In this feature film, twenty-six emerging directors from all over the world best known for their horror movie endeavours such as Ti West and Xavier Gens were invited to create a short work, around five minutes in length or less, which would illustrate a death connected to a letter of the alphabet. We begin with the letter A, which sees an infirm man lying in bed eating his lunch when his wife rushes in wielding a kitchen knife and tries to stab him. After getting some injurious blows in, she leaves the room then returns with a frying pan of hot fat which she throws over him. He's just about dead now, but manages to ask why she's doing this to be told for the past year she has been poisoning him, but now could not wait any longer...
So what has that to do with the letter A? You do find out at the end of the segment, and part of the fun of The ABCs of Death was discovering how the little story you've just seen was relevant to the letter it was supposed to be depicting. True, some were more obvious than others, that was to say some were more tenuous than others as if the directors had an idea and twisted it to fit, but on the whole these little "A is for..." all the way through to "Z is for..." closing captions coming as a punchline to the narratives were fairly amusing. As was the project as an awkward, variety pack of an enterprise - of course there were going to be some better than others, but the clever part was if you were not appreciating what you were watching, there was a chance that could change abruptly.
Naturally, there were grumbles from some quarters that for all the supposed talent on the roster there were more misses than hits, but such was the fast pace and miscellaneous tone to the film that you would likely not be bored for long unless your threshhold for deliberate shock effects was low (there were eye-rolling moments - not like that). It was true there was a sense of these filmmakers determined to outdo each other and try to ensure theirs was the short you remembered once the two hours was over - yes, this was a long film, even for a horror anthology - yet that was not necessarily a bad thing. Sure, there was competition between the directors, but this wasn't a contest and all were trying to tie up their themes, their jokes, their queasiness or whatever with as much punch as possible, and to an extent most of them succeeded in their aims, even if it meant some were unavoidably overshadowed by their peers.
Somehow repetition was largely avoided, though three of the plots involved toilets, and two of those used animation, and the latter stages were having a harder time than the earlier ones because by that point you felt you had the measure of the movie and were prepared for the next item of horror, though even then they still achieved enough of a reason for keeping you watching. The Japanese directors appeared to be trying, if anything, too hard, with Noboru Iguchi devoting his entry to farting mixed with deadly gas and lesbian love, which was nothing in comparison to his countryman Yoshihiro Nishimura closing the film with a barrage of ludicrous imagery. At least two of the Americans used postmodernism of a sort to make a comment on how difficult it was to invent ideas for this, and occasionally you would be pondering what the point of a section was (Srdjan Spasojevic's was especially baffling). For Brits, the interest would be in Ben Wheatley's vampire yarn, which was a fine exercise in style rather than narrative, but you could observe that of many of them. Overall, the sheer novelty and diversity of the assortment was the strongest selling point.