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May 28, 2013

The ABCs of Death

f is for fart.jpg
"F is for Fart"

Multiple directors - 2012
Magnolia Home Entertainment Region 1 DVD

I'm not entirely sure if there is any way to approach The ABCs of Death in more than a general way. While the portmanteau horror film has been a well established staple of the genre, it's a bit easier to critically assess a film with three different directors, such as Spirits of the Dead, or four, such as the Thai 4bia, or even five as in the classic of the bunch, Dead of Night. What we have here is a much broader mix, with twenty-six filmmakers, one per letter, with a variety of styles, including a couple of animated films. What unifies most of the work here is a penchant for very black humor. As the filmmakers were given total freedom to within the constraints of making a story related to a letter, and keeping within a very short running time for each film, there was also a tendency towards, shall we call it, bathroom humor (and horror), of the most anal kind.

My own favorite episode was "O is for Orgasm", what the French refer to as "the little death". Bruno Forzani and Helene Cattet's style was already recognizable from their debut feature, Amer. It's mostly close-ups of a woman's face, bubbles emerging from her mouth, and various sounds associated with sex. It's also the most abstract film, using a film language more frequently employed by "experimental movies" from the Sixties, which might also explain why I liked it the best.

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"O is for Orgasm"

Usually known for his stories about people with weapons replacing body parts, Noboru Iguchi's "F is for Fart" is about the aroma of love. A flatulence prone high school girl finds a kindred spirit in her youthful teacher, Miss Yumi. Love is a gas that absorbs the two women in an intestinal embrace some might find hard to digest.

"S is for Speed" is effective enough in its subject matter. The kind of speed focused on here is obvious enough that I'd rather not be a spoiler here. What I can say is that Jake West did a nice turn here with a small nod to Ingmar Bergman's Seventh Seal, with death making a visit in the scrub desert.

Thomas Malling's "H is for Hydro-Electric Diffusion" tries to be the live action version of a Tex Avery World War II era cartoon, with an actor dressed as a Bulldog soldier entertained by a showgirl fox who reveals herself to be a Nazi. It probably seemed like a good idea at the time.

Xavier Gens' "X is for XXL" is the most serious of the films in dealing with female body image. An overweight woman, subjected to verbal abuse from those passing her on the street, as well as the constant stream of advertising, takes a very radical step in reducing her fat. This short may well serve as a wake up call to those who put a premium on being young and thin.

I'm not going to do a run down on all twenty-six films here. As can be imagined, the overall work is uneven, with some films markedly better than others. The responses of viewers will also vary. What is praiseworthy is that there is some sense of inclusiveness with a global mix of filmmakers, and the participation of two women, the previously mentioned Helene Cattet, and Angela Bettis. As far as people learning their ABCs, viewers will have the opportunity for more study as a sequel is already in the works.

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"S is for Speed"

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at May 28, 2013 07:12 AM