Thursday, March 07, 2013

The ABCs of Death: the Horror of Inconsistency

It is more about Macguffins than McGuffey.  Twenty-six directors from around the world were invited to kill people off using successive letters of the alphabet.  The results vary.  Such is usually the case with anthology films, but even more so for producers Ant Timpson & Tim League’s The ABCs of Death (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in New York at the IFC Center.

The titles of each constituent film often act as macabre punch lines, capping off each bloody bit of business with a knowing wink.  Therefore, to refer to many films by name would often be spoilery.  Fortunately, they all come conveniently lettered for easy reference.  Nacho Vigalondo’s “A” is a perfect example of an ironic reveal.  While not nearly as inventive as Timecrimes or Extraterrestrial it offers some clever black comedy to kick things off.

There are some notable highlights, including Thomas Cappelen Malling’s “H,” which has to be one of the darnedest WWII films ever.  It also helps rehabilitate the old “Keep Calm, Carry On” slogan after the recent Amazon kerfuffle.  Noburo Iguchi’s “F” is an apocalyptic Yuri epic that should appeal to a wide range of fetishists.  Marcel Sarmiento earns major style points for the visually dynamic genre-warping “D.”  Perhaps the biggest twist is the one applied to old school exploitation in Jake West’s “S.”  While not exactly classic, Yûdai Yamaguchi plays the premise of Hara-Kiri for laughs, succeeding to an extent with “J.”

Yet, there are considerably more misfires and head-scratchers than minor masterworks in ABC.  Jorge Michel Grau’s “I” is a short, nasty bit of cruelty.  Ti West’s slight “M” might be the biggest disappointment, covering similar ground as several other letters, but with far less plot or characterization.  Yet, the film saves the worst for last with Yoshihiro Nishimura’s “Z,” an incomprehensible mess, aside from the irredeemably offensive misuse of 9-11 imagery. 

At least many of the worse entries are also the shortest.  Here’s the speed-dating run-down on all twenty six:

Nacho Vigalondo’s A: Amusing but gimmicky.  Grade: B
Adrián García Bogliano’s B: Connects with childhood fear more than any other entry—B
Ernesto Díaz Espinoza’s C: Like a so-so installment of a cable horror anthology show—C
Marcel Sarmiento’s D: Ambitiously expressionistic—A minus
Angela Bettis’ E: Relatively funny creepy crawler black comedy—B minus
Noburo Iguchi’s F: Entertainingly over the top—A minus
Andrew Traucki’s G: Utterly forgettable—C minus
Thomas Cappelen Malling’s H: Hugely inventive—A
Jorge Michel Grau’s I: Vicious and depressing—F
Yûdai Yamaguchi’s J: Unabashed slapstick—B minus
Anders Morgenthaler’s K: One of several tales revolving around toilets—C minus
Timo Tjahjanto’s L: Sick but surprising, like a the horror movie version of Eyes Wide Shut—C plus
Ti West’s M: The complete waste of a perfectly good letter—F
Banjong Pisanthanakun’s N: An effectively dark little O. Henry-esque story—B plus
Bruno Forzani & Hélène Cattet’s O: Sexually explicit films ought to be more memorable—C minus
Simon Rumley’s P: More social realism than genre, but featuring strong performances—B minus
Adam Wingard & Simon Barrett’s Q: The first and funnier self-referential hipster entries—B minus
Srdjan Spasojevic’s R: Strong set-up, weak payoff—B minus
Jake West’s S:  One of the alphabet’s best—A
Lee Hardcastle’s T:  Unfortunately, you can probably guess what T stands for—C
Ben Wheatley’s U: Promising but leaves viewers wishing for a more fully developed story—B
Kaare Andrews’ V: Respectable foray into dystopian science fiction—B
Jon Schepp’s W:  Self-referential, but with less bite and narrative cohesion—D minus
Xavier Gens’ X: Disturbing and somewhat derivative, but well executed—C plus
Jason Eisener’s Y: An unpleasant dud by any conceivable standard—F
Yoshihiro Nishimura’s Z: Unwatchable, incomprehensible, and insulting—F

Altogether that roughly averages to about a C.  To repeat the obvious, anthology films are always considerably mixed bags.  Unfortunately, the low points of ABC are truly bottom scrapers many viewers will probably wish they could unsee.  Recommended only for true diehard horror fans, The ABCs of Death opens tomorrow (3/8) in New York at the IFC Center.