The last time I attended Spike and Mike's Sick & Twisted Festival of Animation, complimentary barf bags were handed out to patrons as they walked through the door. This year, so far at least, the barf bags haven't been offered (instead, you receive a plastic stick with little plastic hands attached that simulate clapping when you shake it). But this doesn't mean that the animated shorts in the festival are any less sick or twisted.
Au contraire. This year's Sick & Twisted Festival of Animation lives up to its infamous name.
At the festival I attended in Denver, there was a goofy host dressed in garish attire who introduced the evening and laid down the ground rules: "If you are easily offended by violence, bad language, gratuitous sex and overall un-PCness ... if you consider yourself to be a mild-mannered, conservative churchgoing citizen, you might want to leave now, 'cause there's no whining for your money back after the show starts." Then, with a blowup doll resembling Wayne Newton in tow, he got things rolling with a festival staple called No Neck Joe.
Joe is a little dude who has no neck due to his egg-shaped torso, which simply sits on a set of legs. In one short (about 30 seconds long), Joe is shunned by a woman because she can't give him a hickey. In the next short, he wins a wrestling match because his opponent can't put him in a headlock. In the next short, Joe gets the chick back, plus two of her friends, because, it turns out, what he lacks in neck, he makes up for in tongue. No Neck Joe is one of the more subdued pieces and includes heavy audience participation. Everyone yells out "No Neck Joe" between each short.
New on the circuit this year is Radioactive Crotch Man, accompanied by his Keen Squadron, Coma Man and Erect Nipple Man. Flying through the starry night sky, the trio fights evil with radioactive pee, strong nipples and killer warts; they put the heros of Superfriends to shame.
Also relatively subdued and grossly humorous is Pussy Da Red-Nosed Reindeer, in which a moose with mob ties and a Brooklyn accent entertains children with a Christmas tale. It ends in a frolicking singalong of "Pussy Da Red-Nosed Reindeer." (Pussy got the snot beat out of him by the other reindeer and ended up with a bloody nose.)
Interspersed between shorts is a clay-stop animation piece called Angry Kid, which features a freaky-looking boy -- a cross between Pippi Longstocking and the comedian Carrot Top -- reacting to basic life situations, the funniest being when he and his little sister watch a documentary on sex and childbirth.
Most of the shorts for the first half of the evening are only mildly gross. But after intermission, the festival kicks into sick and twisted overdrive. From Barbie and Ken beating each other bloody during rough sex (Wheelchair Rebecca) to blatant necrophilia (Deep Sympathy) to a giant singing-and-dancing penis (Captain Pecker), Spike and Mike's Sick & Twisted Festival of Animation pushes the envelope -- almost off of the cliff.
Here, I must warn you about Sloaches Fun House, which takes the grand prize for the most sick and twisted. It is truly vile, and unlike the other shorts, it's not funny. The Claymation, though, is incredible, if you can stand to watch it.
While many of the films contain taboo subject matter, like sexism, bigotry, graphic language and violence, the high quality of animation is the unifying and redeeming factor, elevating these films to art -- and making them fun as hell to watch.
Especially key to the fun-factor is the fact that the festival boasts a great variety of animation formats, from the familiar Claymation and computer-generated versions to painted celluloid, hand-drawn pen and ink, watercolor and Legos (and, believe me, you'll never think of Legos the same way again).
Though most the flicks are products of up-and-coming animators, some big names are represented in the lineup. Pixar, the computer animation studio that did A Bug's Life and Toy Story, contributes a not-so-twisted but funny clip called For the Birds. Aardman Animation, the creators of Wallace and Gromit and Chicken Run, conceived Angry Kid.
Since 1990, Spike and Mike, of Mellow Manor Productions, have provided a refuge for brilliantly animated pieces that are simply too revolting or adult in nature for regular animation festivals -- including Sick & Twisted's white-bread brother, Spike and Mike's Classic Festival of Animation. And lucky for us. Over the years, it's been the birthplace of Beavis and Butthead, the South Park gang, MTV's Celebrity Deathmatch (originally a short called Mutilator) and, yes, the ever popular and empowering Powerpuff Girls (originally called Whoop Ass Stew).
Every now and then it's good to shake up our routine and properly mannered lives. Whether we admit it or not, we all have a 14-year-old adolescent within us. I recommend you treat your inner adolescent to Spike and Mike's Sick & Twisted Festival of Animation, which opens this week at the Colorado Music Hall.