Netflix October pick: The ABCs of Death

It’s October. Time to talk horror. I’ll focus on horror-related posts until Halloween comes and goes.

In the opening scene of The ABCs of Death, you’re going to see a man’s hand hacked nearly in half, which is quickly followed by a facial cleansing with boiling grease. Each director has a different short film, each short film chooses a word beginning with that letter for its subject. D, as it turns out, is for “Dogfight,” F is for “Fart,” and I don’t even remember which letter provides us with a forced masturbation contest that awards the loser impalement. Of the twenty-six stories, that one’s among the most memorable, not to mention one of the most twisted.

At this point you should already know if this movie’s for you or not. If it is, keep reading. If it’s not, skip it. Really. Do us both a favor. One of my friends proclaimed it was too extreme for him when he suggested it for me. I didn’t think I’d like it, but you know what? I really did. More so than the first two V/H/S/ films. And if you’re the type who thinks it’s possible for cinema to go too far, avoid it like the plague. Taboo isn’t just a recurring theme here, it’s all-but celebrated.

I’ve had a love-hate relationship with the horror anthology film ever since Creepshow’s “I can hold my breath for a loooong time!” became a popular movie quote. (“I want my Father’s Day cake!” was just as household in my family.) The good thing about an anthology movie: you don’t have to wait as long for a payoff when far too many horror movies take their sweet little time giving you one. The bad thing about an anthology movie: at least one of the stories will be a drag, which is true even of Two Evil Eyes, the Argento/Romero mash-up which features only two stories.

At more than two hours long, ABCs of Death has a lot more than one shitty story, but overall I found it way more entertaining than Sturgeon’s Law suggests: we get twenty-six stories from twenty-six directors and far less than ninety percent of it is crap. Sometimes the word the filmmakers came up with is a stretch, sometimes the story works better in theory than in execution, sometimes they just plain fucking suck. But where else are you going to see a Japanese Dr. Strangelove and something as gratuitously offensive as a plane painted on one bare tit and the World Trade Centers painted on the other?
More often than not, the stories in ABCs of Death are at the very least well-made and, at the very best, a wild ride. This is the nature of the multi-authored anthology. With the exception of Dangerous Visions, I don’t remember ever liking every single story in an anthology. Usually, it all can’t be good. The ABCs of Death, however, pulls it off much better than V/H/S/ did, that’s for sure.

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