With a Jolt, My Mind Awakens…Chapter Fifty-Seven: Reaper’s Delight? I’ll Order Two…

“I’m not afraid of death. I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” — John Carpenter

Death is a Cash Flow Carousel. The entity in the Black Cotton Bathrobe just waits for the red light to blink, then collects on the Take-This-Life-and-Shelve-It as instructed by Who Commands. Hollywood’s exploitation of the Fifth Horseman (“C’mon, guys…a donkey?!”) has been dagger to the heart and frog-in-your-throat since we learned how to operate a camera. Liberal philosophy placates us by declaring Death to be the purest form of comedy…hey, just as long as it doesn’t make us puke, according to Steve Martin. Laugh it up, sickos, as you cross the thoroughfare into the expanse in which extinction and effluvia hug it out — “The ABCs of Death”.

When I first viewed the trailer for this anthology on IMDB last year, I joined the teeming mass of googly-eyed intriguists, the dissatisfied lot trying to wring all entertainment from Heineken-soaked rags like “The Grudge 3”, “Quarantine 2” and “Rise of the Zombies” (Danny Trejo draws the crowd but is outshone by a cast of actors who NEVER EVER EVER EVER should be in a zombie movie, including a slimmed Ethan Suplee as an Air Force hero). “The ABCs of Death” feature 26 film-makers who’ve been randomly assigned a letter of the alphabet for a short film about the Short Breath of Man, Cue the Exploding Baloney (sic). You’d be foolish to think this production would not be tainted by a slimy undercurrent of “anything you can do, I can do better” by the participants; the gross-out quotient is gargantuan. Please note, the movie is NOT entitled “The ABCs of Horror; it is entitled “The ABCs of Death”, and death, my little chickadees, doesn’t always look like Phoebe Cates emerging from the pool. Many on-line critics have used the phrase “good but not great” when reviewing the output, and I will stand with this group. However, I’m not certain why most of these evaluators, or anyone deliberately viewing the movie, would think otherwise. Not every movie with a membership card in the Horror Movie/Anthology Club will be quality-to-quality terror-fried gold like “Creepshow”. The anthology format, in all its incarnations, always excretes a few D.O.A.s among a meteor shower of mind-bending innovations. “The Twilight Zone” parted the Red Sea with “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”, “To Serve Man”, and “Time Enough at Last” but left behind several brackish puddles of partially-digested and irritatingly flavorless morass, permanently soiling our British Knights. Yes, “The ABCs of Death” was GOOD because that’s what I expected, as you should all await, but it also conjured many uncomfortably outrageous & ostentatious images, as goes with the territory, that I don’t want to drive from my consciousness. Take the wicker chair in the corner of the rumpus room and pop a can of Shasta.

I want to be especially careful about “spoiling”, so I will play with the “A is for…”, “B is for…” titles of each story to fit with my episodic observations:

“A is for Ah’m Just Tryin’ to Help You, Darling…” — success almost eludes a dead-handed murderess, but there’s a bigger, brighter problem on the horizon…A simultaneously violent and tranquil composition, although you sniff the meal before it’s ready. Grade: B

“B is for Babysitting’s a Bitch” — ‘Go to sleep, child, or the monster [I just made up] will kill you’ says the hanky-panky-on-the-mind babysitters, but now the tale is told in South America. Fee-fi-fo-fum, ho-hum. Predictable fare. Grade: C

“C is for Can’t Forget A Face” — That’s the major problem of the protagonist. The antagonist? The guy playing the part?? We see a re-tread of the ‘Oh my God, You’re Wearing My Face’ premise, but in this instance, the implausibility of the affair is tolerable, and the conclusion shreds conventional application. Grade: B

“D is for Dial the ASPCA, This One’s Got Bite!” — An underground fight club’s main event features the grizzled veteran versus an unusual adversary, and the battle may be more personal than professional. Dialogue and dimension is disinherited to favor the gladiatorial imagery. An immediate reaction of ‘Is this really happening?’ gets KO’d by unencumbered savagery that evokes the artful bliss of the pre-1998 Ultimate Fighting Championship. The mathematical arrangement – the sharp angles, the quick shots, the icy cold equations – work in tandem with the bizarre configuration of the on-lookers, making this tale a world cham-PEEN. Grade: A

“E is for Ewwwwww” — This vignette only succeeds in reminding the viewer of the superior “Creepshow” tale it’s attempting to adulate. Sadly, a prosaic entry. Grade: F

(you better believe there’s more after the jump)

“F is for Fragrant Finality” — Japanese schoolgirls! Earthquake! Unnatural Poisonous Gas! NATURAL Poisonous Gas! This is the story that’s been getting the most press, and every accolade & wreath of laurel draped upon it is deserved. When you know there’s no way out of the FUBAR Of The Given Moment, acquiesce to the stinkbomb and ride the vibrations to the Happy Place. Remember, when someone tells you happiness is internal, that person may be the Dalai Lama. I enjoyed this story, but I’m certain the gaijin appreciation goes according to director Noboru Iguchi’s diabolical plan. Hell’s bells, they may not be gettin’ them-there God-ZEE-lah movies right anymore, but I reckon “F is for…” makes us even-steven. Grade: A

“G is for Gonna Go For a Swim” — Surfer’s P.O.V. for a significant (literal) rite of passage. Unique yet uncomplicated. Short and bitter…actually, salty. Grade: B

“H is for Heroism” — A British pilot vs. a Nazi stripper, scented by steampunk. Somebody goes Indiana Jones Villain, but I ain’t tellin’. Another push of the human capacity for flabbergasting flapdoodle, but a reckless, Warner Brothers-toon vibe (and uncurbed appetite for Getting the Roles JUST RIGHT) takes this entry non-stop to Mt. Olympus. You will definitely get the impression the director did not squander his resources! Grade: A

“I is for I’m Too Old for this Sh*t” — Love ’em, hate ’em, friggin’ decapitate ’em, slice ’em into bloody chunks, and stow ’em in your Honda’s trunk. ‘Cept here we never leave the bathroom, and this time, we are subjected to the pedantic warblings of the victim as the bathtub becomes her coffin. I’ve never been fond of the “well, looky at the fine mess I done pissed mah-self into now” device; here, the usage fuddles the fable’s foundation, floundering without affording the viewer an atom of tangible decency for the events. Yeah, he’s killing her, and the situation’s gone from Cocoa Krispies to Fruity Yummy You-Gonna-Die-Berries, but the story doesn’t offer anything novel, and it also doesn’t seem too respectful to its audience who can perceive this transparency from Scene I. Save it for Sundance, kid. Grade: D

“J is for Just a Second, is He…?” — Japan hits another home run with this story of a warrior’s demise. The face of Death may express the awkwardness of a yearbook photograph, my children. Stock your medicine cabinet with Aquafresh as you sit tight for the gong. Grade: A –

“K is for Krap” — An unembellished foray into the musty, mushroom-laden cellar of bathroom humor, involving a woman and a little brown friend with an Oedipal complex. OK, I may be overanalyzing this animated tale’s scheme, guilty, guilty, guilty. Fecund and fun. Grade: A-

“L is for Let’s Be Adults for Five Minutes, OK?” — A competition centered on virility and control terminates in the loser’s destruction. Poignancy can be laborlessly unearthed in this forceful saga contrived exclusively for the slicing, dicing, and kickboxing of the eyes. Felicitously bold to turn your peepers away from the carnage, are ya? Sensitive viewers, beware…wait a minute, sensitive viewers should not be watching ANY chapter of “The ABCs of Death” and might find the thespian footplay of an episode of “Father Knows Best” to be more akin to his taste. At the half-minute mark of this story, you’ll know where this monorail is goin’…emphasis on MONORAIL. Confound it, tho’ – it’s hilarious. Grade: A

“M is for My Goodness Gracious, She’s a Determined Gal” — The need for a household instrument propels a girl to frenzy. Upon the climax, I emitted a stupefied “Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhkaythen”, then castigated myself for my obtuseness, that this outcome wasn’t more obvious to me. I trust it will be obvious to you. The director’s indolence is so perspicuously problematic, I’d surmise director Ti West was ostracized in the ABCs of Death Cafeteria. Grade: D

“N is for Necromancy, Nighthawks, Nuclear Blenders, Nympholeptic Nurses, Nearly Dead but Not Quite Nasty, Numbing Nine Inch Nails Songs…” — With so many more creative options for the letter N, why did the director choose as he did?? A guy proposes to his girlfriend via a parrot. This one is just plain boring – the transition to the bloodletting is abrupt – lethargic and trite. The episode’s an antiquated contraption, a concept that should languish in the back of your fridge with the cans of New Coke and Crystal Pepsi. Nobody who wants to earn a credit in the game takes this road; I am seriously quite baffled. Grade: F

“O is for Obscenity” — As I watched this episode, involving the sights and sounds (and soapiness?) of sexual ecstasy, I arrived at the dawn that I had not yet considered the obscenity, the sogginess of the Ten Commandments as relates to the movie. This flick spotlights sin as it defabulizes (please pardon the fashion magazine vernacular) Death. I thought about high art, hostage negotiation, Mozart’s chaos, Vonnegut’s renegade mustache…I mused upon several topics that pulled me gradually away from the vignette. Ultimately, the episode evoked the incorrect set of images and ideas, perhaps accidentally. Too “deep”? Yeah, that’ll fit like a bloody glove. Shallow and contrary (unless I am a dolt and can’t identify the declaration) to the movie’s raucous, ribald, rip-snorting premise. Grade: F

“P is for Pennies” — Pennies. They’re out there…floating around…unwanted and unloved. A population of pariahs. What would you do if pennies were all you had left? Actions speak louder than words in this outing, and the execution is dazzling. A single mom must figure the course of her income after a traitorous beau pilfers her coffee can fortune. The slow, inebriated crawl to the final scene is hypnotic. This is the kind of video where’ll you tell a friend, “Hey, c’mere, watch this, okay, just watch, just watch, okay, look, look, look…” then the POW of the conclusion. Gentle, graceful, gruesome. Grade: A

“Q is for Question” — Finger pointed at YOU, here we go: If you were the rookie movie-maker assigned the letter Q, where WOULDN’T you go? Pick the word ‘Question’ and toast the panic, man. No other letter extends in all directions equally, rays of sunlight from Satan’s Alarm Clock, waking the world for Judge Joe Brown. Did that sentence strike you on the gourd with the mallet of sense? NO! Consequently, pilgrim, you won’t have any appreciation for this story about the director and the writer who can’t decide what to do with the letter Q, decide to KILL A DUCK, and then fuck up the project relentlessly! The major problem was this Mallard Misfire is the players have taken fashion tips from the My Morning Jacket/Mumford/Owl City crew, effecting (at least in my case) crass incredulity. Plus, these a-holes take the Nearest, Most Accessible Exit from this drama! That’s a big Rutger Hauer No-No, gang. Grade: F

“R is for Rotting Superman Exploitation” — Sometimes, a filmmaker chugs a can of Jolt cola, eats the entire crumbcake, watches “Return of the Living Dead, Part II” in reverse, tries on his wrestling masks to push away sleep, and culminates this series of events by writing a movie that is deliberately disturbing and energetically enigmatic. A hospital patient endures procedures that serve to prolong…someone’s existence. Hard to place a nice’n’neat explanation to this one, but Rotting Superman cuts the mustard, so I feel comfortable. Grade: A

“S is for Save Me from this Spinning Machine, Man in Black” — A Johnny Cash-inspired entry about a Man in Black and a Woman on the Run, Fast Cars, and Mortality. You spin me right round, baby, right round – A pleasure to watch, a rootin-tootin’ rhythm, a Happy Face on a Cold, Wet Friday, a back to back triumph with the “R” entry. Grade: A-

“T is for Threepeat!” — Claymation treatment for a story about a boy afraid to use the commode. If we were all claymated, for a year, all strife restless and prickly betwixt the planet’s denizens would be obliterated, ignited like fireworks, planetary cheer that the orange-skinned octopus people in the 99th Quadrant could hear while they trying to watch “The Real Housewives of Jupiter”. Forget “The Purge”; try on “The Day of Clay”. Give it one day! This story was tremendous fun and will remind you of the days before computer animation, when Gumby was Superman and Davey & Goliath were the Dynamic Duo. Grade: A

“U is for Unmotivated” — The Last Five Minutes of the First Five Minutes of a Resurrected Vampire, from the perspective of ol’ Count I’m-Back-Ula himself. Not very interesting, shaky handling, reeks of the Blair Witch flavor. Again, I feel the creative forces weren’t very creative, concocting this plot during the commercial break of “The Walking Dead”. Grade: D

“V is for Vancouver’s Toys ‘R Us Bake Sale” — A science-fiction epic set in a Canadian dystopia of population control. The movie industry should impose a severe tax on centering a motion picture on infertility, since the topic’s been elongated, mutated, incised, excised, and scrambled eggified so many times the tenor of the populace is the consistency of central Pennsylvania faucet water. The “V” entry is inarguably the most ambitious and debatably the most considerate and calculated of the compilation, but feature-length productions of this caliber rarely jump from the cliff and achieve flight. As a short film, the concept isn’t given the depth requisite to be impactful; only the bullet points are identified, perfunctorily. However, I also feel that this story will be the one with which you will most vehemently (venomously?) disagree with my assessment. Feh. Grade: C

“W is for Whatever You Want it to Be” — The 2nd outing in which the storytellers discuss their uncertainty ’bout how to handle their given letter. Images and ideas collide, production value is laughably low, and it doesn’t really amount to anything concrete (even as ‘concrete’ is defined for this movie), but the journey is the sorcery, innocuous and incendiary, and a walrus plays an integral role. Grade: B

“X is for X-Tremely Disappointing” — Like Q, X jshould explode big ideas, unleashed and unafraid like Conan the Barbarian’s Chihuahua. Plot: a ‘big’ girl doesn’t want to be ‘big’ anymore and decides to act drastically. Like Trent Reznor sez, yer gonna git whatchoo deserve. The audience deserves a lot more than what is offered. You’ll know what’s gonna happen here, too. The sole redeeming quality? The fragile ferocity of the young woman, pre-metamorphosis. Christ, what a g-ddamned softie I am… Grade: D

“Y is for You Can’t Miss This One, Either, It’s a Bullseye” — Creepy pedophile janitor receives comeuppance from victim. The janitor is a character actor you may recognize from “Hobo With a Shotgun”, an aesthetically loathsome troll whose wide-eyed, mouth-agape, Lost in Imbecility facial contortions are spot-on for this short film. Don’t fret about the absence of elucidation for the victim’s fall into janitor’s trap (a hunting lesson in which the boy gets the horns of the deer and the horn of the janitor, wokka wokka wokka) — just revel in this penultimate episode’s overt madness and confidence that Universe is Really Just a Teeter-Totter, with balance being numero uno for all implicated in the traffic patterns. Excellent filmmaking. Grade: A

*WHICH SADLY BRINGS US TO*

“Z is for Zucks” — This Japanese film resembles the buffet bar after the Yokohama Yokozuna Jai Alai Team has hit the restaurant. Gratuitous olio of body parts, debauchery, and cacophonous mayhem is supposed to translate as East-Reacts-to-West political commentary, and I’m also supposed to identify a moral lesson of some sort, but I just fast-forwarded to the end credits. At this point, I’d had quite enough. This one was so bad, it ZUCKED <—that’s not copywritten, but it’s not goin’ anywhere, anyway. Grade: F

FINAL GRADE: B-

The end credits announce “More ABCs of Death”, coming in 2014. I’ll be there. Curiosity demands it. Besides…I’m a sick, sick man.

Finally, the song that played throughout the end credits, “Horror Movie” by Skyhooks, a great song I haven’t heard since WNEW-FM 102.7, “Where Rock Lives”, turned to talk radio 15 years ago. Eat. Be Happy. Hand Grenades.

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