US Substitute Teacher On Trial For Showing Horror Film 'The ABCs Of Death' In Class

·UK Movies Writer

A substitute teacher at a high school in Columbus, Ohio is facing criminal charges for showing horror movie ‘The ABCs of Death’ to students in Spanish class.


The Colombus Dispatch reports that 58-year old Sheila Kearns went on trial on Monday 12 January on “five felony counts of disseminating matter harmful to juveniles," having shown the film in five separate classes to students, aged between 14 and 18, at Colombus’ East High School in April 2013.

Each individual charge may result in a year of jail time and a $2,500 fine, although reportedly there is “a presumption of probation for the charges.”

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2012 independent movie ‘The ABCs of Death’ is an ambitious anthology movie, bringing together 26 directors (or directorial duos) from all around the world, each of whom contribute a short film showing death via a colourful means which are shown in alphabetical order: ‘A is for Apocalypse,’ ‘B is for Bigfoot’ and so on.

There is no narrative thread linking the short films, and the content ranges from the odd to the extreme, with large amounts of gore, sex and all manner of depravity. It was released unrated in the US, where certification from the MPAA is not a legal requirement; here in the UK, the BBFC gave it an 18 without cuts.


Reportedly the opening statement of defence attorney Geoffrey Oglesby called the defendant’s actions “a mistake that the state wants to turn into a crime.” The jury were told Ms Kearns had not watched ‘The ABCs of Death’ beforehand, was “unaware of the graphic nature of the movie, which she thought was in Spanish” - a language which the substitute teacher does not even speak - and that she “had her back turned” to the screen when showing it to classes.

The assistant prosecutor Kacey Chappelear told the jury the film contains “full frontal nudity, masturbation, ejaculate, feces and vomit” (all of which is accurate). The jury were also told the defendant attempted to fast-forward through the film when the school’s assistant principal entered the room, but inadvertently paused on an image of “bare female breasts.”

Kearns was sacked from East High School in May 2013, and indicted in February 2014.

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In Ms Kearns’ defence, ‘The ABCs of Death’ does indeed open with several Spanish language shorts, as the aforementioned ‘A’ and ‘B’ are from Spanish filmmakers Nacho Vigalondo and Adrián García Bogliano respectively, whilst the third (‘C is for Cycle’) comes from Chilean director Ernesto Díaz Espinoza.


We expect we’re not the only ones having flashbacks to Cameron Diaz’s character in ‘Bad Teacher’ right about now. Even so, we also have to question whether criminal charges are really called for under the circumstances.

Yes, ‘The ABCs of Death’ is an extreme film that certainly isn’t to all tastes, but surely most teenagers have seen plenty of graphic sex and violence already - and even if they haven’t, how much harm is a largely cartoonish horror movie really going to do them?

'The ABCs of Death' is widely available on Blu-ray, DVD and Netflix in the US and UK. 'The ABCs of Death 2' followed in 2014, and a further follow-up 'The ABCs of Death 2.5' is expected this year.

Get a safe-for-work look at the film below.

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Picture Credit: Magnet Releasing

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