death by letter"A is for Apocalypse" is the first short in "The ABC's of Death." It's about a couple who are facing the end of the world together. The film is one of 26 alphabetical segments to be shown Friday at Barking Legs Theater.
It seems that I’m not a fan of horror films—at least not of the type depicted in “The ABCs of Death,” the latest film brought to Chattanooga by Mise En Scenesters. As a film critic, I get asked frequently about my favorite types of film. My answer is always the same —I like good ones. I’ve never been one to prefer one genre over another. All genres have something to offer the audience if done with care and thought. But if being a horror fan requires me to enjoy a film like “The ABCs of Death,” I’ll just bow out gracefully.
It may be that my definition of a horror film is somewhat narrow. I like a good story with convincing characters and motives, a dynamic and believable setting, a genuine threat of danger lurking somewhere unseen. But among hardcore horror directors, there seems to be a movement toward topping previous achievements in depravity, forsaking storylines and characters for decapitations, child and animal abuse, sexual degradation and mutilation. I can simply do without it.
“The ABCs of Death” is a collection of short films by some of the top names in horror filmmaking. While I haven’t heard of any of them, intrepid MES leader Chris Dortch assures me that they are all highly sought-after genre directors. The film follows the alphabet, Sue Grafton style, with each letter standing for a different death scene. Some are weird, some are disgusting, some are decent, but overall the film doesn’t establish any real continuity or believability. The tagline for the film is “26 Ways to Die,” but this is only true if time, space and reality have no meaning.
There is a surprising amount of humor peppered throughout the film, adding levity to a bloody affair. The experience is similar to watching the fake horror movie trailers found in Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriquez’s “Grindhouse.” The only difference is that it is even more extreme and lasts for more than two hours.
For those horror fans out there dead set on seeing the film, watch for “C is for Cycle” and “U is for Unearthed.” Both shorts do a great job at creating a unique and comprehensible narrative in a thought-provoking way. Among the others, “Q is for Quack” and “N is for Nuptials” are at least funny. “E is for Exterminated” seemed to be pulled directly from the elementary school Book Fair legend “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.” The rest of the films lie outside my area of expertise, as I don’t understand why anyone would make them.
To help me understand, I asked Dortch, who finds these movies appealing. His answer was fairly straightforward: “While I fully admit this type of movie isn’t for everybody, for adventurous and hardened horror fans it’s a curiosity to behold,” Dortch said. “[It] definitely is off the deep end but I guess to answer your question, I see the appeal as just simply being that the whole thing was a neat experiment and something fans of horror cinema would want to take a look at.”
To me, horror fans are a bit like metal fans (the director of Cartoon Network’s “Metalocalypse” is even featured in the film). To them, anything that isn’t metal is inferior and anything that doesn’t push the envelope of heavy metal music is selling out. Metal musicians are thus heavier and more intense than ever, leaving classic bands like Black Sabbath sounding positively melodic. Much the same way, horror movies are increasingly violent and gory. It’s an arms race of mutilated body parts.
If any of this sounds intriguing, by all means check out “The ABCs of Death” on Friday at the Barking Legs Theater. There are likely to be plenty of likeminded individuals discussing busty women with chainsaws and the men they dissect.
Mise En Scenesters Presents “The ABCs of Death”
$7 • 8:30 p.m. • Friday, April 12 • Barking Legs Theater • 1307 Dodds Ave. • (423) 624-5347 • barkinglegs.org