Anthology films seem to be making a huge comeback in independent cinema. Even outside of the horror genre, anthologies related to places or specific people are being announced all the time. But, as it’s been in the past, horror anthologies are the most prevalent. Recently we’ve seen V/H/S, Trick ‘r Treat, and Chillerama. S-VHS, the V/H/S sequel has already premiered at Sundance. Now, Tim League of Drafthouse Films and Ant Timpson bring us the 26 film long anthology, The ABCs of Death.
I can’t quite say why horror anthology films have always been so popular. Maybe it’s related to the pulp element in short horror stories, mimicking old EC comics a la Creepshow. Filter it down, make it short, get right to the scares. You can’t market a short to movie theater audiences, but a feature made up of shorts makes sense. And genre film is cheap to produce and makes money.
Yet, these are all guidelines of the past, and as the filmmaking landscape changes, you have to question exactly how much weight they carry now. My suspicion has to do with exactly that, the changing state of independent cinema. It’s now cheaper than ever to make films with the advancements in technology. With all these new forms of distribution, like VOD and all the streaming video providers, it’s even easier to get a film seen once it exists. But there’s always a catch, and in this case, it’s that there’s no money. There’s so many films, less investors, and much less money. And this gets super tricky when all these brilliant filmmakers start appearing. So, say, you want to finance a film, you’ve got $100,000, and you’ve got a list of incredibly talented filmmakers all of whom you like personally and want to invest your money in… boom, anthology film.
And, after being off topic for several hundred words, that brings us back to The ABCs of Death! Was that the precise story behind how ABCs came to be? Probably not! It’s just my theory on all these anthologies. But that is the layout: 26 alphabetical short films add up to a two hour long feature film, absolutely perfect for a horror fan afflicted with ADD and a willingness to devote two hours to a movie.
It’s a fun experiment, and an awesome crowd pleaser. It’s even more pleasing if you are a low-budget horror buff like me, and you recognize all the directors. The few seconds devoted to the title breaks between the shorts were a great opportunity for me to be totally annoying, tugging on my friend’s shirt and whispering excitedly, “This is Marcel Sarmiento’s film! He made Deadgirl!” and “Yudai Yamaguchi is a secret passion of mine,” and “Q! I have such a crush on Adam Wingard,” and “Oh shit, it’s Xavier Gens. Remember I made you watch The Divide? This one is going to be intense!”
Watching the film without that background knowledge is still fun I’ve heard, but it loses a lot of the cool factor that I’m sure the ABCs clique is sloppy drunk on every time they hang out. And I’ve seen them hang out, the Q&A at the Toronto International Film Festival last year was insane. They even made a human pyramid on the red carpet and all injured each other. Like I said, sloppy drunk.
I am so happy that Nacho Vigalondo (“A is for Apocalypse”) is king of the pyramid.
Anyhow, the main perk of this format, other than getting a crazy group of talent, is if you don’t like a specific film, it’s going to end in less than five minutes. The second perk is that the film almost plays out like a shock contest. The films have this unintentional battle going as to who can elicit the greatest reaction in the shortest amount of time. It’s hard to tell a substantial story in 5 minutes unless you’re Simon Rumley (“P is for Pressure”) or Kaare Andrews (“V is for Vagitus”). But there’s lots of room for beautiful, eerie imagery (“O is for Orgasm” and “R is for Removed”) and also it’s a great opportunity to be hilarious (“Q is for Quack” and “W is for WTF”). But what most of the filmmakers used it for was to be disgusting.
And “L is for Libido” is something else entirely. I know I was laughing, but no one else was, and I think some people walked out. Oh boy.
This is a really hard review to write. I want to talk about all the ABCs of Death movies. Individually, I love a lot of the movies. And conceptually, I’m fascinated with this movie. And I love everyone involved, even Ti West, who totally phoned his in and pocketed the small budget. Personally, I find anthologies a little tedious and hard to discuss. It’s hard to focus because too much is happening, too many stories. Wil Keiper can’t stand the stuff, he calls them “hipster bites”. Trendy and quick. And in a lot of ways, he’s totally right about anthologies. Despite being one of those, The ABCs of Death is a great experiment and a lot of fun.