Monster Pictures // 2012 // 123 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Paul Pritchard (Retired) // July 28th, 2013
26 Directors, 26 Ways to Die.
The ABCs of Death is, in its own words, "perhaps the most ambitious anthology film ever conceived." With twenty-six directors, spanning some fifteen countries, the film sees each director take a letter from the alphabet and build a story of death around it.
Considering the sheer number of directors involved and the experimental nature of the film, it's perhaps not all that surprising that The ABCs of Death should end up being so wildly inconsistent in terms of tone, subject matter, and quality. What is surprising is just how mundane so much of it actually is. Make no mistake, there are some talented people behind this project, and while some undoubtedly step up to produce excellent work, far too much comes over as self-indulgent and -- even worse -- boring.
The Xavier Gens (The Divide) short, "X is for XXL," is an excellent example of what happens when someone truly embraces the artistic freedom afforded to them by a project like The ABCs of Death. Memorable, disturbing, and with a sly dig at modern society's fixation on image, "XXL" stands out from the crowd. Still, Gens is not quite alone in producing something special. Lee Hardcastle, who won a competition to become the film's twenty-sixth director, makes the most of his opportunity to deliver the delightfully twisted -- and not just a little disturbing -- Claymation short, "T is for Toilet." Built around a young boy's fear of the toilet, the film plays out with a near perfect blend of horror, excessive gore, and humor, culminating in a finale that scarred me more than I would have expected from such a crude piece of animation. Another standout is "W is for WTF!" -- though I must confess it's difficult to explain quite why this scattershot short was so entertaining. Opening with a gore-soaked animation, the film quickly switches to the real world, where the filmmakers find their oddball creations have begun to run amok. It's disorientating and bizarre, but never anything less than entertaining.
Director Timo Tjahjanto is responsible for another of the better pieces, offering up the vile, yet remarkable "L is for Libido." The short is perhaps the most extreme in terms of its content, focusing on a horrific tournament of which I won't go into detail, yet -- like all the best offerings here -- there are signs of something more substantial beyond all the gore and bodily fluids. The final short worthy of special praise is Ben Wheatley's (Kill List) "U is for Unearthed." The entire film is seen from the perspective of an undead creature, presumably a vampire, as it is hunted down by a mob. The ferocity of the piece truly stands out, with its unique perspective offering a novel twist. Something these better examples share, beyond their more structured narratives, is a strong visual style that makes them easily identifiable.
It's when The ABCs of Death tries to be either overtly funny or serious that the wheels begin to fall off. "A is for Apocalypse" contains some fine effects work, but doesn't stand up, due to a lack of content to back up its morbid tone. "B is for Bigfoot" is too derivative to entertain, while "F is for Fart" is not nearly as funny as it thinks it is. Then there are the half-baked ideas that hint at something greater, yet fail to deliver, such as "C is for Cycle," which is a solid entry, yet could have offered so much more if it had explored its central theme in a more direct way. Sadly the vast majority of shorts contained within The ABCs of Death fall into the poor or disappointing categories, which in turn results in a film that drags well before its 129-minute runtime is over.
Monster Pictures is releasing The ABCs of Death in a two-disc DVD set, and a single-disc Blu-ray edition; The ABCs of Death (Blu-ray)(Region B) was sent in for the purposes of this review. Picture quality is excellent, with Marcel Sarmiento's "D is for Dogfight" being reference quality material. The sheer amount of detail is exceptional, as is the sharpness of the picture. The audio also delivers, with pulsating soundtracks being bolstered by often stomach churning sound effects.
The selection of extras is surprisingly plentiful with six audio commentaries are joined by nine featurettes and three trailers.
As much as I'd love to be able to champion a title like The ABCs of Death, the fact is that it just doesn't justify it. Individual moments stand out, which horror fans will want to see, but it's difficult to see much replay value here beyond a handful of shorts.
G is for guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Monster Pictures
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 123 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
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