The Austin Chronicle

FF2012: 'The ABC's of Death'

By Marc Savlov, September 25, 2012, 8:42am, Picture in Picture

I don't think I've laughed as hard or was caught off guard as much by any other film at the Fest this year. Alamo jefe Tim League and Kiwi filmhead Ant Timpson corralled 26 directors, some FF-alumni, some not, and the result is like Sesame Street as helmed by the imps of the perverse.

Opening with a tip of the hat to Kubrick's nursery, ABC's quickly settles into its own uneasy pace, which is to say a 1-4 minute sequence per director, each involving a spectacular, or ironic, or just flat-out bizarro death. Inevitably, the title itself serves as an accurate report card: there are a handful of A's, many B's and a few C's, but I graded nothing here an outright failure.

Among several A+'s are Noboruo Iguchi's F is for Fart, which "slips the bounds of good taste" (as one flatulence fetishizing Japanese schoolgirl puts it) and becomes one with both X-rated Looney Tunes weirdness and that gobsmacking comedy. Iguchi, helmer of FF (and Jackalope Bar) faves The Machine Girl, Robogeisha, and this year's Dead Sushi, has mastered a frankly sublime strain of gonzo filmmaking that incorporates madcap, taboo-smashing wit with some of the gooshiest special effects ever. The resulting films -- including this one -- are so unique I'm thinking of turning his name into an adjective: dude, that's so Iguchi!

Timo Tjahjanto, one half of Indonesian filmmaking duo the Mo Brothers (Kimo Stamboel'd be the other half), tosses off one of the anthology's most disturbing segments, L is for Libido. Imagine the mythic-macho, adolescent pseudo-ritual the circle jerk as a form of brutal, boundary-testing torture, and you're about a quarter of the way there. Wait, no, forget I said that. (Ha! You can't! And that what's so great about this warped little freakshow.) Tjahanto's actors are totally game for whatever horrors he assails them with, and Libido ends up a mind-fucker of epically unpleasant contours.

Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett deserve props for how they deal with short-straw letter "Q"; daffy is as close I'm going to come to describing their clever, hilarious solution.

D is Dogfight, from Deadgirl director Marcel Sarmiento. Brutal, slathering, foam-flecked fury in a backwoods no-incisors-barred grudge match between man and canine. Sarmiento's film is a gorgeous piece of ultraviolence that sports some of the best cinematography of the entire Festival, never mind this particular anthology.

I could go on (there's twenty-plus other directors here, after all) but I'll end on a high note with Thomas Cappelen Malling's H is for Hydro-Electric Diffusion, which makes superior, inspired use of live-action of recall the aforementioned Warner Brothers animations, this time with a battling British bulldog and one nasty Nazi puss 'n jackboots. Seriously.

How can you not love, or at least respect, The ABC's of Death? I understand why some people will loathe it, but the un-simple logistics of the entire undertaking boggle the mind. That it soars to such artistic heights, and such tasteless depths, on a global scale, no less, bodes well for the future of cinema fantastique and otherwise.

Fantastic Fest presents The ABC's of Death, D: Various, 123 mins., Tuesday, Sept. 25, 5:45pm

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