Friday, May 24, 2013

THE ABCs OF DEATH (Review)

THE ABCs of Death (2012)

review by AARON ALLEN

Directed by Kaare Andrews, Angela Bettis, Hélène Cattet, Ernesto Díaz Espinoza, Jason Eisener, Bruno Forzani, 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, Yudai Yamaguchi
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The ABCs of Death is a smörgåsbord of insanity representing international genre film-making at its most insane and entertaining.

Give 26 directors from around the world a letter of the alphabet and send them off with a meager budget of $5000 and complete artistic freedom with one goal: based on the letter, create a short film that is, in some way, about death. The result: an ambitious and exciting anthology film unlike any other that has ever been created. Given the wide range of talent involved and the diverse sensibilities of each director and film-making team, it's hard to review The ABCs of Death as a whole. There is no continuous plot or characters, after all. On your first watch, you never know if the next segment will be an abstract, art house visual thesis or a low-brow slapstick comedy. But its unpredictability is part of the charm. These 26 mini-films, some as different from each other as night and day, come together in an twisted kaleidoscopic of the gory, sickening  frightening, exciting, depressing, baffling, and demented.


Some segments turn out to be duds, but The ABCs of Death offers something for everyone (everyone, that is, who loves to explore the sick, depraved, shocking and the bizarre side of cinema). It's an unpredictable, energizing experience that celebrates the unfettered imagination and artistic license of international genre film-making.

It would be pointless to review every single short, but here's a spoiler-free preview of some of the very best segments The ABCs of Death has to offer.

D is for DOG FIGHT


Director Marcel Sarmiento (Deadgirl) pits man against beast in this heart-wrenching but beautifully choreographed and exquisitely edited rumination on human cruelty and the loyalty of man's best friend. Truly, one of the most moving shorts I've seen in my life.

H is for HYDRO-ELECTRIC DIFFUSION


A mix of smut, Tex Avery cartoon antics, and Indiana Jones-inspired set pieces, "H is for Hydro-Electric Diffusion" is a wild exercise in the bizarre from director Thomas Cappelen Malling (Norwegian Ninja). A dog soldier in WWII gets more than he bargains for when he checks out a strip show on his down time. Featuring a strip tease sure to turn the heads of furries all over the internet.

L is for LIBIDO


You're never going to want to masturbate again after watching Indonesian director Timo Tjahjanto's depraved endurance test of morality. To spare his own life, a restrained man is forced to masturbate to increasingly disgusting and offensive visual performances. At times hard to watch, this torturous segment is nevertheless incredibly effective at exploring the sick underbelly of human sexuality and our obsession with voyeurism.

O is for ORGASM


In French, the orgasm is known as "La petite mort," or "little death." Fittingly, Belgian directorial team Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani (Amer) explore the juxtaposition of orgasmic release and death in this highly-stylized and fragmented sensual roller-coaster of erotic imagery and sinister sonic sensuality. Fans of Argento Eurohorror and abstract art will cream their jeans.

T is for TOILET


Lee Hardcastle, who became famous on Youtube for his gory stop-motion cartoons, takes us into the mind of a child afraid to use the toilet. Hardcastle's intentionally crude clay models mesh well with his penchant for shocking stop-motion gore gags in this crowd-pleasing play-doh blood bath that takes an unexpected and cruel left turn.

V is for VAGITUS


A machine-gun toting robot. A dystopian, futuristic city. Telepathic mutants. Explosions. Gun fights. I guess Canadian comic book artist and filmmaker Kaare Andrews doesn't know the meaning of "low-budget." Packing a whole feature film's worth of action, sci-fi conventions, and mind-bending twists, Andrews's "V is for Vagitus" blows the doors off the other shorts in terms of high-concept execution and is just begging to be turned into a feature-length sci-fi epic. Wow!

Y is for Young Buck


Canadian genre darling Jason Eisner (Hobo with a Shotgun) continues his cinematic love affair with the 1980's and blood -- but with considerably more sophistication this time around -- in this superb revenge tale that rocks to the beat of a brilliant synthesizer montage score. Bloody as hell and gag-inducing at times, you'll be cheering by the end when a vile predator finally becomes prey.

Other notable mentions include the timely and tormented "X is for XXL" by Xavier Gens (Frontiers), the surprisingly heart-felt "A is for Apocalypse" by Nacho Vigalondo (Time Crimes), and the inscrutable to the point of ludicrous, balls-to-the-wall, excess gone made "Z is for Zetsumetsu (Extinction)" by Tokyo Gore Police and Helldriver's madman director Yoshihiro Nishimura and his Japanese team.


While some shorts are not as arresting as the others, the only one I felt completely disappointed with was Ti West's "M is for Miscarriage." I loved West's In the House of the Devil and The Inkeepers, but I don't know what West did with his $5000 budget on this short. This visually low-fi installment is so terribly shot and underwhelming by design that it completely fails to offer anything more than the conceit in the title. A major misfire from the man many have held up as the next John Carpenter.

Misfires aside, every horror fan and lover of bizarre cinema owes it to themselves to experience this wild assault on good taste and the senses. I'm still cringing and still laughing, and I know I'll be revisiting these shorts time and time again.

ABCs of Death is now available on DVD and Blu-ray in Canada packed with special features including making-of featurettes and director commentaries.

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