16th Apr2013

‘The ABCs of Death’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Directed by Ben Wheatley, Simon Rumley, Jake West, Lee Hardcastle, Ti West, Jason Eisener, Kaare Andrews, Bruno Forzani, Noboru Iguchi, Jorge Michel Grau, Srdjan Spasojevic, Adam Wingard and many more…

The ABCs of Death is perhaps the most ambitious anthology film ever conceived with productions spanning fifteen countries and featuring segments directed by over two dozen of the world’s leading talents in contemporary genre film, including the directors of House of the Devil, Hobo with a Shotgun, A Serbian Film, Tokyo Gore Police, and You’re Next as well as four homegrown British directors – Ben Wheatley (Sightseers), Simon Rumley (Red, White & Blue), Jake West (Doghouse) and Leeds based Lee Hardcastle, who with his claymation short, won a competition to be the final director (and whose short is one of the highlights of the film).

Anthologies are always a difficult thing to get right even when they’re helmed by just one director, however inspired by children’s educational books, The ABCs of Death is comprised of twenty-six individual “stories”, each helmed by a different director assigned a letter of the alphabet. The directors were then given free rein in choosing a word to create a story involving death. And boy are there some “interesting” creative choices!

First the good: Thomas Cappelen Malling’s H is for Hydro-Electric Diffusion is by far and away one of the best segmenst of the film. A World War 2 set tale that takes the animal based Looney Toons to their live-action extreme in a funny and stylish way. Whilst Nacho Vigalondo’s A is for Apocalypse opens the film in a great, and poignant, way and Banjong Pisanthanakun (Shutter, 4bia) keeps his segment, N is for Nuptials, short and sweet and very funny. Thankfully the British keep their end up – Jake West’s S is for Speed is a great allegory on drugs and I’d actually love to see a feature length version of his “bounty-hunter” tale without the drugs. Meanwhile Ben Whealey’s U is for Unearthed brilliantly shows life from the perspective of a vampire who is being hunted down; and Lee Hardcastle’s claymation short is a disgustingly funny black-comedy on the perils of toilet training. Canadian director Jason Eisener doesn’t fail to disappoint either with his 80s-tinged revenge-fueled tale that would sit nicely with a film like Savage Streets.

There is one chapter in The ABCs of Death that deserves a particular mention: Kaare Andrew’s sci-fi infused chapter V is for Vagitus. Andrews’ chapter superbly shows what you CAN achieve in a short time and on a low budget and unlike a lot of his collaborators he manages to actually tell a story within the time he has. Someone needs to give the man some money to make another film pronto!

However the rest? Whilst the best segments in The ABCs of Death mix horror and humour, the rest try and go for extremes, often to their own detriment. The real surprise is Ti West short. West has made a name for himself recently as a director who goes for the slow-burn, with films such as House of the Devil and The Innkeepers. Unable, for obvious reasons, to slowly build his story, West instead goes for a short sharp shock and creates what is one of the vilest things committed to celluloid I’ve seen in some time. If it was West’s intention to court controversy with his M is for Miscarriage short then he’s certainly succeeded. Of the remaining chapters of this anthology there’s nothing that we a) haven’t seen before; or b) would ever really want to see again. Especially disappointing are the shorts from the Eastern contingent, all of whom seem preoccupied with grotesquery and bodily functions than actual story. And the same can be said of a lot of the chapters in the film – with only a short time to tell a “story” many chose to go for shocks and gore rather than try to make a cohesive tale, leaving this film with nothing much to recommend it sadly…

In the end The ABCs of Death is an over-hyped disappointment-filled ride through the alphabet of horror saved only by a half-dozen or so good chapters and Kaare Andrews brilliant one. The film is released across the UK on April 26th.

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