Twenty-six directors from all over the world, twenty-six bite-sized, one-inch-punches about death, each about five minutes long, each corresponding to a letter of the alphabet: it's a great idea, a novel experiment and a chance for lots of lesser known horror filmmakers to push themselves into a structure that allows for very little wiggle room. It's also kind of annoying, wildly uneven and tiresome, like a mean-spirited party full of people all yelling to be heard over one another.
It all starts off well enough, with A Is for Apocalypse from Nacho Vigalondo, featuring a woman desperately trying to murder a bedridden man before her window of opportunity runs out. It's short, it's brutal and Vigalondo effortlessly throws in a cool, last-second twist. But for every tightly contained chapter of unsettling dread there are three or four pieces along the lines of X Is for XXL from Frontier(s) director Xavier Gens. During its few allotted moments a fat woman, verbally abused for her weight by every random stranger that crosses her path, obsessed with the skinny young things in swimsuit ads, takes an electric knife to her belly in order to carve out a beautifully thin body. As she attacks herself without mercy, the woman's feelings of worthlessness take literal shape in the form of flashing images of "perfect" bodies, a bikini torment strobe light, all the better to jackhammer home both the moral of the story and the awesome gore. Gens can't seem to decide which one of those things he likes best.
And it goes back and forth like that. Ernesto Diaz Espinoza's C Is for Cycle is witty, playing with barbed-wire-wielding doppelgangers, while Timo Tjahjanto's exhaustingly unpleasant L Is for Libido takes the most repulsive highlights of A Serbian Film and appropriates them for his own pouty, stylized snuff music video. Meanwhile, Serbian director Srdjan Spasojevic goes fantastical with a man whose skin becomes film while the skies rain blood in R Is for Removed.
In the end, though, this sort of thing is subjective. Personally, I don't have much patience for what I consider to be Halloween costume-level fetish goofiness and several of the shorts play around with that kind of adolescent idea of sexual danger. It's not frightening, it's not sexy, it's not transgressive, it's just trite. On the other hand, I do appreciate left-field weirdness, so Metalocalypse animator Jon Schnepp's W Is for WTF, a half-animated/half-live-action machine gun of absurd images, feels totally coherent and appropriate for something that's essentially a nonsensical, NC-17 "dethcartoon."
And for the height/depth of indelibly strange, go straight to F Is for Fart from horror/porn director Noboru Iguchi and enjoy -- if enjoy is the right word to use -- the sight of a Japanese schoolgirl obsessed with her pretty young teacher's gas ("So stinky!" she coos. Seriously.) To call it the most suicidal, funny, atheistic, flatulence-based, intergenerational lesbian romance ever committed to film doesn't quite capture its tenderness. And that quality alone makes it more radical than 80% of the rest of this anthology's gross-out shock cuts.