Sick flicks

In comedy, chestnuts like disembowelment, eye-gouging, skin-peeling and hyper-sexualized bunnies never lose their crunch. To a certain type of connoisseur, there is nothing funnier than seeing an adorable cartoon character drink, puke, swear, hump and then get chopped into a million pieces by a grain harvester. These are the core values that have propelled Spike & Mike’s Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation to the top of the garbage heap, making it the alpha and the omega of filthy and disgusting animated anthologies.

Founders Craig “Spike” Decker and Mike Gribble started the Sick and Twisted Festival mainly to spotlight the plethora of kid-unfriendly material their animated shorts promotions company, Mellow Manor, came across over the years. What it has blossomed into, no one could have predicted.

Over the years, Spike & Mike’s offering of deranged toons has developed from a strictly fringe enterprise into a legitimate kingmaker, launching the careers of some of the animation biz’s biggest hitters. An early focus on the art of clay animation helped to spotlight future legends like Tim Burton and Nick Park, whose first Wallace and Gromit episodes made their American debut at Spike & Mike’s. Long before popping up on MTV’s Liquid Television and getting a TV series, Mike Judge’s metalhead trailer-trash heroes Beavis and Butt-head debuted with their classic spot “Frog Baseball.” The fest also premiered “The Spirit of Christmas,” the crudely rendered — and hilariously profane — short that started the South Park phenomenon, and made moguls of Trey Parker and Matt Stone.

Call it coarsening of the culture or call it liberation, but Spike & Mike’s was one of the first animation festivals to be honest about the inherent violence of many cartoons. Nowadays we expect cartoons to be filthy. At the very least, we are prepared for them to carry messages that are less-than-wholesome. There’s a certain ruthless truthfulness to Spike & Mike’s that the Looney Tunes creators never had occasion to address, not ostensibly anyway.

This year’s festival will continue the tradition of anarchy with 25 offerings that, while varying in quality, share a spirit of designed insanity. Many of them succeed on the bases of brevity and novelty. A great example of this is the very funny Choke Spot Choke, which hits its mark, and gets out, long before wearing out its welcome. Equally to the point are animator Craig McKraken’s No Neck Joe shorts, which spotlight the life of an adorable little freak who’s built like a tater tot and competes with a pair of rough-looking slackers for the affection of buxom cuties. Another quickie is the visually arresting Kaboom by PES, which uses toys and household objects in a weirdly exciting playpen version of war.

One of the longer installments in this year’s festival is the ambitious animation-live action hybrid Save Virgil; Adam Carolla is the voice of a foul-mouthed toddler who sports a nasty ’tude and a Viking helmet to conceal his massive ’fro. He’s despondent about being a cartoon character in the real world, and needs help from faded porn starlet Ginger Lynn and the irrepressible Gary Coleman.

Meanwhile, The Happy Tree Friends takes the ultra-violent formula to delirious extremes with cuddly forest creatures being horribly maimed. And though there are no outright stinkers in the mix this year, some of the shorts are ignorable, like the listless Donkey Bong and the generally lame Good Cat Bad Cat.

Lastly, audiences should enjoy Don Hertzfeldt’s Oscar-nominated Rejected, which chronicles the animator’s mental breakdown through a series of failed commissions that spiral from nonsensical to deeply disturbing, a theme — by Spike & Mike’s standards — that is pretty much essential.


7 p.m. and 10 p.m. Monday-Friday, Dec. 26-30, at the Magic Bag, 22920 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 248-544-3030.

Corey Hall is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected]

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