DVD Review: 'The ABCs of Death'

By: Heather Seebach

I first saw The ABCs of Death at last year's Philadelphia Film Festival so my initial review was based on the anthology as a whole. Now that the film is on DVD, I will break down my brief thoughts on each of the twenty-six segments. I truly believe this is the best way to analyze this movie anyway because it is not a cohesive piece of work. The 26 death-based shorts are completely independent of one another and so altogether this feels more like a short film festival than a single film. So as you'd expect, there will be great segments, terrible ones, and everything in between. 

I'll refrain from real spoilers, but I do think one of the more fun aspects of this movie is guessing the title and director of each segment. If you want to have that same enjoyment, you may prefer to skip the following mini-reviews and just scroll to my final thoughts below.

Here we go...

A is for Apocalypse
(d: Nacho Vigalondo)

One of my favorite segments of the film, the director of Timecrimes made this brutally gory but wickedly funny head-scratcher. It is one of the few shorts to tell an interesting story succinctly and entirely.

B is for Bigfoot
(d: Adrian Garcia Bogliano)

Cold Sweat director Bogliano shapes his segment like a classic urban legend, with a little girl, a bogeyman, and two horny babysitters who pay for disrespecting the legend. Not among my favorites, but a familiar type of story some people will enjoy.

C is for Cycle
(d: Ernesto Diaz Espinoza)

This trippy segment actually reminds me of the aforementioned Timecrimes. It feels more sci-fi with the death thing kinda tacked on at the end, but kudos to Espinoza (Mirageman) for making something aside from monsters and killers.

D is for Dogfight
(d: Marcel Sarmiento)

This segment from the director of Deadgirl seems to be a fan favorite but am not a great fan of it. I dig its anti-dog fighting message, but it's just ill-fitted to the death theme and with all its slow-motion and electronic music, it just feels like a music video. It's beautifully shot, there is no denying that, I just think it is misplaced in this anthology. It would look damn good on MTV though. 

E is for Exterminate
(d: Angela Bettis)

Angela Bettis (May) gets behind the camera for this goofy little short about spider revenge. It's an amusing low-concept story, but it's unfortunately hindered by the cartoony CG spiders. People creeped out by spiders should still get the heebie-jeebies from it.

F is for Fart
(d: Noboru Iguchi)

This is the first short that is likely to make viewers turn the film off. Not for extreme content, but for how batshit absurd it is. If you know Iguchi's work (Machine Girl, Dead Sushi), that should come as no surprise. This one is about Japanese girls in love and their obsession with flatulence. I'm not sure if it's an intentional parody of Battle Royale but it sure feels like one. This one's big problem is that it's the first comedic short, so viewers were put off thinking this was supposed to be serious. Originally, this one was too silly for me, but upon second viewing, I find it pretty funny especially in light of the movie(s) it is parodying.

G is for Gravity
(d: Andrew Traucki)

Honestly, after 3 or 4 viewings, I still didn't understand this POV-style short about a surfer. Music cues even led me to believe I saw something that wasn't there, and I assumed this was a monster short. However, after doing some online research, I finally realized I was missing the entire point of the segment (as it occurs early on and without much ado). Hint: bricks. I had no idea, and I can't tell if that's the filmmaker's fault or if I'm just an idiot. Probably the latter. From the director of The Reef.

H is for Hydro-Electric Diffusion
(d: Thomas Cappelen Malling)

Here is another WTF short, this one from the director of Norwegian Ninja. It stars furries (people in animal costumes) in a pulp WW2 setting. It's a live-action cartoon, but it's definitely not for kids. It's not what most horror fans will expect or enjoy, but it's zany good fun for people who dig something a little (or a lot) different. Just don't ask me what the hell hydro-electric diffusion is.

 I is for Ingrown
(d: Jorge Michel Grau)

One of the film's more graphic and violent entries, Ingrown portrays a woman being tortured with injections of what I presume is oil. Her death is slow and brutal to watch. But the most disturbing thing about this short is not the torture, but rather the implications of who is doing it - a fact that is addressed so subtly I missed it the first time around but it's beautifully done. Though I'm still baffled this wasn't called I is for Injection. From the director of We Are What We Are.

J is for Jidai-geki (Samurai Movie)
(d: Yûdai Yamaguchi)

Here is another silly Japanese short, though I originally enjoyed this one more than F is for Fart. This one comes from the writer of cult flicks like Versus and Battlefield Baseball. In it, a samurai is about to perform seppuku (hara-kiri) but keeps making unnerving faces at the kaishakunin (assistant) who is there to decapitate him. I get a kick out of J's hilarious practical FX that recall Big Trouble in Little China at their most tame. The short is completely bonkers but undeniably funny. 
K is for Klutz
(d: Anders Morgenthaler)

This is the first of two animated shorts. Klutz is about a woman dropping a deuce in a public restroom but the turd keeps coming back to harass her. It's as scatological as humor gets, but despite barely fitting into the death theme, I got a kick out of it. It is something of a bizarre coincidence that both animated films involve a toilet and similar endings. More on that when I discuss "T"...

L is for Libido
(d: Timo Tjahjanto)

It's easy to see why this one is an audience favorite. Timo Tjahjanto (Macabre)'s fucked-up segment is practically porn and has plenty of graphic violence too. It involves a secret competition where men are forced to masturbate to increasingly more disturbing scenarios or be killed. I'm not usually one for such blatantly sick movies, but the concept and the cinematography put this one in the top tier.

M is for Miscarriage
(d: Ti West)

I typically love Ti West's work, but this one comes across as just plain lazy to me. It's built entirely upon a one-shot idea that's not even effective at being disturbing or funny. I have nothing else to say about this one, the disappointment of it really bummed me out.

N is for Nupitials
(d: Banjong Pisanthanakun)

This one, from the director of Shutter, is purely a comedic short with some death tacked onto the end. A man trains a parrot to propose to his girlfriend, but the talking bird gets him in deep shit when it repeats the wrong thing. Funny, but not particularly on-theme. Without the final shot, it could be a commercial for wedding rings. Or divorce counseling. Or parrots. 

O is for Orgasm
(d: Bruno Forzani, Héléne Cattet)

Here is another visually beautiful short, but it's absolutely ill-fitted to this anthology. There's sex, bondage, and a little torture perhaps, but it's like an art school project, not a horror film. 

P is for Pressure
(d: Simon Rumley)

Of all the fucked up and/or brutally violent shorts in this anthology, this one made the audience I saw the film with cringe more than any other. The director of Red White and Blue made this segment about a woman struggling to provide for her family. She resorts to selling her body, and ultimately does something really fucked up (and sadly real in dark parts of the world). This one is more drama than typical horror but it's certainly among the most horrifying. Once you realize where it's going, the sense of dread is palpable. Oh, and I totally expected this one's title to be P is for Pussy. Wrong again.

Q is for Quack
(d: Adam Wingard)

This is my favorite segment of the film, which is fitting because I already love Wingard and writer Simon Barrett (A Horrible Way to Die). The duo, stuck with the impossible responsibility of filming a "Q" segment, made a self-referential comedic short starring themselves as coked-up hacks trying to make a horror short. Adam and Simon's asshole personalities and the meta humor make this segment the funniest of the anthology.

R is for Removed
(d: Srdjan Spasojevic)

The director behind A Serbian Film made this strange but unique tale about a man whose burnt skin can be peeled off and turned into anything. It's a vague metaphor for I'm-not-sure-what, but it's gory, interesting, and stylishly shot, even if the ending makes no sense to me.

S is for Speed
(d: Jake West)

The director of Evil Aliens and Doghouse created this post-apocalyptic-style western of-sorts about two leather-clad ladies fleeing a creature of death in the desert. The twist is a bit corny but it made the short really interesting and memorable to me. 

T is for Toilet
(d: Lee Hardcastle)

Lee Hardcastle's claymation short was the winner of the competition for 26th director. It was also my pick for #1 entry before it was chosen as the winner. It's impressively animated, very gory, plenty fucked-up, and all-around hilarious.

U is for Unearthed
(d: Ben Wheatley)

Ben Wheatley is such an exciting filmmaker that this one disappointed me a bit. I am not a big fan of vampire stories or POV style, and this has both. For what it is, though, it is well-shot and full of practical gore. And I can't say I've ever seen a first-person vampire flick, or even a horror movie from the POV of any monster, so points for originality to Wheatley.

V is for Vagitus (The Cry of a Newborn Baby)
(d: Kaare Andrews)

This gory sci-fi is definitely one of the anthology's more impressive entries. In a dystopian Vancouver, Propogation Control - with the help of giant killer robots - hunts down babies and their law-breaking parents who don't have licenses to reproduce. Throw in telekinesis and a ton of gore, and this is a bloody good time from comic book artist and director (Altitude) Kaare Andrews.  Perhaps there is a socio-political message in here, but it doesn't matter - just enjoy the madness. Likely to be enjoyed by fans of Dredd 3D

W is for WTF
(d: Jon Schnepp)

As you can guess from the title, this one is completely bizarre. From the mind behind Metalocalypse, this one teases at being an animated short but instead becomes another self-referential segment about the filmmakers not knowing what to do. Unfortunately that's very similar to Q is for Quack, but this one is packed with random funny shit like clown zombies, laser walruses, face-eating babies, and a nice reference to Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978). It certainly lives up to its title, though some may find it a little too weird. I got a few good laughs out of it, as will fans of Schnepp's work.

X is for XXL
(d: Xavier Gens)

Gens delivers just what we've come to expect from the Frontier(s) director - a gruesome, visually lovely piece about society's pressure on overweight people. A young women goes to extreme measures to be thin and the results are delightfully nasty. One of my favorites segments of this anthology for sure.

Y is for Youngbuck
(d: Jason Eisener)

Here is another of my favorite shorts, this one from Hobo with a Shotgun director Jason Eisener. It's another retro, hyperstylized piece from a filmmaker whose shorts I always enjoy. A boy gets revenge on a pedophile in a unique way. Twisted, fun, and a wicked awesome soundtrack.

Z is for Zetsumetsu (Extinction)

(d: Yoshihiro Nishimura)

Yet another WTF short from the man behind Tokyo Gore Police. In futuristic Japan, Dr. Strangelove and the Nazis force people to eat rice or something. Little about this segment makes any sense, but it's another showcase for Nichimura's wild FX. And lots of full-frontal nudity. You won't find a swordfight with a rice-cumming, giant-dick Nazi chick anywhere else, that's for sure. It's so bonkers it's funny but again, this brand of ridiculous is bound to put a lot of viewers off. 


Because each segment of this anthology is made independently, the film as a whole seems to lack a solid conclusion. That is why I insist this film be judged as a collection of shorts, each evaluated individually. I also enjoyed the whole thing more the second time I watched it (which is rare for me).

Perhaps my fondness for this movie, despite its flaws, stems from the same reason I like buffets. Sure, the quality of the food sucks, but sometimes I don't want a whole meal - sometimes I just wanna pig out on pizza, mac and cheese, and dinner rolls. Likewise, The ABCs of Death offers up 26 courses of junk food for all sensibilities. Not all of it is palatable, but you still feel full in the end. Sick of this food metaphor yet? I sure am. In short, they are not all winners, but if you would like to watch an eclectic assortment of films by talented filmmakers from across the world, look no further.

The ABCs of Death is now on DVD and Blu-ray from Magnolia Home Entertainment. The release includes behind-the-scenes features and deleted scenes from 11 of the shorts, plus commentary from over 30 filmmakers.

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