“The ABC’s of Death,” Part 2, screened as part of the After Dark series at the 50th Chicago Film Festival on October 12th. The film is composed of 26 short films about death, assigned alphabetically and shot by 26 directors from around the world.
With titles like “B is for Badger” (one of my personal favorites featuring Julian Barratt as both Director and Star) and “F is for Falling,” done by the outstanding duo of Israel’s Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado (“Rabies”), the vignettes were often humorous and sometimes revolting.
“B is for Badger,” which Julian Barratt directed, falls into the category of humorous. Barratt not only directed the short film, but plays the lead part of Peter Toller, a pompous television talking head who has taken his crew to a remote rural area near a large nuclear power plant to make the point that the power plant has driven the badgers away.
Only it hasn’t.
The (unseen) vicious badgers are not only alive and well, but apparently very large and aggressive, as Toller/Barratt finds out firsthand, till he utters the director’s command, “Cut!”
Titles of the films, alphabetically, were:
“A is for Amateur”
“B Is for Badger” (**)
“C is for Capital Punishment” (*)
“D Is for Deloused”
“E Is for Equilibrium” (*)
“F Is for Falling” (**)
“G Is for Granddad”
“H Is for Headgames” (*)
“I Is for Invincible”
“J Is for Jesus:
“K Is for Knell” (*)
“L is for Legacy”
“M Is for Masticate”
“N Is for Nexus” (*)
“O Is for Ochlocracy” (Mob Rule)
“P-P-P-P Is for Scary”
“Q Is for Questionnaire” (*)
“R Is for Roulette”
“S Is for Split” (**)
“T Is for Torture Porn”
“U Is for Utopia” (*)
“V Is for Vacation” (*)
“W Is for Wish”
“X Is for Xylophone”
“Y Is for Youth”
“Z Is for Zygote” (*)
Of the 26, I’d say that roughly half, starred or double-starred above, were absorbing, interesting and fulfilled the assignment in style. The less said about most of the other titles, the better.
I don’t want to give away the plots of any of the short films completely but I did notice a disturbing trend. Just as comedians have to have a target for their humor [and, in this age of political correctness, that target has become harder and harder to find without offending some group or cause], horror needs a Whipping Boy or Girl target, as well.
It used to be that comics could make fun of ethnic groups (now “out”), sexual preferences (verboten), and so on, to the point that sometimes it felt as though the only group left that was “fair game” were midgets (aka, “little people”)—until they, too, weren’t. (Remember the midget-throwing scene in “The Wolf of Wall Street?”).
It seems that old people are the new target of horror. There is even one film entitled simply “Granddad” and in the short film representing the letter “I,” the three-man cast sets fire to their own grandmother. One Japanese film is entitled “Youth.” Sumechi Umezawa definitely does not represent the venerable Japanese tradition of honoring one’s parents. Its young star is a decidedly hostile teen-ager. “X Is for Xylophone” makes you worry about ever leaving your child in the care of her grandmother. So four (of 26)—or roughly 15%— are decidedly anti-elder.
Many of the films have tried hard to combine humor with horror, with varying degrees of success. (“B Is for Badger” by Julian Barratt is one that succeeded; many did not. “P-P-P-P Is for Scary” was not scary, but was like watching a bad Three Stooges short, without the fun of watching Curly, Moe and Larry.
Mention should be made of the excellent opening credits designed by Wolfgang Moetzel, which started the ongoing trend of either head-smashing or beheading. With so much actual beheading going on in the real world (not to mention smashing of same on “The Walking Dead”), I did not yearn to see beheadings onscreen. (There’s enough of that on the 6 o’clock news or on YouTube.)
So, for me, roughly 50% of these 26 short films were entertaining and palatable and I’ve marked them with asterisks. It would be hard to pick an overall favorite as I did enjoy the new short film by Aharon Keshales (“Rabies”), whom I interviewed at last year’s festival, but I also enjoyed the excellent “Split,” which used a split-screen technique to portray a husband speaking with his wife long-distance on the phone while an intruder breaks into the house and terrorizes her and their baby. Juan Martinez Moreno directed and Gary Reumer did a good job portraying the concerned husband trying to summon help for his wife while far away at the time of the attack.