Phil Tippett's stop motion horror film is a feverish nightmare you cannot look away from...
Director: Phil Tippett
Starring: Alex Cox
Running time: 83 minutes
Despite having a 45 year long career in animation and visual effects — starting with Star Wars and then films like Jurassic Park — Phil Tippett’s directorial career has mostly been limited to short films and a badly received DTV sequel to Starship Troopers. Work on his passion project, Mad God, began in 1990 whilst working on RoboCop 2; however, the project was abandoned after Tippett saw no future for stop motion in the film industry. Fortunately, twenty years later he was convinced to return to the project and develop it into a feature length film. Over the course of the last decade, he has worked with a variety of people to bring together a thoroughly violent and twisted stop motion film that feels like a descent into madness.
There is little digestible plot in Mad God, the story that takes place on screen is almost incomprehensible. The film feels like it is much more focused on trying to capture a nauseating and unrelenting experience that offers a glimpse into the depths of cinematic depravity. Mad God loosely follows the last surviving human who continually sends down soldiers into the pits of hell, although what they are trying to achieve is unclear. Along the way they encounter an assortment of incredibly slimy and gross monsters that get progressively weirder as the film goes on. Another sub plot is a witch doctor who carries a baby across this world to deliver it to an alchemist. The design of the baby feels very inspired by the one in Eraserhead. In fact, the films dedication to denying any sort of meaning or narrative structure, and its surrealistic style, is reminiscent of Lynch’s films.
If anything, it is an exercise in the beauty of stop motion and practical effects, a craft which feels like its constantly slipping away from mainstream popularity
Running at a short 83 minutes it feels much more like an experimental film rather than any traditional horror film. In many ways it feels like a reflection of the cycle of life: war, violence, perversity and a world of hierarchical structures; but the film fights back against any interpretation, so much so that is hard to summarise the themes or intent behind it. If anything, it is an exercise in the beauty of stop motion and practical effects, a craft which feels like its constantly slipping away from mainstream popularity. But it’s clear that this film isn’t going to shove stop motion back into the cinematic zeitgeist either. It is a brutal film, and whilst it constantly retains an element of dark humour, it overwhelms the audience with a nonstop barrage of strange and ferocious images, that will ultimately alienate and provide discomfort to certain viewers.
Those who find enjoyment in the type of horrifying world that Tippett and his team have assembled are going to fall maddeningly in love with it. Throughout the whole film the set design is fantastic and otherworldly, with every location and the monsters that inhabit them being so finely detailed. Each bestial creature that appears on screen to commit some disturbing act, feels distinct and even more shocking than what came before. Some of the monster designs even feel heavily influenced by video games such as Resident Evil or Doom. As well as the images is the fantastic score by Dan Wool — a frequent collaborator with Alex Cox, who cameos in the film — which provides numerous textured soundscapes that make up almost the entire audio of the film. Wool pulls in elements of classical, synth and rock music to create a score that is equally as strange as the images themselves.
Whilst Mad God has been in production for over thirty years in total, it is totally fresh and original. There is very obviously a large amount of love given to the hand-crafted animation, which is notoriously difficult to do. Even though the film lacks any cohesion in its narrative, or at least an obvious cohesion, it remains interesting enough to never loose your attention. Tippett has crafted a world that feels like a genuine nightmare and as an audacious formal experiment it feels like a breath of fresh air.
Mad God is out on blu-ray from December 5th through Acorn Media UK.
We have a favour to ask
LeftLion is Nottingham’s meeting point for information about what’s going on in our city, from the established organisations to the grassroots. We want to keep what we do free to all to access, but increasingly we are relying on revenue from our readers to continue. Can you spare a few quid each month to support us?