“D Is for Dogfight” in THE ABCs OF DEATH (Magnet Releasing)

“D Is for Dogfight” in THE ABCs OF DEATH (Magnet Releasing)

Directed by Kaare Andrews, Adam Wingard & Simon Barrett, Angela Bettis, Adrián García Bogliano, Bruno Forzani & Hélène Cattet, Jason Eisener, Ernesto Díaz Espinoza, Xavier Gens, Jorge Michel Grau, Lee Hardcastle, Noburo Iguchi, Thomas Cappelen Malling, Anders Morgenthaler, Yoshihiro Nishimura, Banjong Pisanthanakun, Marcel Sarmiento, Jon Schnepp, Srdjan Spasojevic, Timo Tjahjanto, Andrew Traucki, Simon Rumley, Nacho Vigalondo, Jake West, Ti West, Ben Wheatley, and Yûdai Yamaguchi
Produced by Ant Timpson & Tim League
Released by Magnet Releasing
USA. 129 min. Not rated

Give this project a little credit up front: this is a rather unique venture. Tim League, who runs the renowned Alamo Drafthouse cinema in Austin, Texas, and is part owner/operator of the distributor Drafthouse Films, decided with his colleagues to present a different sort of challenge to filmmakers: take a letter from the alphabet and make a movie. It could be about anything as long as it has something to do with death (and preferably horror), and then the film would premiere at the Fantastic Fest that the Alamo puts on ever year.

Taking on the challenge to make something unique with only a little money, the directors come from all over the world and walks of life. Some have put themselves on the map already for indie horror and action, including Ti West with House of the Devil, Jason Eisener for Hobo with a Shotgun, and from Spain, Nacho Vigalondo (Extraterrestrial).

If I tried to describe all of the films we’d be here all day. So a quick rundown of some of the more, well, unforgettable ones come to mind. “A Is for Apocalypse,” directed by Vigalondo, starts things off as a woman comes into a bedroom and starts stabbing her husband with a knife. Why? The apocalypse is happening outside, and that might be as good a reason as any. “D Is for Dogfight,” a particularly nasty but flashily directed bit from Marcel Sarmiento (Deadgirl), chronicles with slow-motion speed a man having to fight against a dog for sport. An animated short (one of a couple), “T Is for Toilet,” from Brit Lee Hardcastle, centers on a little boy’s life-or-death struggle against a killer toilet.

Some of these shorts end up not being good due to a few directors, frankly, not caring—the one that sticks out is Ti West with “M is for Miscarriage,” and it’s the shortest as far as I could tell (at one minute, tops) and simply involves what the title says. It’s as if West had picked up a camera in the morning, shot it, and that was it. Some are just so unnerving and disturbing you feel dirty for a few minutes—and embarrassed for laughing—like in Timo Tjahjanto’s “L Is for Libido,” where a forced circle jerk… I can’t even finish the description. And one that genuinely gets under the skin (literally!) is “X Is for XXL” from Xavier Gens, and maybe the most frightening. It follows an obese woman and her attempt to become supermodel-ish with the help of a knife and (too much) effort to cut the fat, as it were.

League clearly wants people to leave with a myriad of emotions. You’ll laugh, you’ll cringe, and you’ll possibly throw up in your popcorn. To my surprise, not as many directors went for the self-conscious or meta route. “Q Is for Quack” was an exception, where the filmmakers turn the camera on themselves to wonder what they’ll make for the anthology movie, and all I can say is it involves a duck and guns. Some are more forgettable than others—and another like “F Is for Fart” by Noburo Iguchi, involving a magic spirit living in a fart—is one that I wish I could forget.

A few directors also let loose with wild creativity and prowess. “O Is for Orgasm” shows in graphic detail—in close-ups that show skin but not the full private parts—of a woman having—and then dying—from an orgasm. And Eisener’s piece, “Y Is for Youngbuck,” one of my favorites, surprised me for its haunting tale of child sex abuse and a truly bizarre murder involving a buck (as in a deer).

The film should be seen on a big screen to get the full experience. However, it may also be beneficial to watch it on VOD for those who are seeking out specific directors’ work or want to skip over the much more offensive and strange parts. (Seriously, “H Is for Hydro-Electric Diffusion,” where did that come from with the animal-costumed Nazisploitation?) Certainly by the end, you will have had your fill of this grab bag buffet of terrors and shocks.