Punk, as a musical genre, may have entirely lost its status as an agent provocateur, what with every kid with a guitar and a bad attitude grabbing two buddies and redoing the Green Day catalog.
The spirit of punk, though, is clearly alive and well in the latest installment of "Spike and Mike's Twisted Festival of Animation," a compilation of short films that are alternately clever and downright disgusting. The represented filmmakers in large part go for the same effect once sought by punk rockers: They specialize in "art" that's fast, loud, often profane, occasionally prurient, seldom sharp enough to rise to the level of social criticism and not half as smart as the gathered directors, writer and screenwriters must imagine their work to be.
Let's start with the dreck, since those images, sadly, are the ones that will remain in the mind's eye for the longest time. "Sloaches Fun House," for which Clayboy Enterprises of Chicago deserves the blame, is indeed "the most vile piece of clay animation ever molded," as billed in the press notes. The murky clip involves a series of grotesque, waxy sort-of-human creatures, including transgendered types, engaged in copulation and defecation. That's entertainment.
Also not ready for prime time (or, really, human consumption) is "Deep Sympathy," created by one Mike Grimshaw, a rather pointless episode centering on a funeral service that goes horrendously awry. Top themes of this one: necrophilia, oral sex and suicide. Right next to it in the trash heap is "Birth of Abomination," a brightly colored if spiritually ugly ditty detailing the misadventures of separated Siamese twins, a crack-addicted prostitute and an unexpected birth. None of this is good for the weak of stomach: Eat after the movie, if you still have an appetite.
Explicit or implicit sex is also part and parcel of several other pieces, all wittier than the aforementioned ones: "Rick and Steve: The Happiest Gay Couple in All the World" has Lego creatures, in a Lego world, tell the story of two lesbians' efforts to bring a child into the world, with the help of their nominal friends -- the bitchy male partners of the title. They discuss the plan over quiche and wine, and then proceed straight to the dirty work. A mother shellshocks her daughter with three equally freaky versions of how the little girl's doll, "Wheelchair Rebecca," got her name. Hints: One involves a Ken-like character called Rough Sex Ben, another has to do with heroin addiction, and the last focuses on alien abduction. "Radioactive Crotchman," visually, might remind one of cable's "Power Puff Girls" or "Dexter's Laboratory," with lots of futuristic gizmos and flight sequences: An evil character called the Butt Pirate attacks the titular superhero, whose rescue is abetted by the Keen Squadron.
Gangland violence and creative use of a certain expletive are featured prominently in "Pussy da Red Nosed Reindeer," a Mafioso-style retelling of the Christmas classic. "Monkey Vs. Robot" is a knowing nature-vs.-technology bit doubling as a punk-rock video clip. And four episodes of "Angry Boy," from Aardman Animation ("Wallace and Gromit"), focus on the misadventures of the titular kid, a chip off Carrot Top, forced to deal with daytime television and long car rides with his dad.
The most appealing segment of "Sick and Twisted" arrives about midway through, with two shorts that are neither sick nor twisted, and a third one that only gets that way toward the end. "For the Birds," from Pixar Studios ("Toy Story"), concerns a group of squawking birds on a wire, desperate to get rid of a larger colleague; his inadvertent revenge is funny, and the story is bolstered by a driving piece of Western swing. "Ghost of Stephen Foster" pairs the retro-digging music of the Squirrel Nut Zippers with '30s-style black-and-white animation in homage to the Fleischer Bros.
"Rejected" purports to be material created by Don Hertzfeldt for the Family Learning Channel and other commercial concerns. His stick figures are remarkably vivid, and, what do you know, they bleed just like humans.