The lights are on
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The ABCs of Death begins with a sick man eating breakfast in bed. A radio blares from an adjacent room. A frightened woman slowly enters the bedroom, holding a butcher’s knife overhead with a shaking hand. She stabs wildly, splitting his hand open down the middle into a gory “V.” She buries the knife in his throat as he watches her in confusion. He somehow, somewhat comically, clings onto life as she explains her brutality. The scorned wife has been poisoning her husband for a year, but now she needs to speed up the process before something robs her of the opportunity. The sounds of chaos rise up from the street as the film ends. A is for Apocalypse [Nacho Vigalondo] appears across the screen.
In the not-quite-horror anthology The ABCs of Death, 26 different filmmakers from across the globe explore 26 different ways to die – one short film for each letter of the alphabet. Titles don’t show up until after the films, and the mystery becomes part of the fun. Besides the title format [X is for Y], the only other element linking the films is that they begin and end with something red in the frame. These loose guidelines help unify the unfrightening yet entertaining hodgepodge, which ranges from dramatic dogfights to killer poop.
The quality of Drafthouse Films’ ambitious collection varies as much as the fatalities within. I loved the shameless absurdity of F is for Fart [Noboru Iguchi], where a Japanese girl inhales her instructor’s mystical flatulence. H is for Hydro-Electric Diffusion [Thomas Malling] is a bizarre treat that combines real-life Looney Tunes slapstick and a pulpy WWII-meets-Howard the Duck aesthetic. My favorite, Y is for Youngbuck [Jason Eisener], is a sickening, silent look at a creepy janitor and his underage athlete crush set to fantastic, ‘80s-inspired synth beats. I found myself cringing and nearly gagging as the janitor sops up a mess in an unorthodox fashion, then cracking up at the hilarious gonzo payoff.
The anthology oozes with as much creativity as it does blood, but a few duds sully the collection. E is for Extermination [Angela Bettis] features a distractingly fake CG spider and a predictable gross-out conclusion. Director Ti West’s contribution [spoiler title withheld] is a flat, shallow tale about a woman’s disturbing restroom revelation. The overall acting is campy and amateur, which fits with the goofier films but stands out in others. The entire shebang screams b-movie, both in regards to content and production, which some might turn some folks off.
If you get the impression that The ABCs of Death is thematically flippant, you’re getting the picture. The macabre creativity jammed in this collection won’t appeal to everyone (Timo Tjahjanto’s L is for Libido’s wretched sex acts will make some viewers tune out), but there’s enough here that adventurous horror enthusiasts should find something to love. Good luck explaining why you enjoy it to you friends without getting some sideways looks, though. Better yet, teach them their ABCs all over again with this film and pay the insanity forward.
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars