THE ABCS OF DEATH (2013)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 10 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

ABCsDeath poster

Directed by, Written by, and Starring: Too many to list

When ABCS OF DEATH was announced, anticipation was through the roof in the horror community. This sounded like an epic undertaking. 26 different directors (most of which had already carved out a well deserved reputation in the genre) were given a letter of the alphabet and $5,000 to make whatever they wanted. There were two rules: it had to involve death in some way and the death had to be related to a word starting with that letter of the alphabet. Can you see why many (including myself) were absolutely stoked to see this opus of violence, gore, and death run for two hours? Unfortunately, that’s not quite how it turned out. Free reign on creativity made for a film that’s very hit-or-miss. Some shorts are funny, some are creepy, a couple are downright nightmarish, and a lot range from bad to awful. The positive is that if you don’t like one then another is coming in a matter of minutes. However, there are only a handful I’d say are really worth watching. So I’m going short-by-short and awarding a grade for each. The final grade is the average for the entire film…

ABC A

A is for APOCALYPSE: A woman tries to kill her husband in a variety of ways and he doesn’t quite go down as easily as expected. This short shows off really awesome practical effects, but that’s about all it had to offer. The ending feels convoluted. Not exactly the stellar opening that one would hope for in a massive anthology about 26 ways to die. C

B is for BIGFOOT: A young couple are trying to get a little girl to go to sleep so they can have sex without being interrupted. Their solution is to tell her a scary story, but things don’t exactly work out in their favor. This segment was just alright. Had a good idea behind it, but it doesn’t exactly come off as well-done. The incorporation of the word “Bigfoot” also feels forced. It’s slightly better than A, but doesn’t exactly offer a whole lot either. C+

C is for CYCLE: A guy is hosing off his sidewalk and spots a puddle of blood. Trying to figure out where it came from, the guy finds himself in a waking nightmare. Though the ending sort of gives up before diving into anything mind-blowing or cool, the main idea is kind of neat. B-

ABC D

D is for DOGFIGHT: Shot in slow motion and lacking dialogue, DOGFIGHT is an awesome five-minute horror tale that delivers! A boxer is forced to fight a vicious canine in an underground fight club. Director Marcel Sarmiento makes the most of his limited budget and every single shot looks beautiful. Between this short and DEADGIRL, it seems like Marcel Sarmiento is a master storyteller of complex horror that is more than meets eye on surface level. This is the best segment of the entire film! A+

E is for EXTERMINATE: A guy encounters a fake-looking CGI spider on his wall and bad things happen. It’s a quick, predictable take on a well-known urban legend. This one is nothing special, new or fun. C-

ABC F

F is for FART: Many will argue that this is the absolute worst short of the bunch. While I can’t debate that it’s one of the worst short films I’ve ever seen, the crappiest segment is yet to come. This tale concerns a teacher and schoolgirl who love flatulence and things enter truly WTF territory about midway through. F

ABC G

G is for GRAVITY: Seriously, what was that?!? There’s nothing I can really say about this one because this segment doesn’t give me much to work with. D-

ABC H

H is for HYDRO-ELECTRIC DIFFUSION: Definitely one of the more creative letters of the bunch. Thomas Malling has an awesome imagination as seen in this live-action cartoon that incorporates stop motion, CGI, and absurd costumes. A WWII pilot dog is drinking at a bar only to be wooed by a dancing Fox who may have some dark ties to the enemy. This is as over-the-top as over-the-top can get, but it’s really frickin’ fun. B+

ABC I

I is for INGROWN: An underwhelming segment about a guy and a woman in a bathroom with a syringe. It’s pretentious, overly artsy, and tries to signify deeper meaning with an inner monologue. I just wasn’t digging the vibe this one was throwing my way. I wasn’t scared, creeped out or disturbed. This was just plain mediocre and annoying. D

J is for JIDAI-GEKI: Some of the Asian shorts in this anthology are terrible due to either not focusing on a horror vibe at all or just veering off completely in stupid WTF territory. This is actually one that I liked for the sheer absurdity of it. A samurai is executing one of his own, but keeps getting distracted by the silly faces his victim is making. It’s bound to be weird fun for some and awful for others. I found it to be fun. B

K is for KLUTZ: One of two animated segments, this one relies on childish potty humor. A woman takes a dump at a party and finds that her poo won’t flush. That’s the short and it’s just as terrible as it sounds. D-

ABC L

L is for LIBIDO: One of the best letters in the film and definitely the scariest (at least, for me). This demented little ditty comes from the sick mind of Timo Tjahjanto (of the best segment in V/H/S/2 and the upcoming KILLERS). A man wakes up half-naked and bound to a chair. Turns out he’s being subjected to a grotesque masturbation contest where losing means a horrible death. The kicker is that it becomes even more difficult and depraved with each passing round. This one goes into SERBIAN FILM territory at one point and is absolutely nightmarish. A graphic mini-masterpiece that’s sure to turn more than a few stomachs! A+

M is for MISCARRIAGE: Insulting in its pure laziness. Ti West is probably sitting somewhere with $4,999 dollars in his pocket, because it looks like this was shot on a cell phone and used noodles as a special effect. Godawful! F

N is for NUPTIALS: Short, sweet and to the point. This Thai segment focuses on a guy who buys a talking parrot for his girlfriend, but this backfires in a darkly hilarious way. You can probably guess how this one plays out from that one sentence description alone and you’re not far off. However, it’s still pretty entertaining. B

O is for ORGASM: Arthouse to its core, but haunting and beautiful. The gist of this segment isn’t fully given until the last few seconds. It’s an incredibly designed series of close-ups, quick shots and colors that winds up being one of the best segments of the film. A

P is for PRESSURE: A woman finds herself in a rough patch of life when her boyfriend doesn’t turn out to be the kind of person she thought he was. Told without any dialogue at all, this segment is headache inducing in the shaky camera work and quick editing. Simon Rumley crafted one of the best human horror stories in the last few years with RED, WHITE & BLUE, but this plot is also far from that level of quality. D+

Q is for QUACK: A super meta-segment about Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett trying to figure out how to make their short centered around the letter Q. It may not work for certain crowds, but I found Q to be very witty and an especially good use of the letter that everyone was probably hoping they wouldn’t get. B

ABC R

R is for REMOVED: The guy who made the most disturbing movie I’ve ever seen (A SERBIAN FILM), which is quite a feat I’ll have you know, disappoints in this utterly underwhelming piece of body horror. Surgeons are mutilating a guy and making film strips out of his flesh. I’m sure there was some deeper meaning aimed for here, but the entire segment is just plain middle-of-the-road at best. C-

S is for SPEED: From the guy who made DOGHOUSE, this short was just all around awful. Shaky camera work, a forced Grindhouse-ish feel to it and a bad twist that was a bit silly to say the least. A woman tries to outrun a hooded figure with a captive in the trunk of her car. It’s just plain bad. D-

ABC T

T is for TOILET: When his project was announced, there was a contest put into place for fans to submit their own short films for a chance to be featured in the final cut. The letter given to those entering the contest was T and these videos were all placed up on a website for viewers to vote on. It’s easy to see why Lee Hardcastle’s morbid claymation tale about a child’s fear of potty training was the winner. A lot of love, effort, and creativity was put into this darkly hilarious segment. I love it and it’s one of the absolute best letters! A+

ABC U

U is for UNEARTHED: A monster tale told from the point of the monster, this segment is downright awesome! It’s shot through the POV of a certain well-known beast of folklore and we never see a concrete view of this ghoul. Instead, Ben Whealey (KILL LIST) shows the viewer everything through the monster’s eyes. The effects used are impressive and there’s a heavy atmosphere hovering over the whole thing. The last perfect letter of the film! A+

V is for VAGITUS: In a technologically advanced future, a police officer is tasked with taking down unusual criminals. This segment almost seemed like a short film that was pitched to producers for a feature. The effects were so-so and the story itself is silly. This might have actually worked better as a feature rather than trying to compress all of these ideas into the span of five minutes. C-

W is for WTF!: It’s like a lame version of the letter Q. A group of filmmakers struggle over what the topic of their short for the letter W should be. Completely stupid and an utter failure. It literally seems like the filmmakers filmed themselves pitching ideas for W, added a few effects and called it a short. F

ABC X

X is for XXL: Goriest of the bunch, this segment is downright hard to watch at points for its sheer brutality. An overweight woman finds herself mocked wherever she goes, so she uses some home remedies to lose weight (namely a few sharp kitchen utensils). It’s purely torture porn, but succeeds in being beyond disturbing and very well-made! It almost feels like a really solid short story committed to film in a haunting way. A-

ABC Y

Y is for YOUNGBUCK: A boy goes on a hunting trip with a creepy old janitor. It doesn’t end well for either one of them. Stretching the name of good taste in this short for truly uncomfortable material at the center, it’s almost like Jason Eisener is playing a genuinely disturbing topic for laughs in a Grindhouse style (complete with synthesizer score). It’s not only offensively bad, but it’s also downright insensitive. D-

ABC Z

Z is for ZETSUMETSU: Without a doubt, ABCS OF DEATH goes out on the worst note imaginable. Incomprehensible and beyond stupid, I don’t think words can properly portray my hatred for this final segment. F

ABC Overall

As a whole, ABCS OF DEATH takes about 15 minutes to get going and then shows off it’s best short first (DOGFIGHT). From there on, it sporadically gains and loses momentum only to go out on two pretty awful final shorts. The only A-grade shorts I’d recommend checking out are: D, L, O, T, U, and X. Definitely avoid: F, G, K, M, S, W, Y and Z. The others range from solid to disappointing (as you can see in the paragraphs above). Overall, ABCS OF DEATH is a severe mixed bag. Just watch it on Netflix or Amazon Video and skip to the worthwhile shorts while avoiding the garbage.

Grade: C

V/H/S/2 (2013)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 36 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Graphic and Bloody Violence, Grisly Images, Sexual Material, Nudity and Language

VHS2 poster

Directed by: Simon Barrett, Adam Wingard, Eduardo Sanchez, Gregg Hale, Gareth Huw Evans, Timo Tjahjanto & Jason Eisner

Written by: Simon Barrett, Jamie Nash, Timo Tjahjanto, Gareth Huw Evans & John Davies

Starring: Lawrence Michael Levine, Kelsy Abbott, Adam Wingard, Hannah Hughes, Jay Saunders, Fachry Albar, Hannah Al Rashid, Zack Ford & Samantha Gracie

V/H/S/2 is one of those rare sequels that improves on the original. With a better team of directors and a ton of creative ideas, this second installment of the newly formed V/H/S franchise is a more cohesive experience than the great, but uneven, predecessor. The original focused on moody less-is-more horror tales, but this sequel shifts the focus onto being in-your-face scary and over-the-top fun! V/H/S/2 is the best anthology film since TRICK ‘R TREAT. This time around the found footage is four stories contained in a wraparound segment that has nods to the first film scattered throughout.

VHS2 1

TAPE 49 (Wraparound): Two private investigators are assigned to look into a missing college student. Upon arriving at his home, they find a plethora of flickering TV screens and VHS tapes strewn all over the place. While one of the private investigators searches the house for any clues, the other begins to stuck in the VHS tapes and watch the contents. This brings us to the four segments/tapes contained in the movie. While the first film had a pretty creepy wraparound, I found this one to be superior as far as the scares go. Just before the next tape is shown, a little more is revealed about the hell that the investigators just walked into. It pays off greatly in the twisted final minutes. A

VHS2 2

PHASE I: CLINICAL TRIALS: The first segment is directed by Adam Wingard (of recent YOU’RE NEXT fame). Wingard plays the central character: a man has lost his eye in a car accident and gets a bionic implant. This implant allows him to see, while scientists are recording through the bionic eye for a trial period. It turns out that there are “glitches” in the man’s vision and these may actually be ghosts that mean him harm. This story was pretty a spooky ride from beginning to cringe-inducing end. There are some solid scares throughout and I was really disturbed, but satisfied, by the way it concluded. A-

VHS2 3

A RIDE IN THE PARK: Even the weakest story here is great, which shows just how strong V/H/S/2 is as a whole. A man is going for a bike ride in the park and straps a camera to his helmet in order to capture his “extreme tricks.” When a screaming bloody woman runs out of the woods, the man attempts to help her, only to be bitten. That’s right. She’s become a zombie and the man has just been infected. Executing an original idea, the camera is still rolling on the man’s helmet as he succumbs to the zombie virus and we see his shenanigans as a flesh-eating ghoul. This one isn’t scary in the slightest, but it’s so ridiculously entertaining! The biggest laughs come in where the zombies actually end up, which employs the use of multiple cameras. Really cool stuff! B+

VHS2 4

SAFE HAVEN: The best of both V/H/S films belongs to this entry. Directed by the creators of THE RAID and MACABRE, this segment follows a documentary crew who have been invited to film a cult in their massive temple. It soon appears that they’ve arrived at a very bad time and things literally go to hell. Wall-crawling maniacs, reanimated ghouls, satanic rituals, mass suicide, and all sorts of gory mayhem ensue. This is by far the darkest segment and feels like a literal nightmare captured on film. It’s the longest segment in V/H/S/2 and I wish it had been a full feature. This was terrifying and ends with one of the coolest looking demons I’ve seen in a long time. Amazing segment and one of the best short films I’ve ever seen in my life! A+

VHS2 5

SLUMBER PARTY ALIEN ABDUCTION: Demonstrating why anthology films are so much fun is this final segment. While the last one went for nightmarish, this one goes for thrills and chills in a fun way. While their parents are away, a group of teens and their friends are having a massive slumber party. The older and younger siblings pull pranks on each other that escalate, but they have no idea that an otherworldly menace is waiting to take them. As the title suggests, aliens arrive and try to abduct the kids. The whole segment is a wild cat-and-mouse game done with adrenaline-pumping speed! The look of the aliens themselves is neat and the young cast is entertaining to watch (as well as realistic too). A

VHS2 6

Taken as a whole, V/H/S/2 is an infinitely better film than its predecessor. There aren’t significant drops in quality and no weak segments at all. The film jives as a whole, far better than the disjointed (but still great) V/H/S. For those who say that there isn’t any magic left in the found footage subgenre, I challenge you to watch V/H/S/2 and not be impressed by at least one of the segments (cough, Safe Haven, cough). I can easily see this film going down as a future horror classic. At times creepy, other times entertaining as hell, and finally nightmarish when it wants to be, V/H/S/2 showcases many different threats of the genre (ghosts, zombies, cults, aliens) and winds up as one of the absolute best horror films of 2013!

Grade: A

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑