THE ABCs OF DEATH (2012) Reviews and overview

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The ABCs of Death is a 2012 American anthology horror film produced by Ant Timpson (Fangoria) and Tim League. It contains twenty-six different shorts, each by different directors spanning fifteen countries.

The directors were given free rein in choosing a word to create a story involving death. The varieties of death range from accidents to murders. A contest was held for the role of the 26th director. The winner was UK-based director Lee Hardcastle, who submitted a claymation short.

The film premiered at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival. A sequel – The ABCs of Death 2 – was released in 2014.

The shorts and their directors are:

  • A: Nacho Vigalondo (A is for Apocalypse)
  • B: Adrian Garcia Bogliano (B is for Bigfoot)
  • C: Ernesto Diaz Espinoza (C is for Cycle)
  • D: Marcel Sarmiento (D is for Dogfight)
  • E: Angela Bettis (E is for Exterminate)
  • F: Noboru Iguchi (F is for Fart)
  • G: Andrew Traucki (G is for Gravity)
  • H: Thomas Malling (H is for Hydro-Electric Diffusion)
  • I: Jorge Michel Grau (I is for Ingrown)
  • J: Yûdai Yamaguchi (J is for Jidai-geki)
  • K: Anders Morgenthaler (K is for Klutz)
  • L: Timo Tjahjanto (L is for Libido)
  • M: Ti West (M is for Miscarriage)
  • N: Banjong Pisanthanakun (N is for Nuptials)
  • O: Bruno Forzani, Héléne Cattet (O is for Orgasm)
  • P: Simon Rumley (P is for Pressure)
  • Q: Adam Wingard, Simon Barrett (Q is for Quack)
  • R: Srdjan Spasojevic (R is for Removed)
  • S: Jake West (S is for Speed)
  • T: Lee Hardcastle (T is for Toilet)
  • U: Ben Wheatley (U is for Unearthed)
  • V: Kaare Andrews (V is for Vagitus)
  • W: Jon Schnepp (W is for WTF)
  • X: Xavier Gens (X is for XXL)
  • Y: Jason Eisener (Y is for Youngbuck)
  • Z: Yoshihiro Nishimura (Z is for Zetsumetsu)




Given that the one consistent factor of multi-director anthology films is inconsistency, The ABCs of Death is a somewhat daunting prospect – 26 short films from 28 directors and very high-concept in nature.

Now, as someone who enjoys shorts but often finds full programmes of them rather heavy going thanks to the inconsistency of styles, this format seemed both worrying and reassuring. On the plus side, at least all the films would be a similar, very short length and have a connecting theme; on the negative side, there were a few directors attached to the project who have only ever churned out crap. Given that everyone had complete artistic freedom, the opportunities for self-indulgence seemed high. And as it turns out, the film has lot of self-indulgence in it. Thankfully, more of it works than fails.

The best bits? Marcel Sarmiento’s D is for Dogfight is the first point that the film really comes alive, with a heavily stylised tale of an underground fight club where man and beast are pitted against each other. It’s self-consciously slick and full of slow motion, but it works as a short piece of drama with a neat twist at the end.

Noboru Iguchi’s F is for Fart is as wackily Japanese as you would hope. Equally oddball is Thomas Malling’s H is for Hydro-Electric Diffusion, a cosplayer’s wet dream with anthropomorphic animal characters living out a WW2 tale of derring-do as a British Bulldog is captured by a Nazi fox.

Considerably more sober is Jorge Michel Grau’s I is for Ingrown, a thoroughly grim study of abuse and trauma. There’s more nastiness in Timo Tjahjanto’s L is for Libido, though here it is part of a gleefully – but effectively – offensive tale where captured men are made to watch increasingly twisted libidinous scenarios and play with themselves – the loser getting a hydraulic spike through the length of their body. It’s a film that seems determined to offend, yet is well crafted and unsettling.

Srdjan Spasojevic’s R is for Removed is a bleak slice of surreal body horror, where chunks of flesh are removed from unwilling patients in a hospital, with the flesh used to somehow create 35mm film. It makes little sense, but has a visual strength that belies the content. Lee Hardcastle’s T is for Toilet is an amusing stop-motion story of the dangers of the bathroom and Ben Wheatley’s U is for Unearthed is an impressively frantic first person story shot from the point of view of a vampire being chased and despatched by a mob.

Yoshihiro Nishimura, luckily, gets Z – I doubt anything could really follow the demented Z is for Zetsumetsu. It’s completely deranged, yet in a small enough dose to be bearable.

There are lowlights, of course. Ti West’s smugly tasteless M is for Miscarriage manages to make his awful V/H/S entry seem palatable – how he maintains his thoroughly undeserved reputation as a modern horror great is mystifying. Bruno Forzani and Héléne Cattet continue with the tedium of Amer in O is for Orgasm, at least here keeping it short. It looks pretty but goes nowhere, feeling like a music video somehow spliced into the middle of the film.

Jake West’s S is for Speed is typically shoddy and feels like a feature project that has been chopped down to make a cliché-ridden goth action film. Xavier Gens manages to make a genuinely offensive and hypocritical film in X is for XXL, pretending to critique the diet and beauty industry while portraying the overweight as miserable, downtrodden out-of-control gluttons.

The most unexpected failure is Simon Rumley’s P is for Pressure – suitably grim but rather tedious, empty and moralising in its tale of the horrors forced on anyone involved in prostitution.

As for the rest, I’d say that most are average, a few in particular – V is for Vagitus (Kaare Andrews’ mix of Robocop and ZPG) – are heroic failures and a couple are self-indulgent without being either impressive or annoying, although Adam Wingard’s smug Q is for Quack comes close to the latter.

So, the expected mixed bag. The good films outweigh the awful by almost two to one, and most of the middling stories are passable entertainment, making The ABCs of Death a mostly satisfying experience. And, most importantly for the potential viewer, the film holds together well – it never reaches the point where you feel you are being bombarded with an onslaught of disparate shorts, and nothing hangs around long enough to be a mood killer – even the worst of the films is under five minutes.

An interesting experiment, and one that works on the whole. Offering something for everyone, The ABCs of Death might work best for home viewing, when you can pick and choose the films you want to watch at any time. As a hedonistic whole, it’s quite a rollercoaster of the good, the bad and the delirious, and well worth experiencing.

David Flint, MOVIES & MANIA

Film Facts:

On March 6th 2015, a substitute Spanish teacher in Ohio, who screened the film to teenage students, was jailed for thirty days. She claimed to be unaware of the contents of the movie.

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