The ABCs of Death was both an audacious and surprising success: a movie consisting of 26 short horror films, each by a different director and each corresponding to a letter of the alphabet, with the filmmakers allowed to use any format (live-action, animation, etc.) they wanted and with no restrictions on content. The result was a dizzying ride through more than two dozen different nightmares, some executed better than others, but with a cumulative effect of watching imaginations running deliriously wild and venturing into some truly dark regions.
The success of the first film – who would have thought an anthology could do so well? – has led to a sequel, with The ABCs of Death 2 enlisting 26 new recruits for another two hours of gruesome delights. One of those is “D for Deloused,” a surreal stop-motion fever dream from British filmmaker Robert Morgan. With his short films like The Cat with Hands and The Separation winning more than 30 international awards, Morgan was a prime candidate to join this alphabet soup of horror.
Morgan is currently working in London but was able to answer some questions for Den of Geek via email about joining The ABCs of Death 2 team, working in stop-motion and whether one of his shorts was actually made into a video for the heavy rock band Tool.
How did you come to be involved with The ABCs of Death 2?
Mitch Davis – who was an exec-producer on the film, and an all round great guy – emailed me and asked if I wanted to be involved. I said yes very quickly. I knew it would be a lot of fun.
Were you given any mandates, guidelines, anything at all along those lines, or was it a blank slate and complete creative license? Did you get to pick your letter?
We were basically given complete creative freedom to do what we wanted. That was the beauty of it really. I think there was a mention of “no fart jokes” or something, but apart from that it was up to the filmmakers. When it came to the letters, I was given the opportunity to ask for a particular letter, but I thought it would be more fun to just have them give me one, so that was what we did. They originally gave me the letter “L”, so I was going to do “L is for Louse” but at some point they re-shuffled the running order so it became “D is for Deloused” instead.
From the start did you want to do a full animated segment? Any thoughts of playing with live-action?
I did think about doing live-action at first, but I’d recently done a film with a lot of live-action in it, and I like to alternate between live-action and animation, so I decided pretty fast I’d do an entirely animated segment.
What was the spark of the story for “Deloused”?
The initial idea was an image I remembered from a weird fever-dream I had as a kid. When I was about 4 years old, I had this nightmare about a giant pink furry woodlouse crawling onto my bed and sucking my fingers into its mouth. That was the starting point, and so I wrote the story around that image.
It seems to be a story about greed in a way — is that a correct interpretation?
That’s interesting. I see it as a trippy nightmare that takes place at the moment of the main character’s death, where he imagines getting a second chance at life, but it all turns to shit and goes horribly wrong, because death is death, you can’t undo it. I guess if there’s greed in the film then it’s the greed of death. Death is definitely greedy, that’s for sure!
Do you enjoy hearing different interpretations of your films?
Well the thing about animation is that it naturally lends itself to dream-logic, so I sometimes like to make animated films that harness that dreamlike / nightmarish stream of consciousness quality. I think “Deloused” is particularly weird and open to interpretation. That’ll probably annoy some people looking for a straight meaning but I think hopefully it rewards repeated viewings. I do get a lot of interesting interpretations of some of my other films though, and I always like hearing them. They’re usually much cleverer than what I meant.
How long did “Deloused” take to complete?
The whole film took about 3 – 4 months.
Does working with animation give you much more leeway in terms of the kind of horrific imagery you can imagine while working within budgetary confines (no make-up effects, etc.)?
Yes, definitely. You can really go for it in terms of imagination, and it’s much easier to visualize ambitious stuff when it’s smaller in scale, like with puppets. Also, animation has its own weird logic, so you can get away with weirder, more confrontational stuff without it feeling quite as nasty. That’s the theory, anyway.
What kind of experience was it for you to see one of your films adapted into a rock video by Tool?
This is a bit of a myth – Tool never adapted any of my films. Basically a Tool fan took my film The Separation and put a Tool track over it, then uploaded it onto YouTube. Neither I, nor Tool had anything to do with it!
What are you working on now? Is a jump to feature films in your near future?
I’m working with producers on a feature film that mixes live-action with stop-motion animation. We’re not in production yet or anything but it’s moving forward in tiny increments. Hopefully it’ll happen soon but don’t book your tickets just yet!
Do you worry about stop-motion animation becoming a lost art at some point?
No, it’ll always be there, even if it’s at the fringes. It’s a totally unique art form, so it’s irreplaceable.
The ABCs of Death 2 is available on VOD now and will open in theaters October 31.