No one can accuse The ABCs of Death of lacking ambition. It features 26 short films from different directors, one for each letter of the alphabet, all centered on the theme of death. As is typical of of the format it’s a bit of a mixed bag quality wise, but genre fans and the perverts among us you will probably find enough to enjoy here to make it worth a watch.
Thoughts on the actual shorts aside, this is one of the most hilarious and entertaining commentary tracks I’ve ever heard. Technically it’s 27 commentary tracks as there’s one for each short and then an opening/closing credits add-on from co-producers Ant Timpson and Tim League. As with the shorts some are better than others, but there are a handful that had me laughing aloud and rewinding in disbelief. A few others are just plain old interesting too.
Keep reading to see what I learned from the commentary track for The ABCs of Death.
The ABCs of Death (2012)
Commentators: Lots of people
1. Nacho Vigalondo thanks a handful of people for letting him be a part of the film, and he gives a special thanks to Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett (You’re Next).
2. The opening credits were originally going to say “Directed by Death,” but they decided to fill the screen with all of the directors’ names instead.
3. B is for Bigfoot was originally Y is for Yeti, but producers restructured the shorts after production had completed. Director Adrián García Bogliano acknowledges that his segment worked best in his home country where all of the jokes were understood and appreciated.
4. The blood on the ground in C is for Cycle was meant to make viewers “imagine that maybe it’s a fetus or a part of a body or something” so they know to expect something horrifying around the corner. Director Ernesto Díaz Espinoza says the short was inspired by David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive.
5. The filmmakers behind D is for Dogfight were excited by the concept but were told by the dog’s trainer that an actor would need weeks of training to accomplish the shots they wanted. So they cast the trainer in the lead role. And for those of you who care, it was filmed on the RED camera.
6. Noboru Iguchi says the theme of his short, F is for Fart, is earthquake disaster. But you probably figured that out on your own. He then goes on to compare it to Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock. Again, obviously. “Well, initially I wanted to make a rather intellectual film depicting an earthquake disaster. I wanted to prove that I could make an intellectual film. But as I was filming this I realized I really can’t hide my obsession of farts.” The fart sounds are authentic as Iguchi had a friend of his record his girlfriend in the act. He also asked the effects team to redo the teacher’s CGI fart six times because he wanted it to look like a dragon. Good god this five minute commentary is hilarious and well worth buying the disc for alone.
7. Director Thomas Cappelen Malling acknowledges the obvious Tex Avery homage with H is for Hydro-Electric Diffusion, but he also points out bits inspired by the Star Wars and Indiana Jones films.
8. According to director Jorge Michel Grau, Mexico features such a high number of women being murdered that the term “femicide” was created for it. His short, I is for Ingrown, was his attempt at recreating a senseless murder to draw attention to the ongoing atrocity. “The research was easy. It was enough to open any newspaper and read the news.”
9. “This has always fascinated me,” says Anders Morgenthaler in sharing his inspiration for K is for Klutz, “that the female race is also have the necessary to go and poop.” He’s being serious. He then goes on to make a fairly convincing case for the success of his short.
10. Timo Tjahjanto says the short L is for Libido was both a joy and a stress to film thanks in part to its tight two-day shoot. Adding to that was a main crew member who left halfway through without saying a word. Tjahjanto eventually discovered the reason was because “he was strongly against the morality of the film.” The house they filmed in is located in a heavily gang-controlled area, and he was forced to pay bribes and lie to them about the content.
11. Director Ti West felt he couldn’t compete with many of the other filmmakers and their “really exciting, in your face, visually arresting styles,” so he intentionally made something “really plain and really simple” for M is for Miscarriage. His ultimate goal was to go for a gross-out that would have the audience groaning. So, success?
12. P is for Pressure was shot in Surinam, and the kids playing the lead actress’ kids are actually her cousins. Director Simon Rumley is quick to point out that no actual animals were harmed during filming, and all of the animals were actually returned to their owners.
13. The opening of Q is for Quack is filmed on the same sound stage where they were doing re-shoots for You’re Next. The directors were asked for their top letter choices, and Adam Wingard said to just give him whatever. “I instantly regretted that decision, actually.” The quick shot of the duck biting Wingard is actually a finger puppet.
14. Srdjan Spasojevic’s commentary for R is for Removed consists entirely of some kind of weird, bleak, performance art poetry. It actually pairs up (to some degree) with the short, but while they look and sound interesting, neither make a lick of sense.
15. The American flag that opens S is for Speed was intended to highlight the fact that his short is a fever dream inspired by American cinema. The music on the radio is Simon Boswell’s “Imagination,” and director Jake West used it as he’s a fan of Boswell and his work in films by Alejandro Jodorowsky and Dario Argento.
16. Lee Hardcastle made T is for Toilet while living in an attic in Paris. The original dialogue was chock full of foul language, but he asked the producers if he could go change it to something more palatable. The blanket covering the parents while they sleep is actually Hardcastle’s underwear.
17. Ben Wheatley was very proud of the opening of U is for Unearthed as it reminded him of the title credits to John Carpenter’s The Thing. The POV was accomplished by strapping “magic arms” and a baby carrier. His commentary is soon interrupted by a phone call. He returns to confirm that “it’s not a real person that got killed, it was all done with prosthetics.”
18. V is for Vagitus originally started with title fonts meant to duplicate The Running Man and Robocop. “Vagitus” is apparently an old Latin term meaning “the cries of a newborn child,” and director Kaare Andrews was inspired by the cries of his own kid. His path to the short essentially came down to a pair of metaphorical blue balls after a feature film he was working on fell through. He was able to convince the producers that he should be in the film by telling them “Hey, you don’t know me, but I’ve got this baby, and let let me in the movie and I’ll decapitate it for you.” He says many people have accused him of spending more than the allotted $5k budget, but he reminds listeners that as a new father there was no extra cash laying around. A props guys told him that the robot would cost $50k and take two weeks, so Andrews just made it himself in his basement. Andrews is the real deal in both talent and enthusiasm, and someone needs to give him a feature immediately.
19. The commentary for W is for WTF? by Jon Schnepp has someone doing another commentary on top of it consisting mostly of Schnepp being insulted and mocked. Is it somehow related to Metalpocalypse or Venture Brothers? Probably? I have no clue. It makes for a very tiring commentary though.
20. The poster model in the opening of X is for XXL is the short’s composer and director Xavier Gens’ sister in law. She’s also the end product. The scene where the lead actress was stuffing her mouth was difficult “because all the crew wanted to throw up on the set.”
21. Jason Eisener wanted to do a short without dialogue because most of his films feature “characters spitting off random garbage all the time.” He sees Y is for Youngbuck as his chance to essentially do a music video, in this case for an Australian band named PowerGlove. Story-wise he sees the short as a superhero origin about a kid who “embodies the power of a 12-point buck deer and seeks out revenge on pedophiles.” The shot of the pervert licking the boys’ sweat from the bleachers was an attempt at affecting viewers who had already seen everything leading up to Y.
22. Yoshihiro Nishimura says his short was originally R is for Rice, but when it was changed to Z it became Z is for Zetsumetsu. The swastika still changes into the Japanese symbol for “rice” though. His goal was to film a short that couldn’t be shown in theaters in Japan, and that was accomplished by featuring several shots featuring pubic hair, vaginal lips and penises. Of course, it also features some potentially offensive 9/11 commentary so it’s an equal opportunity offender.
23. The end credits state the film is “Based on a nightmare by Ant Timpson,” but the producer says that’s not true as it was actually based on an idea he got from reading books to his children.
24. Co-producer Tim League recalls that Nacho Vigalondo was the first director asked to participate. Anyone who’s attended Fantastic Fest can vouch for his enthusiasm. Sober or not.
25. Tjahjanto’s short is banned in his homeland of Indonesia.
26. Both League and Timpson insist on pointing out that Wingard and Barrett were not using real cocaine in their short, Q is for Quack. Of course they were also pissed at the duo for revealing the size of the budget allotted each filmmaker ($5k) within their short.
Best in Commentary
- Nacho Vigalondo: “Ow, yes, we needed this crazy ass violence.”
- Noboru Iguchi: “My hobby is to see girls farting as often as possible.”
- Jorge Michel Grau: “The letter assigned to me was ‘I.’ My first thought was ‘I am fucked.’”
- Anders Morgenthaler: “She obviously just had a dump, and now she is confronted with her poop. And in a way that is also me confronting myself with the fact that women do have an asshole. And um, I will not go into that further.”
- Timo Tjahjanto: “I was looking for someone who without any lines could express a lot with just her face and her eyes, and Kelly, she got great eyes man. I mean this in a very positive terms here, like her eyes could say ‘I want to kill you, I want to fuck you,’ and yet she could also say ‘I want to seduce the shit out of you right before you die a terrible death.’”
- Adam Wingard: “I’m too tired to do this fucking commentary.”
- Yoshihiro Nishimura: “I wanted to create shots of penis and sushi in sequence.”
The ABCs of Death has a lot of downside thanks to a higher percentage of loser shorts than winners, but the great ones are truly great, and the disc’s special features actually add value to the package as a whole. If you do pick up a copy I can’t recommend listening to the commentary enough. Specifically, jump ahead to F, J, K, L, Q, R, T, V, X and Y for a mix of funny, interesting and engaging chatter from the filmmakers.