Do your tastes delve into the sick, ultra-violent, and disturbing? Then you may find “The ABCs of Death,” an anthology of about two dozen short films, inventive and funny. Otherwise, as you consume this serving of alphabet soup, “A” may as well stand for “atrocious,” “B” for “bloodbath,” and “C” for “check, please.”
Twenty-six directors from 15 countries were assigned a letter of the alphabet to inspire a tale of death. Hence, “D is for Dogfight,” “F is for Fart,” and “W is for WTF!” Each short is bookended by a blood-red screen, and concludes with the title and filmmaker spelled out in children’s blocks. Settings range from today’s world to the dystopian future, feudal Japan, and a Tarantino-esque World War II revisionist cartoon fetish land. Many of the films are without dialogue. Few are for the faint of stomach.
Spain’s Nacho Vigalondo (“Timecrimes”) directs the lead film, “A is for Apocalypse,” an oddly touching gore-fest about a woman who tries to kill a bedridden man with a knife, scalding water, and a frying pan, and then confesses, “It wasn’t supposed to be like this.” Other filmmakers range from American Ti West (“House of the Devil”), whose “M is for Miscarriage” is one of the more stomach-churning entries, to controversial filmmaker Srdjan Spasojevic (“A Serbian Film”), who offers the bizarre “R is for Removed,” about a badly burned man whose skin is peeled by doctors to reveal 35mm film. The familiar French duo of Bruno Forzani and Hélène Cattet (“Amer”) team up for the gorgeously experimental “O is for Orgasm.”
Among the more amusing efforts are the animated Dutch film “K is for Klutz,” featuring excrement that refuses to be flushed, and the Thai “N is for Nuptials,” about a talking bird who sinks a marriage proposal. To this gallows humor category, add the gruesome, Brit-made claymation “T is for Toilet,” about a boy’s irrational fear of the potty. The most sexually explicit entries would probably earn this assemblage an NC-17 rating. Take Indonesian Timo Tjahjanto’s “L is for Libido,” which connects masturbation and torture.
“X is for XXL,” by Xavier Gens, packs the biggest punch. Tortured by images of slim models, an obese woman dreams of being thin. That night, she slims herself down with an electric knife. Ick, but powerful.
How to rate the wildly uneven “ABCs of Death”? Some shorts are four-star material, others incomprehensible and disgusting. The sum total is a cinematic abecedary that barely gets a passing grade.Ethan Gilsdorf can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.