The ABCs of Death is Important. Really Important.
Look, ABCs of Death gets a bad rap. And I’m still not entirely sure as to why. A 26-section horror anthology that handed out letters of the alphabet to more than two dozen directors and told them to make a short horror film that featured a death in some way, it’s an audacious idea from the off. But there’s a certain kind of snobbery that surrounds short horror movies- I guess because they’re cheap, easy to make, and therefore attract some of the most inexperienced and lowly-budgeted directors the industry has kicking around (not the inexperience or low budget are actually an excuse- look what my best friend did with his short horror movie). So, a lot of shitty, low-concept, badly-made horror shorts are churned out and the nuanced, varied world of short horror gets a bad name once again.
But ABCs of Death is not just a bloody excellent movie. Well, of course it’s that, despite patchy segments (Ti West’s M for Miscarriage is particularly egregios, which is sad because his movies, especially The Innkeepers, are so excellent), and mixes up horror stalwarts with up-and-comers, foreign directors, animators, actors and artists alike. It’s a neat idea, but that’s not the sole reason why it’s so important.
ABCs of Death is a profoundly important movie for the horror genre- in fact, I’d wager that it’s the most important horror movie of the decade so far. Every few years or so, we get a movie that’s going to cause a big stir and spawn scores of skittering little rip-offs that will characterise the industry for the next few seasons or so. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in 1974, Friday the 13th in 1980, Scream in 1996, The Blair With Project in 1999, Saw in 2004, Insidious in 2011….these might not be the best examples of the genre, but they’re the popular ones that stuck, and that’s what makes them important, like it or not. There’s been a modest revival of the horror anthology in the last few years of so, with The Profane Exhibit, V/H/S (and V/H/S 2) and ABCs of Death attracting respected directors and creating new genre stars in their own right. But ABCs of Death-stripped of any wraparound segments to tie the whole thing together, laid bare in it’s brutal, bloody brilliance- is the most important of the lot. Why? Because it doesn’t show off one facet of the horror genre: it shows off every single one over the course of two occasionally harrowing hours of unrestrained creativity.
You’ve got the curdling, sweaty straightforwardness of the shocking D for Dogfight (for my money, the best sequence in the bunch) matched at the other end of the film with the equally horrible but far less visceral Y for Youngbuck (complete with Hannibal-esque stag man). N for Nuptials is a pitch-black romcom, while Q for Quack presents a hyperactive meta-comedy starring the director and producer trying to kill a duck. B for Bigfoot and C for Cycle jump on overused horror tropes and give them a sharp, tantalising twist, then O for Orgasm turns up as a crisply erotic bit of abstract film-making.
I’ll say this now: I’m going to embed a few of the full shorts into the article to give those who are interested a taste, but be warned that this one is extremely violent and potentially very disturbing. Seriously, I’m only going to say this once: if violence against animals or people bothers you, give this video a miss.
Of course, there are some which just plane don’t word- K for Klutz and probably W for WTF- or are just too pointedly disgusting to get through (I’m looking at you, L for Libido). But for every miss, you’ve got the sublime weirdness of the stop-motion animation T for Toilet or the harrowing I for Ingrown. Some, like high-concept sci-fi thriller V for Vagitus or the ingenious U for Unearthed, beg for a feature-length re-imagining, juxtaposed against viscerally relatable X for XXL which tells every bit of story you’d want told. You get what I’m saying here. ABCs is a film with ups and downs, because it reflects the industry as a whole.
Have a break, have a Q for Quack.
ABCs is great and vital viewing for anyone who’s new and enthusiastic, or old and passionate, to the genre, because it proves that horror is not just about creepy kids lurking behind doors, or serial killers ripping the lungs from their victims. Horror is a fabulous, gleeful subscription to everything that makes you sick and uncomfortable, everything that makes you screw your face up and glance momentarily away from the screen.
Ben Wheatley’s U for Unearthed, told from the POV of a vampire fleeing a mob.
Horror- that feeling of disgust or fear or whatever you want to call it at the pit of your stomach- can be elicited by almost anything if you’ve got a decent enough director and idea behind it. ABCs of Death is the best example of that I’ve ever seen, because, as an anthology, it isn’t stuck to one genre but allowed to wander freely from slasher to comedy to spooky bedtime story. And that’s what makes it one of the most brilliant, entertaining and vital movies of this generation’s horror classics. Love it or hate it, this is the best example of what modern horror can, can’t, and is willing to do to get under your skin.