The Film: The ABCs of Death (2012)
The Principles: 26 Short films’ worth of them, but the brains behind the project are Ant Timpson and Tim League.
The Premise: 26 different directors from all over the world are assigned a letter and a 4-minute trt limit and asked to make a horror short relating to their assigned letter, helping create a sick and twisted cinematic version of a child’s “A is for APPLE”-type storybook. The results are mixed.
Is It Good: Overall sure – it’s entertaining enough, at least in strict terms of the content. The highs are high but the lows get pretty low. Though I think what’s more impressive (and conversation-worthy) than the pieces themselves is the fact that for all intents and purposes this is a pretty high-concept little project. Horror anthologies aren’t anything new, but all of them top off at 3 or 4 stories that serve an overall framing device that ties everything together. And because of the framing device there’s a certain amount of restriction that tethers the filmmakers’ creativity to whatever thematic or aesthetic gimmick the framing device is selling. That’s not always altogether a bad thing, mind you, but it is rather exciting that here it’s all eschewed for just letting the filmmakers do whatever they want. The only framing device to speak of is the alphabet and the only leash the creators have to work with is the time constraint and the rule that each short begin and end on red. Everything else is up to them – including what they do with the letter they’re given; from what word they create with that letter to how they feel the content should relate to that word. Some filmmakers play it straightforward while others get a little more abstract, but nearly every single one of them did something meaningful with it.
Which isn’t a description that can only be ascribed to the titling, because even when the shorts drag or suck or get a little too…”ew” (lookin’ at you, Ti West) you never disengage completely because part of the fun is having no idea at ALL what’s coming next above and beyond the letter. There are silent shorts, animations (both hand-drawn and stop-motion), dialogue-heavy story driven shorts, effects heavy shorts and everything in between (I almost said everything from A to Z but nobody likes that guy).
And while “good” isn’t something that can be applied to every single short, it can very enthusiastically be applied to the experience of watching this whole thing unfold.
At least the first viewing, anyway.
Is It Worth A Look: Definitely but – and this is probably information that would have been helpful months ago – don’t go looking into what the shorts are named ahead of time. Because one of the other clever little innovations in the “framing device” is not telling you what the title is until AFTER the short’s over and a lot of the filmmakers let that little nuance inform the way they craft and tell their stories. Not all of them mind you, but enough of them that it’s worth mentioning, so already knowing what each letter is kind of dampens the overall experience. It doesn’t make the great shorts any less great or the bad ones any less bad in any sort of meaningful way, but why rob yourself of an experience, ya know?
It’s on Instant, so you know what to do.
Random Anecdotes: When the project was in development the creators had the brilliant idea to hold one of the letters back and offer it (and its place in the final film) up in a contest. Almost 200 shorts were produced, and while the winning entry is probably the best thing in the entire film, a lot of the runners up were reeeally good, including one produced and submitted by our very own Renn Brown. You can watch it here on the official page where you can also browse the other entries.
Cinematc Soulmates: Do I really need to list all the horror anthologies?