The ABC’s of Death (2012) – Various Directors

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Have you ever been to one of those little self-serve frozen yogurt places? You know, those “healthy”, “don’t worry, it’s fat-free yogurt” places. You pump out your own fro-yo from the soft serve machine and then you get to pick out your own toppings from the little candy-salad bar. Next thing you know your “fat-free” desert has gummy bears, Oreos, Butterfingers, peanut butter cups, skittles and little marshmallows on it. And you have a full blown case of diabetes. The point is, mixing too many good things together takes away from the whole. That cup of yogurt and candy is probably pretty good, but you would have done better to stick with one theme and do it really well.

That awkward metaphor, and this awkward transition, represents my thoughts on the 2012 horror anthology The ABC’s of Death. 26 letters in the alphabet, 26 horror films  created by 26 different directors from all around the world. I do have to give them props for ambition and for originality, but it’s very difficult to make 26 two-five-minute films work cohesively together. The only theme connecting them was that each film was about something from each letter in the alphabet, for example, “Z is for Zombie”. The cool part is that you don’t get the title until after each short is over.

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A few of these movies were really fantastic, either for being genuinely scary or just very clever and well-done short films. Some of them were funny, some were confusing, and some were really just pretty stupid. Obviously I can’t do a synopsis of each film, and quite a few of them have really great twist endings so I don’t even want to go too far into any. There were 3 films that stood out as my favorites though. There’s one about a kid who’s afraid to sit on the toilet, one about a man and a dog in a fight to the death, and one about the end of the world. Other less remarkable films include topics such as deadly farts that engulf a whole city, vampires, zombie clowns, a masturbation contest, and a piece of shit that just won’t flush.

A lot of the films are overly grotesque and shocking. We don’t have a lot of time for build up so we need to dive right into the good stuff. Most of them have subtitles. A few have no dialogue whatsoever.

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From what I understand, each director was assigned a letter and really given carte blanche to just make a film about something that starts with that letter. It was great to see 26 different answers to essentially the same question. The film as a whole is a tribute to ADHD and a not so gentle reminder that people from Japan are fucking crazy. Well actually people from all over the world are pretty crazy, but the ones from Japan are the best at it.  

To sum up, I think this was ambitious and it was a very cool experiment. We got a chance to see some of the best current horror directors show off their chops in a condensed format. I hear there’s another one in the works. I’ll be interested to see how it turns out. I think there is a lot to improve upon, but I really like the idea.

  1. Is it scary? 4 Overall, not that scary, there were a few films that got under my skin but mostly they went for cheap, gross-out stuff and bad humor.
  2. Originality: 10– I have to give them credit here. The whole project was pretty original and there were lots of very cool and original ideas throughout, regardless of how good each film was.
  3. Blood: 7- Some had lots and lots of blood, some had no blood, Most had at least some, so I think this is going to skew towards the high end of the score.
  4. Believability: 5-It’s very difficult to give a believability score here. Some of the films were intentionally over the top. I think we’ll stick with average and call it a day.
  5. Setting/Cinematography: 7- Overall, we saw lots of cool settings and there was some amazing cinematography. One of my favorites (the one about the dogfight) was shot entirely in slow motion with some really cool close-ups.                                             

Final Score: 33/50

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Trick ‘r Treat (2007) – Michael Dougherty

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Ok, 6 Halloween movies down, 4 to go. Time for a little break and a palate cleanser.

The horror anthology has always been an interesting style to me. One of my favorite quotes applies here: “I have made this letter longer than usual, only because I have not had the time to make it shorter.“—Blaise Pascal. It can actually be more difficult to tell a good (scary) story in 20-30 minutes than to do it in an hour and a half. You don’t have time for too much character or plot development. You need to be extremely economical with everything your characters do and say. If you remember back to your high school English class- “in medias res”- Latin for “in the middle of things.” It’s when the story just drops the audience into the action without 5-10 minutes of back story. When it’s done right, this can be a great way to cut down on time while getting everything out that you need.

Michael Dougherty attempts this feat in the style of Creepshow and Tales from the Crypt, in his 2006 Halloween-themed anthology Trick ‘r Treat. The movie is fairly well crafted in that it bounces back and forth between characters and weaves their plotlines together a bit. The selection of sub-genres is pretty good too. We’ve got a little supernatural, a little psycho-slasher and a little bit that you think is one then it’s the other then it’s something else. The events of the four (or five) mini stories all take place on one Halloween night in a town that celebrates Halloween like New Orleans celebrates Mardi Gras. In the interest of brevity (see the quote above), I think I’ll forgo the standard plot synopsis and give you a little more detail about what worked and what didn’t.

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In general, there’s nothing terribly amazing about this movie. But it is a lot of fun. It’s something of a perennial cult favorite for horror fans. It’s pretty lighthearted and almost comical at times, but it’s just gruesome and morbid enough to keep real fans interested. At certain points you’re thinking, “This is like a kid’s movie” and then you see a middle-schooler’s severed head on a cutting board. Don’t worry, he had it coming-that kid was a prick. Lots of filmmakers shy away from killing kids in their movies. Not this one. This movie has a pretty strong moral: Don’t be an asshole or you’re going to die. Period.

Like I said, the job of an anthology director is not an easy on. I’d say Dougherty pulls off an effective mini-horror story in 3 of the 4 mini plotlines. And each one has a cool twist that winds the story into one of the others. They all stand alone but they’re still connected too. That aspect of it is very well done (Technically I guess that’s the writing more than the directing- but Dougherty wrote this beast too.) There is one storyline that I didn’t get behind as much. I feel like it was put in there for the wrong reasons.

Ok, I changed my mind. Very brief plot synopses: 1. Middle school teacher with a sinister secret. 2. Group of innocent-looking but not-so-innocent kids playing practical jokes on an autistic classmate. 3. Slutty college girls trying to find a cool party in the woods. 4. Crotchety old man getting tormented by a malevolent being in his house. Like I said, 3 of the 4 are great but the one with the sorority girls just seemed like it was crammed in there so they could have slutty girls and crazy cleavage on the screen for a quarter of the movie. And the twist in this one was pretty predicable. I called it after about 5 minutes. Otherwise, they were all pretty clever. And they all fit together at the end like an episode of Seinfeld.

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Visually, this movie is great. The camerawork is subtle but effective. There are some interesting shots and cool angles that add to the feeling of suspense. Is it possible to overproduce this aspect? I don’t know. In general, it’s well-done and I think the cinematography adds to the effect. There is one scene in the sorority girl story that felt like that cave-rave scene in the second Matrix movie, but other than that, it was all good. Also I hate Anna Paquin and she’s one of the main characters. (Don’t ask me how I stomached 2 seasons of True Blood. That girl annoys the crap out of me).

Anyway, It’s a good movie, and worth 22 minutes of rubbish to get the rest of the good stuff. And at least the crappy story has boobs in it. The verdict is it’s probably best to grab a couple pumpkin beers and a couple of friends to enjoy this one.

  1. Is it scary: 3- Not super scary, but there are definitely a couple of scenes with some good suspense and a few great scary images.
  2. Originality: 7- I think they did a good job coming up with something fairly original, though it definitely goes down a well-trodden path in the various genres.
  3. Blood: 5- Adequate amount of blood for what it was. If it was overly gory it would have changed the tone and not felt so light.
  4. Believability: 7- For the most part, Dougherty did a good job making each of these little stories fairly believable. It’s not easy to get that level of effective character development into each of these small stories.
  5. Setting/Cinematography: 8- Like I said, the post-production may have been a bit to fancy but it was generally effective. The setting was very well done. Some of the scenes are especially scary-(particularly in the story with the kids and the pumpkins.)

Final Score: 29/50                                                                                              

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