Saturday, November 2, 2013




SO YOU CAN IMAGINE MY FRUSTRATION WHEN -- sorry -- you can imagine my frustration when I turned on The ABCs of Death last night (drawing out Halloween by one extra day) and found that all the subtitles were written in capital letters.

And since this is a compilation of short films by most non-English speakers -- like, a surprisingly international cross-section of non-English speakers -- there were quite a lot of subtitles.


I will spare you that frustration for the rest of this post. Even though The ABCs of Death didn't spare me over 129 minutes.

The digestible chapter approach

I was going to call them 129 long minutes, but in truth, they were not that long. This despite the fact that some of the segments -- many of them, in fact -- were just a waste of my time. 

I guess that's the benefit of an anthology, where many shorter films are collected into one whole. Your brain doesn't have the chance to get bored, because there's always something new. None of the shorts seemed to last longer than about six minutes, which is perfect for the Youtube generation. (Of which I am a part, I guess.)

I started The ABCs of Death at 10:30 p.m. on a Friday that saw me walk a good four miles. Any other film and I might have been asleep in the first 15 minutes, even with a Diet Coke and a bag of Jaffas to keep me awake. But I made it all the way to W before saving the final three letters for the next day.

I have to credit the short film format. I was led to believe this movie really drags, because there are so many films to get through. Truth was, the 26 films went by rather quickly because we were always moving on to something new. And even if most of them weren't very good, I knew that some of them had merit, so the Saturday Night Live effect kind of kicked in -- "Well, that sketch sucked, but maybe the next one will be good."

The guessing game

One thing that helped move things along was that I played the game that many viewers probably played as they watched it: I tried to guess the title of the movie as it was playing, since the title of each short wasn't revealed until it ended. Knowing that each short began with a particular letter in the alphabet, and that they were doing the alphabet in order (duh), gave me some chance at this game.

I still didn't do very well. Not well at all, in fact.

Miserably, in fact. I got only four right. That was four of 25, since I wasn't playing yet on letter A.

I'm not sure if I should blame myself for bad guesses, or the filmmakers for really stretching the meaning of the word they chose in the context of their film.

Stop reading now if you don't want to know the titles of any of the ABCs of Death shorts.

The first one I guessed correctly was D is for Dogfight, a rather easy one since the movie was about a dogfight. Pretty slick there, Vance.

Then I got shut out for about half the alphabet. I would have guessed F if I had gone for the most obvious F-word in the context of what I was seeing, which would have been F is for Fart. Yes, this short is about a fatal fart. (And some Japanese schoolgirl crush lesbian action, but not as hot as that sounds.) However, I went all highfalutin and guessed F is for Flatulence, which was of course incorrect.

The one I was most proud of guessing was the one that broke my losing streak, when I guessed O is for Orgasm. What made me proud wasn't that I figured out that the movie was about an orgasm, since that was pretty obvious even though the idea is presented abstractly through sounds and suggestive imagery. No, it was that I knew that the French have a euphemism for orgasms, calling them "le petit mort" -- or, "the little death." Sure enough, one of the filmmakers (Helene Cattet) is French.

I got Q is for Quack because it's about the filmmakers' attempts to assassinate a real duck on camera.

My final correct guess was T is for Toilet, which again is a very on-the-nose guess considering the piece. I should give myself partial credit on X is for XXL, because my guess was X is for Xtra Large, which is close enough.

Ranking the shorts

It's pretty stupid to try to rank 26 short films, but I'm all for stupid. That'll also help you determine whether you agree or disagree with my assessment of what we both saw -- assuming you saw it.

If you haven't seen The ABCs of Death and want to be surprised, don't read this section. 

1) L is for Libido (dir. Timo Tjahjanto) - A number of the shorts try to do little more than disturb, and this could well be one of them. But it was the right kind of disturbing. Captives are chained to chairs and forced to masturbate to increasingly less sexy images over a number of rounds. Whoever is the slowest to ejaculate meets a painful death. Eventually they are invited to masturbate over such gruesome things as an amputee pleasuring herself with her fake leg and an act of pedophilia being committed in front of them. So wrong, but so perfectly executed.

2) T is for Toilet (dir. Lee Hardcastle) - A stop motion bit about a toilet that comes to life and wreaks bloody havoc on a family. It probably connected with me because I have a son right now who is afraid of going poopy on the potty. And it was kind of hilariously gruesome.

3) O is for Orgasm (dir. Bruno Forzani & Helene Cattet) - Pretty and artful and about the only piece in the whole movie that wasn't trying to be gruesome. A pleasure.

4) U is for Unearthed (dir. Ben Wheatley) - An undead creature (probably a vampire) being killed and beheaded, from his/her perspective. Clever. I guessed U is for Undead, which I thought was a decent guess.

5) A is for Apocalypse (dir. Nacho Vigalondo) - A bit of a sick joke as a woman brutally murders a man (not quite -- he's still alive for his few dying minutes) right before the apocalypse. This last bit isn't revealed until right before the end. I really love Vigalondo's feature Timecrimes.

6) D is for Dogfight (dir. Marcel Sarmiento) - A vicious dog and an older man with boxing gloves, pitted against each other in an illegal dogfight, turn the tables on the fight promoter. I'd call it on the nose except that the dog and the man fighting each other were an odd and cool touch.

7) Q is for Quack (dir. Adam Wingard & Simon Barrett) - Predictable resolution to the two directors' outside-the-box "What do we do with the letter Q?" short, but it was funny enough.

8) R is for Removed (dir. Srdjan Spasojevic) - Some gleeful grossness about skin being ungrafted off a body to serve as film celluloid, and some vengeful kills by the patient.

9) V is for Vagitus (dir. Kaare Andrews) - I didn't entirely get what was going on in this sci fi short about a future dystopia, but I liked the mood they created.

10) E is for Exterminate (dir. Angela Bettis) - The short that arachnaphobes will hate. Had a pretty good (if unsurprising) payoff.

11) C is for Cycle (dir. Ernesto Diaz Espinoza) - This is the one that I thought Nacho Vigalondo would have directed, considering Timecrimes. Involves a time loop and the repeated death of the main character. Not as clever as it seems like it should be.

12) X is for XXL (dir. Xavier Gens) - Perhaps the most depressing piece has a fat woman cutting off chunks of her body to try to be thin. I must admit it was effective, even it as it disturbed me in some ways I didn't particularly like.

13) N is for Nuptials (dir. Banjong Pisanthanakun) - Fairly obvious bit about a parrot repeating back things that a woman shouldn't hear in front of her cheating boyfriend. 

14) W is for WTF (dir. Jon Schnepp) - As this deals with a flurry of ideas about what the director should do for his film (breaking the fourth wall like Q is for Quack), I thought a better title would have been W is for Writer's Block. But I guess that's two words.

15) B is for Bigfoot (dir. Adrian Garcia Bogliano) - Fairly obvious bit about a horny couple (one of whom is babysitting a young girl) making up a story about a boogeyman to get her not to bother them, then actually being killed by a boogeyman while having sex. The killer was pretty creepy looking, I guess. Still, there was so much boogeyman talk that I thought it should have been B is for Boogeyman.

16) P is for Pressure (dir. Simon Rumley) - A woman crushes a kitten's skull for money. At least the skull crushing is off camera.

17) Y is for Youngbuck (dir. Jason Eisener) - A young boy takes revenge against the pedophile janitor who raped him. I don't know why I would have expected anything else from the director of Hobo With a Shotgun.

18) F is for Fart (dir. Noboru Iguchi) - Two women achieve bliss through smelling each others' flatulence while the rest of the world is destroyed by a poisonous gas released by an earthquake. The Japanese are weird sometimes.

19) K is for Klutz (dir. Anders Morgenthaler) - More odd toilet humor in cartoon form. A woman is killed when her own poop refuses to be flushed and violently reinserts itself into her rectum and back out her mouth.

20) G is for Gravity (dir. Andrew Traucki) - Another first person short involving a surfer who drowns. I didn't get what happened here until the movie's wikipedia page told me that the surfer brought bricks in a bag, and it may have been an intentional drowning. Went over my head when I saw it.

21) J is for Jidai-geki (dir. Yudai Yamaguchi) - A frivolous short in which a Japanese executioner watches as the face of the man set to be executed contorts into a number of weird expressions. I should probably rank this one higher, but it just didn't do all that much for me.

22) H is for Hydro-Electric Diffusion (dir. Thomas Malling) - Some nonsense about a dog dressed as a soldier and a Nazi fox.

23) I is for Ingrown (dir. Jorge Michel Grau) - A woman in a bathtub gets injected and scratches herself to death. Sounds better than it is.

24) S is for Speed (dir. Jake West) - Something about heroine addicts, but I don't really remember. May have slept through this one a bit.

25) Z is for Zetsumetsu (dir. Yoshihiro Nishimura) - A weird conglomeration of images about women fighting with large strap-on dildos and a man playing Dr. Strangelove. Sounds like it should be awesome. Isn't.

26) M is for Miscarriage (dir. Ti West) - A woman goes to get a plunger when her miscarriage won't flush down the toilet. Eww. Ti West, I expected better.

Yes, I just did that. So now, please, you must provide me your thoughts on whether you agree or disagree with my assessments.

Up next

There will be an ABCs of Death 2 coming out in 2014. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing. However, I like the concept enough that I'm hoping for better execution this time out. I really only genuinely liked less than a third of the movies, so they need to do better for sure.

I really hope this is one of them. It's a short by my friend Travis Betz in his trademark construction paper style. Like it to help it make the final cut.


Don Handsome said...

For me, its the LAs of death. In that order. LA and nothing more.

Vancetastic said...

Yeah, I think I'm being a bit generous in suggesting that as many as ten of them have some merit. (I guess it depends on how you define "some"). Overall it's not a success as a film, but I like its potential enough to see what they would do with a second movie. Get better talent I hope -- or more to the point, get more out of people who have demonstrated talent in the past.