Sick & Twisted Animated Film Festival

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I’m glad they handed out barf bags before the Spike and Mike Sick & Twisted Festival of Animation…I almost needed it.

Some of the more memorable scenes and characters: A raging-river of blood gushing from a stick figure’s behind (Rejected), a necropheliac priest (Deep Sympathy), a disco-dancing dick (Captain Pecker), gay and lesbian Legos (Rick and Steve: The happiest gay couple in all the world), a superhero with a radioactive crotch (Radioactive Crotch Man), an anal probe gone terribly wrong (Wheelchair Rebecca), a conversation with famous sick and twisted performance artist, Jim Rose, and the man that makes it all possible, Spike.

Luckily for the people next to me, my pre-festival double Whopper with cheese didn’t end up on their shoes.

Spike and Mike’s Sick & Twisted Festival (now officially in its 10th year), as always, features some of today’s most talented animators. This year, Spike teams up with Jim Rose and his live squeamish act.

“This festival has always been sick and twisted,” says Spike, who looks like a cross between a mad scientist and a distraught, retired professional wrestler. His 6’3” beefy frame is at first intimidating, but he is an extremely creative gentle giant. With eyes sunken and surprisingly a shade of baby blue, Spike is wearing a beret and a t-shirt of a French poodle. “I just got back from Cannes Film Festival,” explains Spike, whose collection of counter-culture animated shorts impressed even snooty French art snobs.

Spike (Mike passed away in 1994) is hanging outside the entrance to La Jolla’s (CA) Museum of Contemporary Art, site of the festival’s premier and within a couple of miles of Spike and Mike’s office. The home-town crowd, stretched in a line around the museum is eagerly awaiting their complimentary barf bags. I am standing with Spike on a balcony overlooking a stunning sunset into the Pacific. A conservative town like La Jolla and an art museum are a strange place for the screening of such films as Coco the Junkie Pimp and Pussy Da Rednosed Reindeer. When asked what his favorite part of the festival is, Spike says, “I like autographing tits and ass, but it’s too conservative here to do that.”

Jim Rose knows first hand about having to tone down his act. Equally as friendly and demented as Spike, Rose, whose animated likeness appeared on an episode of the Simpsons, got his start in European side shows and circuses. “My shows over there are freakier,” assures Rose. “They are more risqué over there because they don’t sue you over there.”

As we will soon see, Rose’s intermission performance is definitely sick and twisted, but when he performs in Europe, his act includes turning out the lights in the theater, cranking up some chainsaws, driving motorcycles through the aisles, and supplying a healthy dose of shock value to his audience.

Even in the U.S., “There’s always stuff to add to my act,” guarantees Rose. The latest additions to Rose’s shows are female Sumo wrestlers and Mexican transvestite wrestling. “The wrestlers have to adhere to a strict set of rules: They must wear a dildo, and the first one that can force it into the other person’s mouth for a three count wins.” Rose, who starred as one of the most popular villains—Dr. Blockhead—on the X-Files, definitely falls into the sick and twisted category.

It’s now almost time for the show to begin. The audience is swatting around giant beach balls, several of which are intentionally popped. “That’s the only time that latex breaks and it’s funny,” says the event’s emcee, a combination of Elvis and Andrew Dice Clay. Acting as crowd cheerleader and instigator for the duration of the evening, the emcee gives a disclaimer before the clips begin: “This is definitely politically incorrect material. If that’s not allright with you, please get the fuck out now.”

By this point, everybody is juiced for the show to begin. The introductory clip stars Spike, a redneck-outfitted, guzzling copious amounts of Jack Daniels and target-practice shooting an army of Teletubbies. Sick and twisted? You haven’t seen anything yet.

A crowd favorite, Rejected represents the qualities that Spike likes in an animated film. “Sick and twisted isn’t enough,” says Spike. “There has to be good timing, humor, intriguing characters, and a solid story line.” Rejected is the work of Don Hertzfeldt. It’s a portfolio of rejected animated advertising campaigns that the artist was commissioned to create for the Family Learning Channel. If this story is indeed true, it’s easy to see why Hertzfeldt is also certifiably sick and twisted. Some of his campaigns include stick figures pushing products like bean lard mulch. “Now with Vitamin C,” the slogan says. Johnson and Mills Fish Sticks: “Now with more sodium! Sweet Jesus!”

Rejected pokes fun at excessive consumerism, as evidenced by a commercial for Kelp Dip. “I am a consumer whore,” says one organic stick figure. As the rejections mount, the artist becomes more insane. The audience goes through a cathartic experience when one stick figure’s anus starts gushing out blood, eventually drowning out his fellow stick mates.

Deep Sympathy earned the most gruesome reaction from the audience. It’s the story of a priest who is administering a eulogy for a shapely, albeit obviously dead woman. The priest starts copulating the corpse and goes even as far as detracting the body’s teeth with pliers to … well, you figure it out. In the end, justice is served, as a group of hungry worms, has its way with the priest’s member. Sick and twisted? Totally.

Angry Kid, created by animators from Aardman Animation (Wallace and Gromit, Chicken Run) features several installments throughout the night. Although tamer in nature than some of the other films, Angry Kid received riotous applause because of the Carrot Top-on-crack persona of the main character.

After the first hour of films, Jim Rose takes the stage and warms the audience with a joke: Why do dogs lick their dicks? The audience yells the obvious, “Because they can.”

“No,” corrects Rose. “Because they can’t make a fist.”

Rose’s high-energy, irreverent performance consists of him staple-gunning a dollar to his head, sticking a spoon all the way up his nasal cavity, swallowing razor blades and regurgitating them, and laying on broken glass while an audience member stands on his head. Even though Rose is capable of much more, his act is still sick and twisted.

Definitely stick around for the second half of the show. The night’s most sick and twisted films await. I don’t want to give too much more away, but let me tell you about Allan Brocka’s Rick and Steve: the happiest gay couple in all the world. It’s the only story you’ll ever see about gay Lego characters. In the film, the gay lego protagonists are approached by a lesbian couple, who seek Rick’s sperm so they can have a baby. The ensuing jealousy shown by Steve for Rick’s sperm is brilliant and of course sick and twisted.

Sure, fart jokes and anal probes have already been done and aren’t that shocking these days, but Spike and Mike’s Sick & Twisted Festival, just like South Park, is an appealing alternative to the stale, mindless, Hollywood recycling factory that permeates the mainstream. The festival represents a backlash against the status quo, but does so not with just tasteless, pornographic filth; most of the animated clips are economic/socio/political satires making fun of everything normal. The films are done with clever story lines and daft technical precision.

I can’t believe I am referring to a festival that has a stick figure character shouting, “Oh no, my anus is bleeding,” as a work of art. That’s sick and twisted.

Websites: Spikeandmike.com, ifilm.com .