‘The ABCs of Death’ has an intriguing premise: twenty-six directors from fifteen different countries were each assigned a letter of the alphabet and given free rein to make a short horror film based on whatever word they chose that began with their letter. The only proviso – their film had to be about death.

It’s an interesting brief, but a potential minefield for producers Ant Timpson and Tim League, who had to stitch some wildly disparate films together to make a cohesive and entertaining 129 minutes. Anthology films can be hit and miss at the best of times – I’m not a big fan of the genre and can’t remember the last time I saw a good one (last year’s V/H/S had its moments, but too few of them) – and a weak chapter can easily undo the good work of the whole. It’s a challenge that’s not for the fainthearted (producers, directors or audience) and, as the opening titles rolled, I wasn’t sure my faint heart was up for it.

Luckily for me, ‘The ABCs Of Death’ is a fantastic nightmare carnival of the weird and wonderful and, very often, the downright gross-out. Nearly all of the stories are worth watching, a handful of them are quite exceptional, and even the weakest entries are too short to outstay their welcome.the-abcs-of-death-poster

I’m not going to mention them all. I’m not even going to tell you the words the directors chose. One of the really nice touches about this compilation is that the title of each short film – the word that kickstarts the story – isn’t revealed until the film’s finished, which means we can’t predict what we’re about to see. But some of the interpretations are wonderful, especially Nacho Vigalondo’s opening story which sets the bar very high, combining humour and gore with an unexpectedly emotional twist at the end.

And then there’s Noboru Iguchi’s take on the letter F, which was as hugely imaginative as you’d expect from the director of ‘Dead Sushi’ and got the biggest (intended) laughs of the night.
Thomas Cappelen Malling took a Looney Tunes-ish stance, pitting his World War II-era British Bulldog against a burlesque-dancing Nazi vixen, and Anders Morgenthaler’s animation for the letter K put a fatal new slant on a familiar bathroom dilemma.

Simon Rumley represented for the UK by casually setting up the letter P and then slamming a vicious kitten-unfriendly ending on top, which gave Adam Wingard’s assault on the letter Q a hard act to follow. But Wingard’s extremely black comedy, with a very different animal at its centre, took the challenge in its stride.

Srdjan Spasojevic, whose ‘A Serbian Film’ immediately earned him a controversial horror-porn reputation, delivered a predictably messy take on the letter R, and Jake West’s Grindhouse style gave the letter S a poignantly nasty punchline, followed by some witty claymation from the UK’s Lee Hardcastle.

Kaare Andrews’ interesting sci-fi take on the letter V, which had a backstory with some great ideas that deserved a bigger canvas and was sadly overtaken by the crash-bang-wallop of some impressive special effects gunplay, and Xavier Gens icky commentary on body image and cutting tools, were also stand-out contenders. And Yoshihiro Nishimura’s mindbending XXX-rated attack on the letter Z is still a film I’m not sure if I liked or not, but it was an experience to watch. And if fanatical nationalism and very sharp knives concealed inside giant dildos are your kind of thing, his contribution is worth the price of admission alone.

So, as you can see, that’s not a bad success rate. Of the remainder, only Andrew Traucki’s letter G was the one that gave me a “what time is it?” feeling, whereas Angela Bettis’s E and Ben Wheatley’s U were both enjoyable but unremarkable. Although it’s good to know that Angela Bettis is spending time behind the camera as well as in front of it. I’ve been a fan since she starred in Lucky McKee’s ‘May’ (2002).

Personally speaking, Ti West’s mid-alphabet entry was the film that disappointed most. I enjoyed his feature ‘House of The Devil’ and went briefly crazy over last year’s ‘The Innkeepers’ and used to really believe he might be the next major force in horror. But then his lacklustre contribution to ‘V/H/S’ made me wonder, and what he’s done for ‘The ABCs Of Death’ is lazier still. Although, thankfully, it’s one of the briefest films in the set.
On the ‘big-plus’ side, there wasn’t a found footage story in sight which gives me some hope for the future.

I know I’ve missed a few letters out but I can remember each of the twenty-six films and not shudder at the memory of any of them – at least not in a bad way – so I guess that tells you all you need to know. I enjoyed ‘The ABCs of Death’ immensely, I was entertained by most of it, intrigued by some of it, laughed out loud and / or squirmed at regular intervals, and at no point wished I was watching something else.

For the fans of most of these directors, who have been waiting expectantly for this for quite a while, I don’t think you’re going to feel let down. There’s a lot of shiny stuff in this panning of the horror river with occasional sparkles of gold and very little sludge.
Although going to the bathroom may never be the same again, and passing wind suddenly makes me feel like Buddha.
Highly recommended.

About The Author

Ian White is an author, screenwriter and journalist. His book ‘Witchcraft and Black Magic in British Cult Cinema’ was recently published by Hemlock and he is a regular contributor to ‘Paranormal Underground’ and ‘Starburst’ magazines. He’s currently writing a new book and screenplay and his embarrassingly out-of-date website can be found at http://ianwhitelondon.wix.com/ian-white

  • Please add this to Rotten Tomatoes and IMDB.. we could do with some love.

    • Hi Ant, we’ve just submitted the review to imdb.  Still working on getting ourselves on Rotten Tomatoes, but we’ll keep you posted.