Love and lust are emotions that, while subjective to each person, cover a lot of the same highs and lows among everyone who has ever felt them. They can be pure bliss at times, sure, but according to Oscar-nominated animator Bill Plympton (Your Face), they can also inspire a synapse-firing warzone. I had the pleasure of talking with Plympton about his newest eyeball-melting short Head Games, which was created for the recently-released anthology horror ABCs of Death 2, and he shared the – wait for it – headspace that the magnificently silly creation is inspired by.
Head Games is animated entirely with a ballpoint pen and paper, a technique that Plympton has mastered over the years. In it, a man and a woman begin to kiss, and each of their craniums and faces wage a river of chaos upon the other in increasingly heightened ways. Because it’s a short, it’s best to leave details up to the imagination for those who haven’t seen it yet, but it’ll be easy to grasp onto if you’re familiar with Plympton’s past work. (And you probably are even if you don’t know it.) Below, he explains how the concept was naturally born of his early works How to Kiss and Push Comes to Shove.
I thought, you know, I hadn’t taken it far enough yet. It’s gotta go farther. I did a bunch of storyboards for a new version of How to Kiss that was really over the top. Extremely violent and surreal. I never did anything with it. I just sorta had the sketches. And then when ABCs of Death called me about doing something, I thought, 'Ooh, this would be fun to do to something like that.' So I changed it a little bit. It’s not so much kissing as it is just kind of violent sexuality with the face – using the face as a war zone. Which is kind of a metaphor for a lot of relationships. I think that’s why people respond to it is because this is a deeper kind of analysis of a person’s relationships and how they can go bad."
Part of what makes this short so effectively jarring is the wall of sound effects (like machine guns and bombs) accompanying the visuals, which Plympton says is definitely an important part of the short’s success. And while it may look like a fluid stream of consciousness leaking out of Plympton’s mind, he assured me that every sequence gets storyboarded and worked out before the animation process begins. Certainly Plympton had someone in mind to direct this cacophony of events at, right?
Yeah it’s just sort of random violence. You know when you’re starting to kiss somebody or make love with somebody, sometimes your imagination goes a little crazy and you start imagining very bizarre things and this occurred to me a couple of times, something like this going on. Again, I never really put it down on paper until now, until I did this."
I love this man. He goes on, explaining his love for deadpan humor and citing Laurel and Hardy as influences on that aspect of his sense of humor and "Head Games" in particular.
The violence of the kissing escalates and they don’t really change their expressions. They just sit there and take all this violence and this mayhem as part of the deal for romance. That’s how romance is."
We had a laugh at that, but it’s often true. It’s only when you have true feelings for someone that you can just mentally snap to seeing their heads explode, even while having a good time. And now you can take comfort in knowing that those mental jaunts look really, really awesome in ballpoint pen animation.
ABCs of Death 2 is out now on VOD, and will hit theaters on October 31. It’s one of the best horror anthologies you’ll ever see, and you can bet a giant hamburger with teeth on that.