Written & Directed by various artists
After a generation long drought the horror anthology has mounted a comeback that started a couple years ago with with the new Halloween staple Trick 'r Treat. This past week marked the U.S. debut of the year's third highly anticipated horror anthology (after V/H/S and The Theater Bizarre) with Drafthouse Film's ambitious ABC's of Death.
“Ambitious” might be too small a word to describe the scope of this project. Consisting of a celluloid busting twenty-six shorts, each director was assigned a letter of the alphabet and the task to create a film based on that letter. ABC's courted some of the brightest young talents in horror for contributions including Ben Wheatley, Jason Eisner and Adam Wingard among them.
Before screening the film, executive producer Tim League apologized to the packed crowd as what they were screening was an earlier cut of the film. The finished product had been left behind at the previous week's TIFF. While what we saw was a fair approximation of the final product some of the titles had been changed and reorganized. Rather than give you an inaccurate review a work print version, I'll leave you with an overall impression.
ABC's results in a mixed bag as a viewing experience. Heading into the film just know that there's no way you're going to enjoy all twenty six shorts and cross your fingers that you'll get more good than bad. The rigid nature of the premise means the flow feels disjointed. Shorts that play for comedy give way to splatter fests that give way to more serious minded fare (one short deals with the alarmingly high number of women murdered in Mexico, and while its a very effective piece of work, it's a massive tonal departure for the remainder of the film. There's an international flair to the film which works in some cases (Penumbra's Adrian Garcia's Bogliano's children's bedtime story packs a fun wallop) I found myself once again baffled by the wacky for the sake of being wacky nature of the Japanese contributions. Their special brand of nonsense threatened to cause my eyeballs to explode with sheer disbelief and frustration.
Also, if you're a fan of toilet or poop humor, ABC's of Death is going to be your jam with a pair of animated shorts (including the fan contest winner stop motion film) that are in the upper echelon of the bunch. Jason Eisner provides a short music video that could have been a side story set in Scum Town and the Adam Wingard/Simon Barrett contribution had me hoping the pair develops a web series featuring the duo getting into shenanigans each week. A segment featuring dogfighting manages turns out to be one of the most cheer worthy of the bunch.
The biggest disappointment comes from Ti West with his lazy, tossed off segment. I enjoy West's features, but he needs to avoid short films as he's 0 for 2 this year (his V/H/S segment is the weakest of the bunch by far). Also, watching him toss tee shirts into the crowd confirmed that he throws like a stupid weak baby.
ABC's of Death definitely benefits from a rowdy, pumped up crowd (prior to the screening the Alamo had patrons shotgun a beer in order to get in the mood). Trying to sit through this many wide ranging shorts that run the gamut in terms of quality may prove to be an impossible task, especially given the number of distractions within arm's reach. The reaction to this film may well mirror that of V/H/S where folks who had the benefit of a theatrical screening found it fun but flawed where the video-on-demand crowd found the effort disappointing.