Thursday, November 21, 2013

American Horror Story: Coven--Episode 7

5.7: The Dead

--This was an interesting episode: quieter and talkier than previous eps, it built on where the characters have been, and where they’re going. The title being the big clue. Madison and Kyle were dead. Spalding is dead. Fiona is going to be dead. Madame LaLaurie wishes she were dead. The Axeman is somewhere between life and death. And all are seeking something, some answer to the all-powerful je ne sais quoi of the great beyond. We as a species are obsessed with mortality, and previous seasons of AHS have touched quite heavily upon that -- first by depicting an ordinary house as a kind of one-way roach motel for the soul, then by depicting Death Herself as a living entity, a manifestation of what we wish, and fear, death could be. And now? Now we’re getting jaded. Death is oblivion. Death is a lack of all senses and thoughts. It’s the scariest thing you could imagine. But is it also somehow comforting?

--Not to Madison. Her evocative opening monologue set the scene as she drifted about Miss R’s like a spectre, trying everything she could think of -- drugs, booze, food, self-injury -- to feel. Just to feel SOMETHING. But it’s like she’s experiencing the world through a down mattress, and she hates herself for taking it all for granted back before her death. Meanwhile, we saw how truly pitiable FrankenKyle has become. In the opening flashback, we got another look at the happy, sassy, vibrant young man he should have been. Dammit, he was gonna be an engineer and bitch-slap all future Hurricane Katrinas! And now he’s a golem, his flesh borrowed from others, frustrated by Zoe’s stupid pity but unable to express his torment. Weirdly enough, these two zombified souls found comfort in one another; Zoe was upset to see Madison and Kyle doing the nasty, but afterwards, both seemed...warmer. Able to smile. And, hot damn, Zoe joined them for a three-way. Sex heals, especially if you’re an ex-corpse or your ladyparts are fatal to men.

--I’m down with sex healing, all right. Fight the forces of prudence and repression! It also seems to be working on Fiona, who allowed herself to be drawn into the seductions of the Axeman despite A) her hair coming out from chemo, and B) that dead guy in the bathtub of the apartment the Axeman claimed was his. She knew, on some level, that she was bedding a monster, but she wanted the danger. The affirmation that she’s going to take death on her own terms. The Axeman revealed to Fiona that he’s watched her, and loved/craved her, his entire life -- which makes him the man Spalding could never be, huh? Fiona initially hated the idea that a man, living or dead, had been witnessing her descent into old age. She almost shaved her head and gave into the sickness. But she returned to the Axeman in the end -- and, y’know, I honestly don’t believe he means her any harm. Both have always been driven by their passion, their need to pluck life like a ripe fruit, damn the consequences. Talk about rooting for evil.

--Speaking of Spalding....he dead. Like, so dead. Like, OMG dead. Cordelia, who’s transmogrified into a somewhat hilarious super-bitch, learned the truth about Madison’s death and passed it onto Zoe, claiming that Fiona needed to be killed before she could wipe out all her potential successors. (Again: not quite buying Zoe as ruthless badass. Eh.) Zoe then found Spalding’s tongue, awesomely kept fresh and undecayed by Myrtle’s decades-old truth-telling spell, and used a spell of her own to attach the organ right back where it belonged. So Myrtle vicariously got her way after all, as poor Spalding was forced to spit out the name of Madison’s real killer. And then Zoe stabbed Spalding in the heart. And this death, I suspect, is actually gonna be permanent. Farewell, you twisted, lovelorn, pitiable pervert. Look where devotion got you.

--And look where honesty and an open mind got LaLaurie! Her bond with Queenie seemed to strengthen even more, but what she didn’t know was that she unwillingly sealed her own fate by pointing out that Queenie’s skin color can’t be ignored even by those who’d be her equal. Queenie went to see Marie Laveau (I’ve been predicting this’d happen for ages), and Laveau laid on the syrupy words of praise better than Fiona ever could. So Queenie gave into her worst instincts and turned LaLaurie over to Team Voodoo. Discussion question: are we sorry for LaLaurie or not? She revealed what was possibly her worst deed ever: killing the newborn baby of a slave who was hitting the sack with LaLaurie’s husband. Was any of this the fault of the slave? Of course not, which is why LaLaurie’s reaction was even more appalling. Yet she seems capable of change. But Laveau, the other monster in the room, is beginning a regimen of torture and horror upon her enemy...with Queenie’s help. Is Queenie gonna crack? Is she gonna get another shot at minotaur sex? (My current theory: Bastien is still alive, albeit bodiless, and Hank is going to become the new minotaur body.) And how much blood will LaLaurie have to spill before it’s all over?

--Another discussion topic: the final shot, which showed Laveau smearing her face with LaLaurie’s blood, just as LaLaurie did in an attempt to stay youthful. Was this just a symbolic act of revenge, or had LaLaurie been onto something? Could it be that Laveau stole the secret to eternal youth from LaLaurie? And consequently, does that mean LaLaurie, without realizing it, is a witch? That would explain the immortality and Bastien’s conversion to an actual minotaur. Hot damn again!

--Death is all around our characters, and it seems as if those who reject it are suffering more than those who embrace it. What’s better, using sex as therapy or keeping yourself alive for over a century because you harbor such an ugly grudge? I thought so.

--PS: Hank has a whole lot of guns. And he seems ready to use them. Can’t wait for the scene where Zoe catches bullets with her teeth and Queenie empties an entire clip into her own face to save the day. Death is also funny!

Friday, November 15, 2013

American Horror Story: Coven--Episode 6

5.6: The Axeman Cometh

--Gather round, kiddies, and I’ll tell you a tale. A long time ago, in the dawning of the jazz age, New Orleans was terrorized by a very bad man. He killed a lot of people, killed them with an axe. He wrote mocking letters to the media, calling himself the Axeman, toying with the populace. He loved jazz, and insisted that everyone else love it too, or pay the price. After awhile, he disappeared, never to be caught. That much is known. But what the history books can’t possibly say is what really happened to the Axeman. You see, there was one house in New Orleans full of very special women. Women with a very special power. And they’d had enough. So one night, they set a clever little trap for the Axeman. He went into that house, axe in hand, and he never came back out.

--Until now.


--If we didn’t know already, AHS is all about the awesome hired talent. Please welcome Danny Huston, scary FILF extraordinaire, with his gravely, drawling, creepy/sexy voice. Hard to imagine a better Axeman, and hard not to be pleased that this further dive into sordid Nawlins history won’t just be a One-Shot Subplot. Hell, LaLaurie didn’t even appear this week; it was all about the Axeman, whose angry spirit has been sealed up in Miss R’s ever since those 1919 witches (oy, another not-terribly-talented Meryl Streep daughter?) lured him in with classical music and stabbed him about a zillion times in the everything. When Zoe, Nan, and Queenie used an old Ouija Board to try and figure out what happened to Madison, they inadvertently contacted the Axeman. And he’s mad. Mad, mad, mad. But sexy.

--Not sure how I feel about Zoe right now. I’m glad she has more to do, but her character development is a bit hard to swallow. Going from scared innocent to hardass leader figure? Taissa Farmiga’s good but she’s not selling it for me, not at the moment. Still, she’s getting good lines (“Witch up!”) and beating up other characters, so it ain’t all bad. Against the advice of the other gals, Zoe pretended to strike a deal with the Axeman’s spirit, which led her to Spalding’s doll-filled attic of creepy paraphelia, and Madison’s ripe corpse. Interrogated by the witches, Spalding continued to protect Fiona by presenting himself as a scuzzy, murdering pervert. At least Zoe’s smart enough to not buy his act, which makes me wonder how soon she’ll figure out Fiona killed Madison. Maybe soon.

--So Cordelia’s a bit more interesting now. Her blindness has given her Second Sight, which has led to all kinds of revelations about Hank’s infidelity, though his murder(s) continue to elude her. Speaking of which, the show thankfully didn’t dick around when explaining why the hell Hank killed Alexandra Breckenridge two eps ago. In a big ol’ twist, it turns out Hank is a PROFESSIONAL WITCH HUNTER working for Marie Laveau, and his entire marriage to Cordelia was part of a long con to insert him into witch society. As Cordelia attempts to track down other witches, she’s been unknowingly helping Hank murder them -- Alexandra, for instance, was a pyrokinetic who turned down a slot at Miss R’s and sealed her own fate. Now Laveau, reaching new plateaus of fury, has ordered Hank to commit full-blown witch genocide. Only Hank kinda sorta really loves Cordelia, so OOPS. The only downside to that sequence was that Josh Hamilton looked like he was doing middle-school theatre next to Angela Bassett, who chewed the scenery in great, greedy gulps, leaving a gaping hole where she will display her inevitable Emmy award. I had no idea human lips could curl into such shapes. Wild applause!

--Welcome to Misty Day’s Health Spa for the Undead Soul! Recently burned at the stake? Just chill under a relaxing heap of herb-infused swamp mud, and you’ll be right as rain! Still dunno what Misty’s up to, but sadly for her fangirlishness, FrankenKyle blundered back into the storyline and had a naked flip-out (is Evan Peters, like, contractually obliged to show his ass or something?), smashing Misty’s beloved stereo and silencing Stevie Nicks. (Don’t worry, Misty, you’ll likely get the real thing soon.) Since Misty’s generally a nice person, she still went with Zoe to help resurrect Madison. Pretty sure it was Zoe who did most of the resurrecting; also pretty sure it was her and not Misty who brought Kyle back in the first place. More Supreme power! So Madison’s back, and I realize that I honestly kinda missed her. But Misty wants nothing to do with Miss R’s. Says there’s something rotten about the place. Gee, ya think? Every central location on AHS -- the Murder House, Briarcliff Asylum, and now Miss Robichaux’s -- is tainted by generations of dirty deeds that seep from the woodwork.

--Like, for instance, the Axeman, who terrorized poor Cordelia for a bit before Zoe used yet another witchy power to find the right spell to stop him. (Subliminal comic relief: one of the old books on the shelf appeared to be a reference guide to gynecology.) The terrible downside, though, was that the Axeman was freed from the house and is now apparently back to being all flesh and blood. He needs a woman, and the PERFECT match for him is Fiona, who’s submitted herself to chemo treatments for Cordelia’s sake, but kinda blew the whole mother/daughter bond when Cordelia had a vision of Myrtle’s death. Fiona’s weaknesses are eating away at her, and the episode ended with her and the Axeman flirting in a bar. Weirdly enough, I feel like this might be good for them both. Seeing as how the witches have more and more enemies, I hope Fiona’s upcoming dose of awesome sex gets her ready for the battle to come. And that her paramour only uses two of his axes (the musical one and the one in his pants) on her.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

American Horror Story: Coven--Episode 5

4.5: Burn, Witch. Burn!

--Sorry for the delay; I was moving. Took a couple days to switch the internet on. But look what was waiting for me! A new episode of a crazy-ass show that keeps getting crazy-assier. Crazier-ass? Not sure. Anyway. This ep, despite its zombie kill-a-thon, was all about That Scene, which I’ll get to at the end. Because That Scene can’t be topped.

--I’ll cover the zombies first, because they were lame. At least, lame compared to That Scene and the other stuff that happened. There’s only so many ways you can stage a zombie attack. Lots of running and yelling “SHIT!”, lots of people saving other people’s asses. The usual. There were some good moments; I loved Queenie’s attempt to stop the zombie by wounding herself, and Zoe’s blood-spattered chainsaw spree could not not be amazing and wonderful. I figured Luke would die, but luckily for him, some random extras showed up to get devoured instead. The main thing was LaLaurie’s guilt at the sight of her zombified daughters, and the steadily-growing bond between her and Queenie, which is awfully touching...

--...even though LaLaurie lost some of her newly won sympathy during the opening flashback, which revealed that the former Grande Dame of Nawlins didn’t limit her cage-torture sessions to hapless black slaves. Nope, she did unspeakable things to her own children too -- although, to be fair, they were semi-seriously talking about matricide. The point is, LaLaurie was more of a monster than can be imagined, and her climb from the depths of damnation is slow, painful, and lined with barbed wire. But maybe not impossible.

--Zoe stepped up this week, unburdened by the absent FrankenKyle. And, rather significantly, she discovered that she has a whooooole lot more power than mere ladyparts of death. She somehow undid the zombie spell, ending the Halloween havoc and giving Marie Laveau a rude awakening. So is Zoe gonna be the next Supreme? She seems too obvious a choice, but you never know.

--Meanwhile, Cordelia lay in the hospital from Silent Hill, horribly scarred and blinded by acid. Fiona wandered the gloomy, nightmarish halls, tripping on stolen meds and awash in guilt. This led to That Scene, but it also led to a nasty confrontation with Hank, who seems legitimately devoted to Cordelia, so maybe the whole fucking-some-random-chick-and-then-murdering-her thing has some ulterior explanation that we can’t guess at. Interestingly, when Hank took Cordelia’s hand, she awoke and appeared to have a vision of his crime. So has being blinded opened her inner eye? Has her true witchy power been revealed? Is she about to actually become relevant? Hope so. The other thing that happened during this time was that Fiona saw the black-clad figure who flung the acid. Who could it be?

--Yep. Once again, I’m weirdly good at making predictions. The Council turned up again, full of bluster and accusations, demanding Fiona’s resignation as Supreme. Fiona was cool as a cucumber. Because she knew who the real evildoer in the room was. Myrtle Snow, ladies and gentlemen: a tormented, insecure, alienated woman so desperate for revenge that she’d, I dunno, fling acid in the face of her enemy’s daughter? Yep. Called it. However, it was a little unclear as to how guilty Myrtle was. Flashbacks seemed to confirm Fiona’s accusation and Myrtle folded under pressure, but Fiona sealed the deal with a little dirty trick, getting Queenie to use her powers so Myrtle would sport a damning acid burn of her own. The result? Myrtle Snow was burned at the stake for crimes against witchery. Great execution scene: elegant, disturbing, ironic, pitiable, highly fashionable, all of the above. It wasn’t That Scene, but it was close. Now the guilty Queenie has been charmed by Fiona and all is calm.......for now. At least until Madison’s corpse gets too stinky for Spalding to Febreze away.

--Now. That Scene. This ep played with the themes of bad mothers, as demonstrated by LaLaurie and Fiona. During her trippy stroll through the hospital, Fiona encountered a weeping young woman whose baby daughter had been stillborn. Cutting through the woman’s horror and self-loathing, Fiona placed the dead infant in her arms and told her to speak to her lifeless child. To say words of love and devotion, the words Fiona herself never said, or never meant. And then Fiona brought the baby back to life, sacrificing a little more of her power, her lifeforce, so a young mother could have a chance. The scene almost brought me to tears. Jessica Lange’s acting was so good that it utterly eclipsed anything else that might or did happen. See, Fiona is not evil. She is cruel, desperate, confused, guilty, angry...not evil. Maybe that’s what’s going to matter in the end. Man, how can the season top itself now?

--I’m sure it will. After all, there’s soooo much more craziness to come. As demonstrated in the closing scene. Who should come drifting in to visit the site of Myrtle’s fiery death? Misty Day, of course. And Misty proceeded to resurrect Myrtle. Yep. I’d say that Team Witchcraft and Team Voodoo are about to face a new threat. Team Outcast? Team Swampgirl? Team Stevie Nicks? Take your pick, but it’s gonna be awesome. Mainly because Frances Conroy (Frances Conroy Frances Conroy) is still around. We need to know if Myrtle was really guilty, and, more importantly, how she’s gonna get back at Fiona.

--I also want to know more about the albinos in black suits who do the Council’s busywork. Spin-off?

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The ABCs of Death

For me, horror movie season is pretty much endless. I could call this a Halloween post, only it’s too late for that, so whatever. I just watched The ABCs of Death, a sort-of-horror anthology of short films, one of the current projects waving its blood-soaked hands for our attention in this crazy new world where anyone with a camera can make a horror film. In this case, 26 directors each got a $5,000 budget, a five-minute time limit, and one randomly-assigned letter of the alphabet, and were encouraged to go hog-wild. Anthology films are fun because no one entry lingers long enough to bore you, but their inevitable downside is the miles-wide spectrum of quality. Some entries are inspired, even elegant, while others are pure shit. Sometimes literally.

As a whole, The ABCs of Death pretty much works, although it does run awfully long. Maybe a shorter time limit would have forced the various directors to be a little less self-indulgent in some cases. The best entries are the ones that stick to a very simple premise, focusing on style and striking images over gimmickry. There’s a lot of humor and a lot of pure horror, and no less than four of the shorts are scatological in nature, because obviously when you think of death, you think of things that come out your anus. Obviously. Here’s my rundown of all 26 short films, complete with letter grades. And just to warn you, I’m not the type of person who’s gonna be all like, “This next film was directed by Fleeble McFleeble, who made Escape From Fleeble Island!” If you want to know about the directors, look them up yourself.

Oh, and there will be SOME SPOILERS.

A is for Apocalypse
Good beginning -- simple, effective, and packing a proper punchline. A housewife attempts to violently murder her husband as he eats breakfast in bed. The gore is excessive and rather amusing, but what makes the entry work is the ending, which, yeah, is given away in the title. (I guess there’s a reason the makers of the anthology stuck the credits at the end of each short.) Sometimes what is implied is better than what’s shown -- a lesson many future entries could have learned. B+

B is for Bigfoot
A randy young couple wants to fuck blind, but this little girl won’t go to bed, so they tell her a made-up story about a boogeyman figure who eats kids’ hearts. Gee, wonder what happens next. It’s nicely made, for sure, but I was confused about the characters’ relationships and the entire story arc is sooooo easy to predict. Nice use of a pizza cutter, though. B

C is for Cycle

Okay, this one I found really neat. A dude finds himself in some sort of temporal loop, visualized by a creepy shrubbery tunnel in his backyard. Ultimately, he is his own worst enemy. There’s barely any dialogue; images (often revisited) tell the story as we gradually see what’s going on. It may not entirely make sense, but it gets the point across and projects a nicely dread-filled atmosphere. A

D is for Dogfight
This is the first entry to tell the story entirely without words, and man, does it work. We’re in a sleazy underground fighting ring, where a scruffy man battles for his life against a savage dog. Only the man and the dog, shall we say, already have a history. Muffled soundtrack, tons of slow-motion, intense music -- there’s a reason such filmmaking tropes work over and over. Also, damn good acting from the dog. I’m serious! This is one of the anthology’s big showcases, for good reason. A

E is for Exterminate
Basically an urban legend brought to life in an icky/funny way. A dude is being bothered by a spider, who seems capable of holding a grudge -- unusual for an arachnid, but it sure pays off at the end, when we learn just where the spider laid its eggs. Not terribly profound, but the SFX are convincing and the overall timing makes you giggle and cringe. B

F is for Fart
Sigh. Japan...why are you so fucking weird? I mean, I love it, but sometimes I wonder what the point is. In this short, a cute schoolgirl dwells unduly on the flatulence of her equally cute teacher. Somehow, this unleashes a vengeful act of God, I guess; hapless victims catch fire and die while the two leads wind up in some kind of fart-themed afterlife. Look, I DON’T KNOW, okay? I’d say this entry is trying too hard, and I also pray the director hasn’t been waiting to make this inexplicable ode to female poots his whole life. C

G is for Gravity
Bare-bones filmmaking, and it works, I suppose. The short is told from the POV of a dude who arrives at the beach to go surfing, except what he really plans is to kill himself. We have to guess this, as the wordless images quietly speak for themselves. It’s haunting, to be sure. B+

H is for Hydro-Electric Diffusion
This might be the goofiest entry, but damn it, I couldn’t help but enjoy it. A British WWII pilot encounters a sexy burlesque dancer who turns out to be a murderous Nazi bitch. Also, for no real reason, both are anthropomorphic animals. Why not? It’s a live-action cartoon with a triumphant ending and a creative use of testicles, so ridiculous it works. Impressive makeup job, too! A-

I is for Ingrown
Aaaaand this next one turns the mood right back to bleak, chronicling the death struggle of a bound woman after her captor gives her a lethal injection. No melodrama, just a pitiable, plausible horror scenario. Apparently, this film was made to recognize all the women murdered in real life (in Mexico especially). Although the woman’s narration is too cryptic, the short works because of its minimalist terror. A-

J is for Jidai-geki
The title translates to “Samurai movie,” and I guess this is a parody. A samurai is committing seppuku, and the man chosen to behead him is having a hard time concentrating, possibly because of the victim’s whacko facial expressions. We’ve all had those moments where we cracked up at the worst possible time; this is kind of like that, only with levitating eyeballs. Did I mention Japan is weird? B

K is for Klutz
Scatology #2: Woman vs. Poo. This one’s a cartoon of a glammed-out lady using a public restroom, then having to wrangle her own feces as it tries to escape its porcelain fate. It’s like a deleted scene from Ren & Stimpy. It’s funny (I loved the squeaky noise made by the wayward turd), but it feels like it belongs in a different anthology, and the grisly ending is like they suddenly remembered the whole “death” theme at the last minute. At least it’s off the beaten path. B-

L is for Libido
This is the entry that’ll cause half the viewers to quit in disgust. It begins with a sexy, half-naked guy strapped to chair, which sounds fun to me, but soon enough he’s forced to compete in a twisted psychosexual game where he must out-masturbate other men or be killed by a drill up the poop-chute. Meanwhile, the stuff he has to jerk off to gets progressively more twisted. I am not sure why this had to exist, but it actually escapes pure dreck by being tongue-in-cheek. But just barely. I didn’t like it, but at the time, I didn’t realize worse was coming. C-

M is for Miscarriage
This is the shortest entry, and barely qualifies as a film. A woman is bothered by her clogged toilet, and the problem turns out to be...well, once again, the title’s a spoiler. And that’s all. It’s just a brief, icky snapshot, and you can’t help but wonder if the director thought this somehow made it more effective. Instead, I found it lazy, and shocking in a way that doesn’t have much impact all by itself. Try harder, please. C

N is for Nuptials
Seems like these days, you need a creative way to propose to your girlfriend. A talking parrot is a fun idea, but make sure it’s not gonna repeat things your girlfriend shouldn’t hear. Short but sweet, this entry is a cute joke with a morbid punchline. Again, the “death” part feels forced; this is really a skit, not a short film. But it ain’t bad. B

O is for Orgasm
The French call an orgasm “La Petite Mort” -- the little death. This short is very French, and pretty cool, visualizing a woman’s orgasm(s) with dreamlike imagery: bubbles, creaking leather, crackling cigarettes, color filters. It’s hard to tell if the death is meant to be literal (there’s some erotic asphyxiation near the end), but I enjoyed such an artsy take on mortality, such a sumptuous blending of sight and sound. A-

P is for Pressure
I’d call this a decent short film that deserves a better ending. With no dialogue and handheld footage, we see a prostitute care for her children, dream of making enough money to treat them, and sink into despair. Her need drives her to participate in a shady film shoot; we think it’s gonna be a snuff film, and it kind of is, but...well, I couldn’t tell if the “punchline” was supposed to be funny or not. Very good filmmaking, but what exactly is it trying to say at the end? Beats me. B

Q is for Quack
Leave it to the Americans to get meta. In this dry, amusing short, the director and producer agonize over the fact that they got saddled with the letter Q. To spice up the production, they decide to feature an actual killing -- of a duck, in this case. The payoff may be somewhat predictable (karma, bitches!), but it’s still really damn funny, and I hope that duck had a long, happy life off-camera. This upending of the formula is done a hell of a lot better than the guys who got the letter W. We’ll get to them. B+

R is for Removed

This is my favorite entry in the anthology: it’s grim, it’s mysterious, it hints at things but leaves you to decide the answer for yourself. We see a grisly hospital patient, his flesh like pulled pork, held prisoner and displayed to the public. Strips of his skin are removed and turned into 35MM film -- at least, that’s what it looks like. His face is unseen -- is he a modern Frankenstein monster? A warped messiah? The final image of the film may imply the latter. I loved how this short toyed with our expectations and stayed unique from start to finish. If all the entries had been like this, we’d have a horror masterpiece. A

S is for Speed
It’s 1970s grindhouse style! A leather-clad vixen tears through the desert in a bitchin’ set of wheels, pursued by a sinister man in black. Spoiler alert: the woman is actually a dying junkie, and the desert scenes represent her inevitable date with the reaper. Effectively done, though it loses points just because I’m sick of 1970s grindhouse style. Damn you, Robert Rodriguez. B

T is for Toilet
I HATED this one. Fucking hated it in ways I can’t quite describe. It’s claymation: a little kid is afraid to use the toilet, his dad is a total asshole, then the toilet turns into a slavering monster and murders the parents. I’m baffled by other reviews I’ve read that praise this entry. It’s bottom-of-the-barrel bad. The animation is beyond crude and sloppy. The gratuitous gore isn’t even gratuitous in a funny way; it’s just ugly, cruel, and mean-spirited. The ending dives even deeper into nasty nihilism. Fuck this entry; they should never have allowed it to stand alongside the rest. F

U is for Unearthed
A vampire attacks people, then gets destroyed in the standard stakey way. But, OMG, everything is seen from the vamp’s POV! Not a bad gimmick, but the thing is, you need more than a gimmick to carry a movie, even a really short one. There’s really nothing to this beyond the POV hook, and it left no impression on me. C+

V is for Vagitus
Ahhhhh, failed ambition. The filmmakers of this entry decided to make an entire sci-fi epic, set in a dystopian future where there’s robots and telepathy and it’s illegal to have babies, or something. A policewoman is sent to oust some rebels and soon finds herself Questioning Authority, blah blah blah. Nice production values, but the acting is quite schlocky and trying to cram this much story into five minutes just leads to a muddled mess. I guess they win points for trying. C+

W is for WTF!
This was where I could really feel the movie running out of steam. Again, it’s dumb Americans bemoaning how they can’t make a good short film, but the meta-trick was only funny once. Worse, this entry quickly devolves into a psychedelic clusterfuck involving zombie clowns, a giant walrus, and a lot of self-congratulatory wanking. It’s the film equivalent of people who throw a lot of random MS Paint effects together and call it a webcomic. And it’s putrid. D

X is for XXL
I found this one to be the most disturbing of them all, because it’s a horrific bloodbath with real-world implications. It features an obese woman, cruelly mocked by society, surrounded by the perky faces of stick-thin models, who decides to forcibly shed weight via various sharp implements. It lingers for far too long on her suffering and crimson self-mutilation, but that’s kinda the point. I really hated watching it, but I felt like it was somehow important to. Grand guignol with a message; the victimization of women with all the masturbatory bullshit stripped away. A-

Y is for Youngbuck
I thought maybe Danny Boyle made this, what with the queasy oversaturated colors and dizzying synth score. No such luck, but I’ll take it anyway. Another wordless drama, this one shows us a creepy school janitor who looks like Steve Buscemi’s dad, and who tastes violent vengeance from a boy he molested. A severed deer head is involved. No way can this be taken seriously, but the colors and music lend it dream logic, so it gets away with excess. B+

Z is for Zetsumetsu
The one big problem with the alphabet gimmick: you’re stuck with a predetermined order. Otherwise, they could’ve ended the anthology with something better than this nonsense. The title means “Extinction” and is even MORE proof that Japan is weird, weird, weird. This final short doesn’t even have a plot. It’s just gross, random, pornographic pseudo-satire. A Nazi chick wields a giant killer phallus. Naked men make sushi and are executed. A women uses her vagina to fire vegetables, and one dude is apparently supposed to be an Asian Dr. Strangelove. Any “message” or “analogy” gets lost in the muddle; it’s frankly a shitty note to end on. D

My final verdict on The ABCs of Death? Eh, I give it a solid B overall. If I were the editors, I would have paid more attention to the quality of the entries and maybe laid down a few more ground rules. That said, this is a tribute to the sheer, nutso, balls-out creativity of moviemaking, for better and for worse. And there are a few real gems in there. I’m down for more experiments like this, especially if they help jump-start movie careers. Sky’s the limit!