It was Blaise Pascal (although some say Mark Twain or George Bernard Shaw) who apologized to a friend for a long letter, saying he didn’t have time to make it short. Just because something is brief doesn’t mean it was easier to construct. It can, in fact, be harder. As proof, witness “The ABCs of Death,” a horror anthology of 26 shorts, each corresponding to a letter in the alphabet (“A is for apocalypse,” “B is for Bigfoot,” etc.). The longest lasts only a handful of minutes, the shortest about 30 seconds, and nearly all are obnoxious, forgettable time-wasters with images that are sadly less forgettable (Nazi dog strippers, farting lesbians, and so on).
It’s a shame, because the premise is inspired. Each of the 26 international filmmakers (28, actually) were assigned a letter and given free reign, so long as their film was brief and resulted in someone (or something) getting snuffed. Should a film whiff it, that’s conceivably okay, as there’s always a new one right around the corner. And yet the experience of watching “ABC’s” means always peering around the corner, frustration mounting as it becomes evident that even the talented filmmakers (“Timecrimes”’ Ernesto Diaz Espinoza, “Kill List”’s Ben Wheatley) have turned in work fathoms beneath them, mostly trading midnight-at-a-gorehound-festival juvenilia.
Okay, it’s not a total wash. Marcel Sarmiento’s “D is for Dogfight,” in which a bare knuckle boxer faces off against a fearsome mutt, has a weird, slow-motion beauty to it. Bruno Forzani and Héléne Cattet (of the French “Them”), with “O is for Orgasm,” deviate from the norm and give us an expressionistic montage of Dario Argento color filters. Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett — who contributed to another, slightly more successful recent horror omnibus package, “V/H/S” — make a self-reflexive comedy about the difficulties of find a good horror word pertaining to the letter Q.
Then again, it’s not a good sign that another filmmaker (animator Joe Schnepp) had a similar idea with the letter W. Still, it’s better to make the same joke than make a film with the usual parade of dumb shocks, or the stupid joke that comprises the contribution of Ti West, the talented filmmaker of “The House of the Devil” and “The Innkeepers.” Among this pedigree even a failed concept is one of the better entries, as with the not traumatic short by Srdjan Spasojevic, he of the notorious (if somewhat brilliant) “A Serbian Film.” Though all the work in “ABCs” is short, it’s not clear anyone gave them much time.