cute and charming, and then turns out hilariously horrible, and it's all because of a bird.

O is for Orgasm

Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani

I feel like the creators cheated on this one, to be honest. It's a lovely expressionist piece of a woman being pleasured, and while she is eventually strangled, it's clear that the focus of the piece is on the sex rather than her death. It works for me as a short film, but feels fairly out-of-place in this collection.

P is for Pressure

Simon Rumley

This is one of the few clips that stuck with me for months after I originally watched the movie. It's the story of a mother who is struggling to keep her children housed and cared for, with horrible results taken straight from the real world.

Q is for Quack

Adam Wingard

This one could easily have gone badly. The self-referentialism, combined with the precise balance of comedy and horror, set it up so delicately that its success or failure pretty much hinges on how the last few seconds play out. They pulled it off.

R is for Removed

Dimitrije Vojnof and Srdjan Spasojevic

Aaaand back to bloody, visceral horror, with a side of surrealism. Normally I'd say that's a good thing, but here the visuals, combined with the use of color and the sort-of-almost plot, feel like someone was trying way too hard.

S is for Speed

Jake West

This clip is sort of enjoyable and annoying all at the same time. It could easily have been a scene from a full-length action film - one of those tacky grindhouse things that I would probably only sit through under duress. Instead, it's a self-contained narrative that resolves itself in an unexpected real-world twist. I'm still not sure how I feel about that part.

T is for Toilet

Lee Hardcastle

Apparently toilets and death go hand in hand. They certainly do so nicely in this fantastically hideous stop-motion film about toilet training and childhood anxiety. The story could have stopped about halfway through, and it would have been deliciously silly and awful, but they keep it going for an extra bit of nastiness.

U is for Unearthed

Ben Wheatley

It's a little bit surprising that, out of 26 directors, only one of them thought to do a story about a vampire. It's a decent piece, too; it plays with a "sympathy for the monster" angle that doesn't distract from the classic and somewhat traditional feel. If you're fond of the "vampires as monsters" concept, you should enjoy this one, and if you're sick of the whole "vampire thing," you'll find that this one brings something new to the table.

V is for Vagitus

Kaare Andrews

This segment is about 20% neat ideas, 50% clumsy and gratingly forced moral message, and 30% complete WTF-ery. It could easily be a smaller piece of a full-length, post-apocalyptic sci-fi film. If it was, I wouldn't watch it.

W is for WTF!

Jon Schnepp

This story starts out somewhat reminiscent of Quack - It's about a group of filmmakers struggling to figure out what they're going to do with the letter they've been assigned. However, unlike Quack - which manages to work the concept into a respectable narrative - WTF throws any semblance of self-respect out the window and explodes under a pile of its own nonsense. I couldn't even watch it start to finish because the flashing lights and discordant imagery started to cause a migraine.

X is for XXL

Xavier Gens

This piece comes across as if it's trying to send an important message about the omnipresence and danger of fat shaming, but it /also/ sends the message that fat people are disgusting gluttons who will shove everything within arms' reach down their throats. Bets were hedged. Messages were ruined. At least the grossness was adequately gross.

Y is for Youngbuck

Jason Eisener

This piece has a lot going for it. It's disturbing and yet sorta beautiful, with a combination of present-day scenes, flashbacks, and a piece of music that ties everything together. The narrative is where things start to fall apart - it has a decent premise as a story of comeuppance, but takes a turn into excessive revenge fantasy.

Z is for Zetsumetsu

Yoshihiro Nishimura

A meaningless wankfest of shock imagery, bright colors, and other gratuitous, tasteless stylization. At almost no point do I know, or really care, what is going on. On the plus side, it's a perfect way to summarize the total discordance and nonsense of this collection, and it features killer sushi.

As one might imagine, I had a lot of different feelings while watching this movie. Some good, some bad, and some just really deeply confused. I love the idea. I love that they took the whole thing and put it together and that everyone came up with something so completely DIFFERENT. I could have done with less shock imagery, but that's my personal taste.

Overall, I'd say that it was worth watching once, but it's not something that I'd add to my DVD collection.