Phil Tippett has been an integral part of all your favourite movies. Contributing his unique visual effects talents to everything from Return of the Jedi, to RoboCop, to Jurassic Park. With Mad God, a passion project thirty years in the making, Tippett reaches back into your brain to that one time you were sick with the flu, and animates all those terrifying nightmares you had.
Mad God is a gobsmacking display of talent and brain fever that left me almost speechless. Dialogue and plot be damned! Mad God has neither! Instead, it is a collection of grotesque images and ugly nihilism. Characters hack lumps off each other and descend ever deeper into a horrific and unexplained netherworld.
Blending animated sequences with deliberate, stuttering live-action, it’s impossible to tell where one ends and the other begins. It’s not hard to see why the head-spinning intricacy of the set design and the crazed imagination in the creatures’ forms took Tippett’s deranged genius three decades to compile.
Even with the best of intentions, the innate herky-jerkiness of stop-motion animation has always aligned itself with terror. Thanks, in no small part, to British children’s television of the 70s and 80s. Fenella the Kettle Witch from Chorlton and the Wheelies (and I am begging you not to image search it) terrorised my childhood dreams with a malevolence Freddy Krueger would be proud of. Weaponising the medium against an entire generation, causing primal terror to metastasise in the hearts and minds of all who saw it. As a result, Pavlovian weeping was the only known response to stop-motion animation until the tea-drinking, Dad joke comfort of Wallace & Gromit wrested it away from our damaged psyches. But Mad God has plunged us once more into the heart of darkness.
This stop-motion freak show generates some truly disturbing images. Bleaching them into your temporal lobe so they never wash out. Tumbling after each other on repeat, in the dazed aftermath of the end credits: a vivisected primate crying for help, a nazi cult worshipping a crimson Baphomet, a bioluminescent arachnid feasting on portly creatures resembling Mac from Mac & Me, three wizened crones jerking off a minotaur in a blitzkrieged back alley. Together, we stare straight down into the mouth of madness.
The sound design, as intense as the rest of the film, worms its way inside your mind, just to mess with you. The endless tick-tocking clocks, counting down to what we can only assume is our shared, global doom. The constant sloshy sounds of moisture and running effluent, keeping us firmly placed in the dank, humid underground. You can almost feel the black mould growing behind your eyelids with every passing second.
Mad God is mirror universe Ray Harryhausen. It’s Voyage Of Sinbad corrupted by poisonous ideologies. It’s Discharge’s entire catalogue of nuclear-annihilation-punk given form and injected straight into your corneas.
It goes without saying that Mad God is not for everyone. It’s as wildly uncommercial as it is inventive. But if you want something different in your movie-going experience, it certainly fits the bill. Mad God is an art film, made by a psychopath. A singular feat of untethered creativity and vision, and you’ve never seen anything like it.
‘Mad God’ is currently on a film festival run and for this review was viewed at the Monster Fest film festival in Melbourne, Australia.