The ABCs of Death 2 (2014)

More consistently great than part one, with higher high points (Robert Morgan!). I’m tempted to make a playlist of ABCs highlights and edit myself a super-anthology but I’ll wait until part three comes out next year.

Imagined scenario of cool, efficient sniper in the air vents taking out his target, then reality of tight insect-infested ducts full of nails. Great ending. Director EL Katz also made Cheap Thrills.

Directed by and starring Julian “Howard Moon” Barratt. Asshole nature-doc spokesman (Barratt) is abusive to his crew, gets eaten by badgers.

Capital Punishment
Local gang of vigilantes take a dude suspected of killing a girl out to the woods and clumsily behead him. Meanwhile the girl turns out to have run away, is fine. Director Julian Gilbey made A Lonely Place To Die, which is probably better than Wingard’s A Horrible Way To Die.

I probably would’ve skipped ABCs of Death 2 had I not heard that Robert Morgan was involved. This was… inexplicable… and amazing, and ultimately makes the entire anthology worthwhile. Involves insects and beheadings and knife-arms.

Funny and well put-together, with single long takes simulating time passing. Couple of idiots stranded on a beach are unexpectedly joined by a pretty girl. Jealousy ensues, then they return to bliss by killing the girl. Alejandro Brugués made the Cuban Juan of the Dead.

Israel/Palestine, woman whose parachute is stuck in a tree convinces a rifle-toting kid to cut her down, he accidentally shoots himself in the head. Nicely shot, anyway. Directors Keshales and Papushado made Israeli horrors Rabies and Big Bad Wolves (a Tarantino fave).

Grandad is tired of his disrespectful grandson living with him. Jim Hosking is working on something called The Greasy Strangler next. Grandad Nicholas Amer has been around, worked with Peter Greenaway, Jacques Demy and Terence Davies.

Head Games
During a makeout session, a couple’s facial features go to war with each other in classic Plympton style. One of two Bill Plympton anthology segments from this year – we missed The Prophet.

Old woman will not die, siblings want her inheritance and try everything to kill her. Stylishly shot (as are most of these, so it’s maybe not worth writing that anymore). Erik Matti (Philippines) got awards for crime flick On The Job last year.

I think it’s supposed to be payback on a couple of dudes who torture and murder homosexuals, but when the kidnapped gay guy displays his demonic powers I’m not sure what’s going on anymore. Dennison Ramalho wrote latter-day Coffin Joe sequel Embodiment of Evil and actor Francisco Barreiro is showing up everywhere this month.

Initial scene where girl witnesses supernatural globe over the building across the street followed by people in every apartment turning violent was like Rear Window meets The Screwfly Solution, then it continues in the direction of total doom. Directors Buozyte and Samper are apparently Lithuanian, also made a surreal sci-fi thing called Vanishing Waves.

Guy to be sacrificed is being set free and is arguing with this decision, and I lose the plot after that, but there are groovy, cheap Metalocalypse-looking gore effects. Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen is Nigerian, has made a million movies so far since 2003.

Drugged-out flesh-eating fat man goes on rampage before he’s killed by cop, all in slow-motion and set to a jangly pop song. Robert Boocheck made a short that apparently played in an anthology called Seven Hells.

Cleverly timed and editing, goes for tension instead of twist ending since we figure out early on that the distracted cabbie is gonna hit the guy dressed as Frankenstein. Larry Fessenden made Habit and Wendigo and The Last Winter, all of which have been on my to-watch list forever and just came out on blu-ray.

Ohlocracy (mob rule)
After the cure for zombiesm is found, human zombie-killers are sentenced to death by a kangaroo court. Hajime Ohata made the non-Kafka movie called Metamorphosis.

P-P-P-P Scary!
Poppy, Kirby and Bart look like escaped convicts, have big noses, meet a face-morphing guy who does a jig, blows out their candles and murders them inexplicably. Todd Rohal made The Catechism Cataclysm, and I might’ve guessed this was him.

While a guy correctly answers questions on an intelligence test, we see flash-forwards to the “career opportunities” the interviewer has in mind for him (brain transplant with gorilla). I watched Rodney Ascher’s The Nightmare just last week.

German game of Russian Roulette ends with the sixth-chamber guy shooting his beloved instead of himself, as some unknown evil approaches. Marvin Kren made Rammbock and Blood Glacier.

Like a remake of Suspense but with more baby murdering. Hammer-wielding intruder destroys family of cheating husband(s) during a phone call.
Juan Martinez Moreno made horror-comedy Game of Werewolves.

Torture Porn
Girl in porn audition turns out to be Cthulhu, I guess. Jen and Sylvia Soska are identical twins who made American Mary and Dead Hooker in a Trunk.

Self-driving incineration machines deal with non-beautiful people. Vincenzo Natali made Cube and Splice.

Dude is on phone with girlfriend when dude’s friend reveals they’ve been doing drugs and prostitutes while on vacation. The friend is disrespectful, and one prostitute stabs him many times with a screwdriver. Jerome Sable made last year’s Meat Loaf-starring Stage Fright.

Kids go inside their off-brand Masters of the Universe playset, discover it’s horrible in there. Steven Kostanski made Manborg, which looks similarly wonderful.

Kid won’t stop playing her damned toy xylophone while babysitter Beatrice Dalle (of Inside, the first actor I’ve recognized since Julian Barratt in letter B) is trying to listen to opera records. Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo made Inside, of course. Credits say Beatrice is the grandmother not the babysitter, which makes sense since babysitters should leave antique record players alone.

Miyuki hates her mom and stepdad, imagines them dying in tremendous ways. Soichi Umezawa is a longtime makeup artist who worked on Bright Future and Dr. Akagi.

Dad abandons pregnant mom with a 13-year supply of a root that delays labor. Horribleness ensues. Chris Nash has made a bunch of shorts.

Shaun the Sheep (2015, Burton & Starzak)

Don’t think there was any dialogue. Tired of the daily grind, Shaun encourages a revolt on the farm, but when the farmer ends up in the nearby city with memory loss, accidentally becoming a fashionable hairstylist, the sheep try to rescue him with help from a stray dog. The second movie I’ve seen this year with the animal control dept. as the villain. Great animation, slick and fast-paced and full of gags. Starzak directed the Creature Comforts series and much of the Shaun the Sheep series, and Burton cowrote Curse of the Were-Rabbit and Madagascar.

The Boxtrolls (2014, Laika)

Another delight from Laika. Think we both enjoyed this even more than Coraline. Insect-eating Boxtrolls live beneath the city, taking scraps and bits of shop signage from the above world and transforming them into machinery. Also they have a human boy who thinks he’s a boxtroll until, while fleeing from the town’s obsessive boxtroll exterminator Archibald Snatcher (whose reward for total extermination will be admittance to high-society cheese tastings), he bumps into a macabre little girl who helps him discover that he’s the long-lost son of a missing inventor.

I particularly liked the armatures.

Stop motion inventors with an obsession for cheese obviously brought to mind Wallace & Gromit, so we watched The Wrong Trousers a few nights later.

Animated Shorts watched Nov-Dec 2013

Ruka/The Hand (1965, Jiri Trnka)

Potter just wants to make pots and keep his little plant alive, but a fascist hand keeps intruding wanting him to sculpt fascist hands instead. Potter is kidnapped by the hand and forced to create hand progaganda but escapes only to die back at home. Banned in his home country of Czechoslovakia, naturally. Trnka’s final film – I will have to find more.

Johann Mouse (1952, Hanna & Barbera)

Jerry is a mouse in Strauss’s house who waltzes uncontrollably when the master is playing. The cat learns to play in order to set a trap, but the two are discovered and are invited to perform for the king. Cute enough, but I don’t know about oscar-winning. It beat a not-too-great Tex Avery, two from UPA and one from Canada, the same year McLaren’s Neighbours won best documentary (!?) short. Hans Conreid narrated.

Magoo’s Puddle Jumper (1956, Pete Burness)

Blind Magoo buys an electric car (!) and drives it into the ocean. Somehow his idiot son Waldo survived the bear short and tags along. People must’ve thought Jim Backus was hilarious. All three oscar nominees were UPA productions, so producer Stephen Bosustow could not have lost.

The Nightmare of Melies (1988, Pierre Etaix)

A fun Melies tribute incorporating the earliest cinema techniques, scenes from King Kong, an alka-seltzer commercial and late-80’s computer animation.

D. Cairns for The Forgotten:

Etaix additions to the source script make Méliès a prophet of the whole history of film, from the greatest special effects film of golden age Hollywood, up to the computerized visions of the present day (1988), and taking in the true nightmare of the television commercial. I love how the ad breaks in, hideously colorful and cheery, disrupting what is already a rather stylistically disparate piece .. almost to the point of disintegration.

Bimbo’s Initiation (1931, Dave Fleischer)

Bimbo is kidnapped by a cult that keeps attacking him with sharp things and spanking instruments then asking if he wants to be a member. He always answers no until confronted with dog-eared Betty Boop who dribbles her ass like a basketball. Maltin called it Fleischer’s darkest work, and Jim Woodring reveres it, naturally.

Tord and Tord (2010, Niki Lindroth Von Bahr)

“I felt my need for coffee becoming more and more apparent.”

Clearly somebody watched Fantastic Mr. Fox and David Lynch’s Rabbits then imagined a meeting of these two worlds. Sort of a less-violent stop-motion Fight Club, as a fox named Tord finds out his next-door neighbor is also named Tord, so they start hanging out and exchanging coded messages, until rabbit-Tord disappears and may not have ever existed.

The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello (2005, Anthony Lucas)

Cool silhouette animation, watched with Katy. Narrator/Jasper (Joel Edgerton, villain of Gatsby) is a disgraced navigator in an airship-steampunk future, whose ship stumbles across deadly creatures whose blood can cure the plague affecting Jasper’s home planet (and more specifically, his wife). Sort of an Alien meets Little Shop of Horrors, with an unresolved ending.

Director Lucas followed this up with a 3-minute rabbit short and worked on new anthology film The Turning. Writer Mark Shirrefs does lots of Australian sci-fi television. The Australians gave this a best-short award, but Oscars picked The Moon and the Son and Baftas the great Fallen Art.

Bobby Yeah (2011, Robert Morgan)

The story of a murderous kidnapper with a predilection for pushing red buttons. Possibly the most grotesque stop-motion movie ever – kudos to Morgan! Reminds of Symbol at times, with a confused-looking guy in a room pushing mysterious buttons with varying consequences, but this one also has elements of murder-spree crime drama, with much sexual imagery.

Sileni (2005, Jan Svankmajer)

“Ladies and gentleman, what you’re about to see is a horror film… it is not a work of art.” I’ll bet that line was much quoted in reviews when this came out, but I don’t feel like doing much research on this one. Because I wasn’t heavily invested in the question of whether it would be art – I find all of Svankmajer’s features to be fun (with some tedious stretches) entertainments with some signature shots (the dead-on close-ups) and stop-motion.

Ah, the stop-motion – if not for that, Svank would be Borowczyk with better subject matter. In this one it’s used to create disturbing little vignettes between live-action scenes, which will sometimes (nearly) overlap. It’s all meat. Meat in motion, set to grating, rickety carnival music.

The story itself isn’t bad. Svank’s got a decent lead actor in Pavel Liska, the Czech Keanu Reeves, and a good back-and-forth plot when Pavel is invited to stay with a Marquis, who alternately seems like a benevolent uncle and a total madman. In the end, as befitting its title and carnival music, everyone in the film is mad, and Pavel seems the sanest. He has wicked night terrors, but at least he’s self-conscious enough to be embarrassed about them and realize where they come from. Everybody else is either exercising their crazy whims openly or biding their time until they can do so. But I’m glad there was more to it than the whole “everyone is mad” premise, which was apparent from the title. It’s also about the treatment of madness – we see all kinds, none of them any good.

Pavel was visiting his mother in an asylum – was he staying there too? Anyway, he takes up with the Marquis, who self-treats his fear of being buried alive by faking death regularly and being buried alive (with the tools to escape). He also holds sacreligious orgies in the basement, and all of this makes Pavel nervous. The Marquis takes him to Dr. Murlloppe, who runs an asylum where the patients are allowed to do whatever they please (feathers fly, a nude woman is a paint-therapy canvas). Pavel doesn’t fit in, vows to save Murlloppe’s “daughter” (Marquis warns that she’s a lying hysteric nympho). He frees the “real” doctors, tarred and feathered and imprisoned in the cellar, and they take charge using their methods of cure-via-torture, holding Pavel as a patient.


For the first time Svankmajer makes real use of his actors as actors, not merely as self-operating meat puppets. In particular, Jan Triska as the Marquis (de Sade) brings a malevolence, a twinkle, and a vulnerable humanity to this film which hasn’t been seen in the Czech alchemist’s movies before. . . unlike the previous features which had used actors largely to occupy screen space where puppets would have been too expensive and time-consuming, Lunacy revels in the possibilities of unpredictable humanity let loose in an artist’s cinematic canvas.

The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle (2009, David Russo)

This came recommended by my Sundance-attending coworkers, and I would have eventually sought it out myself once I realized that the great Russo (Pan With Us + Populi, two of my favorite short films) had made a feature.


Once it started (actually, as early as when I saw the “sponsored by credit card company” DVD menu) I realized I was in for a Sundancey indie toilet-humor quirkfest, not my favorite kind of thing, but it was hopefully to be more Donnie Darko than Waydowntown. First half was entertaining as all hell, with fabulous editing, surprisingly good music (by “Awesome”) and some of that chaos-reining stop-motion from Russo’s shorts. After a while it gets quieter and slower, becomes a slave to plot and its characters’ emotional arcs and gives me more time to wonder at the allegory, if any. Wouldn’t call it a hidden masterpiece, but it surely lived up to potential. Make more movies, Mr. Russo.

Little Dory and buddy O.C.:

Dory quits his datameister gig in a huff, and goes religion-hopping while working as a janitor with punk artists Ethyl and Methyl (fake Stanley Kubrick in Trapped Ashes) and O.C. (of Clay Pigeons) and Weird William. Natasha Lyonne (Slums of Beverly Hills) gives them test batches of experimental self-warming cookies, to which they all become addicted, and which cause the men to give birth to fluorescent blue fish, which makes them quite emotional and gives Dory new religious meaning to ponder. Finally he decides not to shut down the evil corporation that’s sneaking awful chemicals into junk foods, but to let the cookies into the world, to allow other snack-craving men with meaningless lives to experience the pain and joy of creating new aquatic life.

Late Shorts

Another entry for…

Initiated by Shadowplay

It’s rare for late-career shorts to even exist. Filmmakers tend to “graduate” from shorts to features, never looking back, unless called to work on some anthology film (like that one called “8” which Altman was scheduled to make after A Prairie Home Companion). Animators may be the exception, so half of the late shorts I rounded up were handmade.

Self Portrait (1988, Osamu Tezuka)
The few animations I’ve seen of Tezuka’s are among the most inventive I’ve seen from anybody. I’m not sure if the ten-second runtime of this short, made when he was 60, was imposed by the producer of this Animated Self-Portraits series or if that’s simply how much time Tezuka needed to make his point. Left/right/center portions of faces spin like a slot machine, and after four or five mismatches, the proper self-portrait alignment is reached – jackpot!

Is That All There Is? (1993, Lindsay Anderson)
Another self-portrait – the artist at age 70. Lindsay wakes up, takes a bunch of pills, puts on the news, watches some TV, has a bath, gazes at posters of his own films on the bathroom walls, goes shopping then back home, entertains writer Bernard Kops who talks about getting paid for his work, chats with some more visitors, moans about transportation with the cleaning lady, gets in a fight with his disgruntled nephew, complains about Michael Caine’s hair, discusses John Ford with a BBC producer, photocopies a newspaper review of Michael Powell’s Life in Movies that Lindsay wrote, goes through his scrapbook of past film writing, watches Ron Howard on Oprah (“I always wanted to make a movie … most importantly, I didn’t want it to be boring”), reviews his history of theater productions and film projects (he claims to have written If… 2), goes to the acupuncturist and the doctor, checks out sets and music for a new theater production, talks with his brother about gravitas, then holds a memorial service for two actresses who had appeared in his TV movie The Old Crowd fourteen years earlier. A full day. I don’t know much about Anderson – seen his bizarre Malcolm McDowell trilogy, but I only enjoyed two of them and probably understood none. This was downright enjoyable, especially considering my lack of enthusiasm for the day-in-the-life documentary format. Though I’m not saying this was a documentary – Anderson gets a writing credit, and the scene construction is subtly more intricate than could be expected from a single camera recording in real time.

Narcissus (1983, Norman McLaren)
McLaren’s final released film, made when he was seventy. A ballet version of the Narcissus tale, in which our hero dances against a black background with a girl, then with a guy, finally shunning them both in favor of his own reflection. Beautifully shot and danced. I didn’t notice much in the way of McLaren’s signature styles in the ballet until Narc began dancing with his own disappearing self accompanied by nintendo computer blips on the soundtrack. Probably won more awards than any other McLaren film, in part because by the 80’s there were more award shows and festivals than ever before.

Narcissus meets himself:

Dances with himself:

I consider “late” Buster Keaton to be the 70-ish movies he appeared in since the 1920’s, shortly after the arrival of sound when his career went to hell. So these are very late Keaton, made in the last couple years of his life when he was around seventy years old (see also: the Twilight Zone episode he did a few years earlier).

The Railrodder (1965, Gerald Potterton)
A wordless journey through desolate Canada, which must have been trying to attract humans to its empty factories, forests, harbors, fields and cities, all seen as Buster whizzes by on a motorized rail car. Not as good as a classic Keaton short, but not as bad as most state-sponsored promo pieces either, just a light amusement with some minor Keaton antics and major Canadian scenery, with possible references to The General and The Cameraman. I like when he turns the car into a duck blind, but the gag’s payoff is lame – it’s not the most well-planned or well-timed little picture. Director Gerald Potterton moved into animation, making the legendary Heavy Metal.

Buster Keaton Rides Again (1965, John Spotton)
A “making of The Railrodder” that runs almost triple the length of the feature. In fact it’s over-long, in love with its subject, providing nice quick summaries of Keaton’s past films and life story, then rambling on with the present-day footage. A coughing, gruff-voiced Keaton smokes whenever not on camera for Railrodder (he died of lung cancer the following year). He’s a stubborn bastard regarding the gags and filmmaking – it’s clear from this doc that the IMDB’s listing Buster as uncredited cowriter/director on Railrodder is accurate. My favorite gag was in the documentary, not the feature, Keaton pretending to pull a train that comes in while he’s standing near the tracks. It closes with Keaton singing “Casey Jones” in his trailer, more emotional of a picture than the fluffy promo piece it accompanies.

Film (1965, Alan Schneider)
Close-up of an eye. Protagonist, always shot from behind, staggers to his apartment, horrifying all who look upon him. Alternate blurry shots from his POV. In the apartment, he covers a mirror and removes or destroys everything that has eyes. Feels for his own pulse. Finally, Buster’s face is revealed, wearing an eyepatch and his signature hat. Close-up of an eye. I don’t understand Samuel Beckett. Could someone explain him to me?

Stop-motion pioneer Charley Bowers made these couple films over a decade after all his other work, and according to his IMDB bio, “no one is quite sure what he did” during that in-between decade. They’re his final films, completed the year before he became sick at age 64, unable to work until his death a few years later.

A Sleepless Night (1940, Charley Bowers)
No sound at all (who watched silent shorts in 1940?) so the DVD producer unconscionably included an audio track of projector noise. I listened to LCD Soundsystem instead, greatly improving the movie, which was otherwise slack-paced and plotless. We’ve got a stop-motion mouse family who defeats the dog of the house, drinks a bottle of milk, then eats soap and floats away on the resulting bubbles.

Wild Oysters (1941, Charley Bowers)
More technically accomplished (featuring much more camera movement) and snappier than the last one, and with the same models for the mouse family, makes me think A Sleepless Night was a test run for what he’d planned as a series of mouse adventures. Although, spoken dialogue and a song with lyrics that comment on the action aren’t the major improvement. The mouse torments a different dog and also a cat, drilling holes in the floor and pulling their tails through. Weirder is when he runs across some oysters, which link together as a chain and chase him about. Why oysters? Even Tom and Jerry never ran so low on ideas that they introduced a string of oysters. Anyway, weird movie but enjoyable.

The Karateguard (2005, Joseph Barbera & Spike Brandt)
The final Tom & Jerry short released to theaters, and the only one made by Barbera, aged 94 at the time, after the passing of partner William Hanna in 2001. It was a passing of the torch to Brandt, who is still making T&J cartoons. I was never a wildly enthusiastic T&J fan, so I can’t share the outrage of the IMDB reviewer who calls it “unbearably mediocre.” Jerry isn’t great at his karate lessons, so his translucent sensei encourages him to quit, instead gives him a magical gong that summons a stone-faced samurai dog, who proceeds to pummel Tom for six minutes. A good time is had by all.

I, Madman (1989, Tibor Takács)

“Both books were non-fiction, Malcolm insisted… claims they were confessions.”

I like a movie that reminds me of In the Mouth of Madness. I also like 80’s children’s horror flick The Gate and its sequel, and this was made by the same team (though we have evidence that the director has since fallen straight off the quality charts). And it’s from the writer of Nightmare on Elm Street 2 (one of the good ones). So I should have loved this – and I did, even if I can see why it’s not enjoying the same reputation as Lost Boys and The Monster Squad these days.

Jenny Wright (the top-billed woman in Young Guns 2, which is to say she’s eighteenth-billed overall) plays scatterbrained bookseller Virginia, who is recently obsessed with obscure horror writer Malcolm Brand. She reads his first book, which features a murderous troll creature locked in a crate, losing herself in the book as creatively shown by the film – the transitions between real and fantasy are well done. I was more surprised that she seems to have a happy, comfortable relationship with her cop boyfriend Richard (Clayton Rohner of The Relic, April Fool’s Day), unusual for a movie.

Caught them both staring into space:

Things heat up when she finds the author’s second book, and the murders within spring to life as she reads. Randall Cook, an effects animator who worked on The Gate, The Thing, Ghostbusters, Puppet Masters 2 and 4 and other movies I used to watch on cable all the time, and therefore a major influence on my childhood dreams and the continued existence of SHOCKtober, plays the mad doctor/book author wearing a beret, a cape, some serious facial disfigurement makeup, and a mask that would please Leatherface during the last 15 minutes.

Virginia has some friends, who are, naturally, doomed to sacrified before Randy’s desire for reconstructive surgery – more Eyes Without a Face than Texas Chainsaw Massacre. An actress in her theater group loses her scalp and pretty long hair (I hadn’t thought of Randy’s baldness as a gruesome disfigurement), her friend Lenny loses his nice Italian nose, her patient bookshop coworker Mona loses her lips (a killer’s gotta have luscious lips) and I’m not sure what he wants from the pianist across the street from her apartment. Virginia skips ahead in the book to see who the next victims will be, but the cops dismiss her as a crank. When the predictable showdown between herself (with a late-arriving Richard) and Randy arrives, she unleashes the beastie from the first book (which looks suspiciously like The Gate goblins on a larger scale) for a few great minutes of stop-motion which justify everything that has come before. Brand finally turns into book pages and flutters away. Mick Garris totally ripped this off for his TV episode Valerie on the Stairs, figuring that nobody would notice – gotcha, Mick.

See also: Shadowplay

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009, Wes Anderson)

The stop-motion in Coraline seemed untoppable, and now a few months later this seems untoppable. Coraline felt slicker and this had more rustling animal hair which gave it a rough feel without ever looking less than terrific. Anderson’s controlled compositions and affinity for tiny visual details are a perfect match for the rigorous stop-motion process, and the writing and voices and action were all wonderful – this was better than I dreamed it would be.

So I don’t know the original story, but in the movie Meryl Streep agrees to marry Fox on the condition that he stop stealing livestock from farmers. Years later Fox, still a “wild animal,” has a midlife crisis, enlists his buddy and his nephew and sets out to defeat the security systems of the three farmer fatcats in town. Bandit hats are handed out (seems to steal too obviously from Bottle Rocket) and all kids have major parental issues (Anderson would’ve added those if they weren’t already in the book), and Fox ends up getting all the animals in trouble when the fatcats team up to retaliate. Ends happily with a grocery-store hoedown.

Katy liked it, too.