Wednesday 29 October 2014

The ABCs Of Death

Primer Scream

The ABCs Of Death
2012 USA/New Zealand
Directed by Kaare Andrews, Angela Bettis, Bruno Forzani and Hélène Cattet, Ernesto Díaz Espinoza, Jason Eisener, Adrián García Bogliano, Xavier Gens, Jorge Michel Grau, Lee Hardcastle, Noboru Iguchi, Thomas Cappelen Malling, 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
Monster Films Blu Ray Zone B

And so... on to The ABCs Of Death. This is another movie which, like V/H/S (reviewed here), did the festival circuit back in 2012 and which I managed to miss or somehow not have the opportunity to see. And, again like V/H/S, it's another portmanteau movie comprising of lots of different shorts bound together by a unifying concept. And, of course, I am very aware you should never start a sentence using the word “And” because that’s just bad grammar... but sometimes I feel that in terms of setting the right tone it’s the correct thing to do anyway... so what are you gonna do?

Like most movies which are collections of shorter films or chapters, The ABCs Of Death is not alone in being somewhat a hit and miss affair but, it has to be said, because of the basic premise of this work, you certainly do get a fair amount of chances at being both over and underwhelmed, as the case may be, for just over two hours. This premise resulting in, naturally, a very much “does what it says on the tin” kind of experience is that 27 directors from various different countries have been approached (one of those is a two person directing team) and each given a letter of the alphabet. From that letter, the people in question are tasked with picking a word and making a short four to five minute movie about death involving their word of choice... with no interference about the content of that short.

As you would expect from using such a large group of people, the resulting films are diverse and often wildly different in style from each other. It also means that, since the order is kinda nailed down by the letter given, there’s no control over the tone of the short film and its relationship to the shorts that come before or after it. So, for example, you may get two or three which take a strong, humorous approach to proceedings lumped in together followed by a couple of really bleak visions, and so on. Also, there’s always the chance that some writers/directors are going to come up with some similar material and this does happen on occasion. Two of the teams involved, for example, take a starting point in a similar vein to Fellini’s Eight And A Half... by which I mean the short films both start off with the directors/writers etc trying to come up with a word to use for their segment in the movie The ABCs Of Death. Which is kinda interesting but, no more unusual than there being, for example, a couple of shorts that take an animation approach to their subject.

There’s also a nice “game on” approach to the movie too in that the title of each short, featuring the letter and the word, is not revealed until the end of each short... so you can have a fun time trying to guess what the word is that the director has picked as you watch each short unfold. Some of them are not going to be easy to guess... a couple of them are downright impossible.

Everybody is going to have their own highlights and lowlights in this collection but, for me, the real pick of the crop were the following...

Jake West, director of one of my all time favourite vampire movies, Razor Blade Smile and those two recent Video Nasty documentaries (reviewed here and here) has a great little short called S Is For Speed which juxtaposes grindhouse glam sensibilities with the flipside of the coin, where human beings are practically wasted corpses and it really highlights the way a person can look completely different from two different make up jobs.

Ben Wheatley, who made Kill List (reviewed here), Sightseers (reviewed here) and the first couple of episodes of Peter Capaldi’s incarnation of Doctor Who, Deep Breath (reviewed here) and Into The Dalek (reviewed here), amongst others... delivers a mini rollercoaster of a ride with a POV view of an undead monster and the way he or she is seen by the pitchfork and torch brigade in pursuit. It was nice seeing the two lead actors of Kill List, Neil Maskell and Michael Smiley, reunited for this one, entitled U Is For Unearthed.

Once you can figure out the fact that, due to the movie magic of editing around things, certain nasty looking fights don’t really happen while shooting, the human versus dog sport of Marcel Sarmiento’s D Is For Dogfight is worth a look and has a lovely conclusion that really emphasises that a dog really is man’s best friend. Really charming twist/reveal on this one.

Timo Tjahjanto’s L Is For Libido is quite refreshingly sick and is a real tribute to one's stamina. It’s also quite gory, if that floats your boat, with a final denouement which is quite extreme and which manages to top the already fairly extreme nature of the basic premise of this piece.

And then there’s my favourite of the lot and the one set of directors who, once I’d discovered they were involved with this project, ensured that The ABCs Of Death was an instant purchase for me. O Is For Orgasm is directed by none other than the wonderful team of Bruno Forzani and Hélène Cattet, who gave us the brilliantly surreal, giallo infused movies Amer (reviewed here) and The Strange Colour Of Your Body’s Tears (reviewed here). The names of the director(s) of each short is not revealed until the end of each one (under the title) but their style of directing is so recognisable, right from their first frame of film here, that it would be impossible to mistake it for anybody else’s work. O Is For Orgasm is basically another abstract montage of beautifully lit, brightly coloured, surreal moments with absolutely no dialogue involved. It’s a tour de force of sheer cinematic beauty for its brief running time, on a par with some of this pair’s early shorts and, for my money, this one short stretch of film is worth the price of admission, so to speak.

And that’s that. I’m guessing this was a fairly popular collection on its initial release because there’s a sequel just been released in some countries and I have to say that, because the shorts segments are so... well, um... short, there’s never really a moment in this film when you start to get bored (although I’m pretty sure I’d seen one of the animated shorts in here prior to its inclusion in The ABCs Of Death, a number of years before. Definitely a must watch if you’re a fan of horror and don’t mind watching short movies. One of the more successful portmanteau movies I’ve seen in my lifetime, for sure.

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