R is for Review: 'The ABCs of Death'
“Necrophilia is more erotic than that [censored!].”
-SWfan, Flayrah commenter
The ABCs of Death is the brainchild of producer Ant Timpson (an end credit suggests the whole thing was inspired by a nightmare of his): take 26 horror directors from around the world and give them a letter of the alphabet. They then pick a word with that letter, and direct a short film for $5,000 that depicts a death involving that word.
Pretty simple, and a great concept for a horror anthology, but why the review on a furry site? Well, there’s Thomas Malling’s “H is for Hydro-Electric Diffusion,” which is basically a live action Tex Avery cartoon. And there are plenty of animal-related shorts available, as well; some of the best shorts on the roster, including “D is for Dogfight,” “N is for Nuptials,” “P is for Pressure” and “Q is for Quack,” involve animals, if not always anthropomorphic.
But are these highlights worth the time for furries?
O is for Overview
The directors present represent every inhabited continent on Earth, and they choose a variety of different themes. Some are symbolic art films, like “O is for Orgasm” or “R is for Removed.” Others are not so art films; two feature what can only be described as “toilet humor” (“F is for Fart” and “K is for Klutz,” though not, ironically, “T is for Toilet”).
Many are dark comedies (“N is for Nuptials” and “Z is for Zetsumetsu,” for instance), two even postmodern films that explicitly point out the conceit of the movie for humor (“Q is for Quack” and “W is for WTF”). Some are more straight horror stories (“B is for Bigfoot” or “L is for Libido”), while others are more action oriented (“S is for Speed” and “V is for Vagitus”).
Traditional monsters are lacking; there is a vampire in “U is for Unearthed” and zombies in “W is for WTF,” but for the most part the deaths are not supernatural. Dream sequences feature in two shorts (“S is for Speed” and “T is for Toilet”). “S is for Speed” is also the only short to feature death personified.
The shorts are in multiple languages, though many are “silent,” featuring no dialogue. Perhaps surprisingly, none are shot in black and white. Most are live action, though two are animated (“K is for Klutz” is traditional while “T is for Toilet” is in claymation). Two are shot completely from the point of view of a single character (“G is for Gravity” and “U is for Unearthed”).
Though most are meant to be entertaining, a few tackle real social issues, including “I is for Ingrown,” “P is for Pressure” and “X is for XXL.” Animal cruelty is a recurring theme, found in “D is for Dogfight,” “P is for Pressure” and “Q is for Quack.”
H is for Hydro-Electric Diffusion
This strange film is one of the more visually striking segments in the movie, and was featured in the trailer. The two characters are an anthropomorphic bulldog, Barry, and a vixen, Fraulein Scheiss. Though taking obvious cues from funny animal cartoons, the film is live action, featuring a compromise between makeup effects and fursuit-like costumes.
Barry looks pretty great as is, but Fraulein Scheiss takes a while to get used to. She took me a while to warm up to, but now I really dig the look. She’s a Sex Death Vixen, which are great; okay, she’s a Nazi Sex Death Vixen, which is the worst kind of Sex Death Vixen – but, on the other hand, Nazi Sex Death Vixen is the best kind of Nazi.
Yes, this is The ABCs of Death, and somebody has to get blown up a bit more permanently than usually, but you kind of get the feeling that these two have done this before; though obviously reminded of Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner, I also thought of Mad magazine’s “Spy vs. Spy.” Who knows who’ll win next short?
A is for Animals
The first animal-themed short is “D is for Dogfight,” by Marcel Sarmiento, and it’s the best short in the movie. It’s an almost dialogue free short where a man is entered into a presumably illegal prizefight with a vicious attack dog. The fight is vicious, hard to watch, and genuinely scary, partially because the vicious attack dog is not a big ugly brute but a fairly normal looking mutt. There is a twist that makes this short; it's really the one short, even more than “H is for Hydro-Electric Diffusion,” that you need to see.
The next animal-themed short (and the next short, period) is Angela Bettis’ “E is for Exterminate,” and it’s a letdown after the previous short. A man tries to squish a bad CGI spider; it doesn’t end well for either party. Makes the five grand budget look like a five buck budget.
We’re halfway through the alphabet before the next animal-themed short pops up, but it’s pretty good, and actually kind of anthropomorphic, as Banjong Pisanthanakun’s “N is for Nuptials” features a man trying to romantically propose to his girlfriend with a talking parakeet. It starts out genuinely sweet, almost sappy, before taking a sharp left turn into hilarious dark humor. To say much more would ruin it, but it’s pretty good.
“P is for Pressure,” by Simon Rumley, features a struggling single mother of three in Suriname, where she works as a prostitute. When her on-again, off-again boyfriend steals her savings – leaving her without rent money, never mind the extra she was saving for one of her daughters’ birthday – she makes a deal with a man who wants her to do something truly horrible. One of the few shorts that actually had me thinking, “Oh, no.” Almost a spoiler to list with the other animal shorts, this short asks the quintessential short horror question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” as well as its even darker inverse, “Why do good things happen to bad people?”
“Q is for Quack” features Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett as the director and writer of a short for an upcoming horror anthology called The ABCs of Death, stuck with the letter Q (Get it? Get it?). Having no clue what to do, they decide to just shoot a duck for shock value. Maybe they should have learned proper gun safety first … surprisingly funny, and a lot better than the other “postmodern” short, “W is for WTF,” a title that could apply to every short in the anthology.
“Y is for Youngbuck,” directed by Jason Eisener, features a pedophile janitor who apparently teaches children how to hunt deer before raping them. One of his victims takes his revenge on him while wearing a decapitated deer’s head. Surprisingly meh.
E is for Everything Else
No, I’m not going to give a short review of each of the remaining 19 shorts, but I would be remiss to not give a nod to two of my favorites that don’t include animals, “T is for Toilet” and “V is for Vagitus.”
“T is for Toilet,” by Lee Hardcastle, reminds us that, statistically, you are more likely to die on the toilet than eaten by a shark (admittedly, while most of us come to know many toilets intimately, the average shark attack victim only meets that one shark). It features an incredibly gory dream sequence (perhaps the anthology’s goriest, though the impact is lessened somewhat by the use of claymation) with a man-eating commode; the actual death comes later, and is much more plausible, and therefore much scarier.
“V is for Vagitus” (relax, guys, it’s an old-timey word for the cry of a baby) features director Kaare Andrews showing up pretty much every other director on the roster with some incredibly impressive special effects. It pulls the opposite trick as “E for Exterminate;” it makes five grand look like five million. It also features one of the more involved stories; it manages to convey a pretty complicated backstory to a sci-fi dystopia featuring robots, psychics and a woman whose job is to arrest illegal parents.
C is for Conclusion
In a movie about a million miles removed from this one, someone’s mother remarked that life is like a box of chocolates. So’s death. And horror anthologies. You never know what you’re going to get. There are some pretty good shorts here; there are some pretty bad shorts here, as well.
In the end, I found the balance of the good outweighed the bad, though mostly as a horror fan. As for furries, it may be only us crossover horror/furry fans who get anything out of this.
Five shorts worth seeing: “D is for Dogfight,” “H is for Hydro Electric-Diffusion,” “Q is for Quack,” “T is for Toilet” and “V is for Vagitus”
Five shorts worth skipping: “E is for Exterminate,” “F is for Fart,” “G is for Gravity,” “M is for Miscarriage” and “W is for WTF”