Stuart Gordon is a writer/director/producer of film, television and theater. He is best known for the cult classic Re-Animator and for murdering his wife Carolyn in his films whenever possible.
To paraphrase Forrest Gump, this movie is like a box of chocolates and you never know what you have until you take a bite. Some are absolutely delicious and some are pure shit. Bon appetit!
This is the sequel to The ABCs of Death, in which filmmakers from around the world were encouraged to make short horror films incorporating titles beginning with a particular letter of the alphabet. The directors vary from established pros to first-timers and the results are definitely a mixed bag. I began watching it filled with dread; not that I would be horrified, but that I would be totally bored, or worse. Twenty-six short films? It sounds like levels in Dante’s Hell (and I don’t mean Joe).
My fears were well-founded, as many of the filmmakers seem to equate horror with gore and although the blood and guts flow plentifully, the directors don’t get us to care about their characters. As a result, there is little emotional involvement or tension in many of the films.
Directing a short film can be even more difficult than making a feature. You don’t have time to ease into your story but instead have to grab the viewer by the throat from the first second and not let go. I must admit that I ended up being pleasantly surprised as nine of the 26 films knocked my socks off. Not a bad average by any means. And as a sampler it’s an excellent way to discover filmmakers whose work you may never have experienced. Here are my favorites:
“C is for Capital Punishment” directed by Julian Gilbey
An execution by vigilantes of a man suspected of killing a child, this piece features a grisly beheading that seems to be inspired by recent headlines. Gilbey has directed a handful of features and has also worked as a writer, editor, director of photography, actor, stuntman, costume designer, make-up artist and soundman. And I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s done craft services too. Impressive.
“D is for Deloused” directed by Robert Morgan
A twisted stop-motion delight by the great Mr. Morgan. I must disclose that I have become a fan and friend of the director. He’s like an even more demented Tim Burton and I’m amazed that Morgan hasn’t yet become as well known (or as wealthy) as Burton.
“H is for Head Games” directed by Bill Plympton
This is an animated short that begins with a couple kissing and turns into a psychedelic orgy of body horror that reminded me of R. Crumb’s work in early issues of Zap Comix. I shouldn’t be surprised. Mr. Plympton has been creating mind-bending animation since the 1980s and is responsible for many of the best couch gags on The Simpsons.
“K is for Knell” directed by Kristina Buožyte & Bruno Samper
A woman witnesses a world gone mad from her apartment window in this beautifully made, surreal shocker. The lead actress seems so vulnerable that you can’t help caring about her. Buožyte and Samper often work together: she directs and he writes. They are clearly soulmates, each of whose work gracefully complements the other’s. More please.
“N is for Nexus” directed by Larry Fessenden
This story, set on Halloween in New York City, builds up quite a head of steam in its short running time. Mr. Fessenden again proves himself to be one of our best working horror directors by delivering the most suspenseful and effectively disturbing episode in this series.
“R is for Roulette” directed by Marvin Kren
A game of Russian Roulette between three people hiding in a basement. Shot in black and white, it has the precise and pristine vibes of a Fritz Lang classic, and not just because the actors speak German.
“S is for Split” directed by Juan Martinez Moreno
An out-of-town husband calls home as his wife and child are attacked by a masked intruder. The use of split-screen gives it a retro feel but the ending manages to surprise in a very contemporary way. Moreno is a Spanish director now working in Los Angeles and I look forward to checking out more of his work.
“V is for Vacation” directed by Jerome Sable
Another phone-call home, this time from a young man on holiday to his girlfriend (or wife), done in a single mind-bending, found-footage-style shot. It shocks us by pushing past conventional boundaries with graphic sexual content and full-frontal nudity. This very confident writer-director, also an editor and composer, has been making shorts for years and made his feature debut this year with Stage Fright.
“W is for Wish” directed by Steven Kostanski
Two boys enter the world of their favorite action-figure toys with disturbing and hilarious results. An ambitious use of miniatures and visual effects that seems far beyond the possibilities of his tiny budget, combined with the take-no-prisoners approach of a witty filmmaker. Mr. Kostanski has worked as a creator of make-up effects on 23 films and has directed seven. Like these other talented directors, he is definitely someone to keep an eye on.