GORE IN THE STORE

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MAD GOD ****

 

Directed by Phil Tippett.
Starring Alex Cox, Niketa Roman, Satish Ratakonda. Animation, US, 83 minutes.

 

Streaming on Shudder from 16th June.

 

There is a scene early on in Phil Tippett’s thirty years in the making stop motion animation opus where a trench coated figure in a vintage gas mask carrying a battered briefcase walks past a row of giants strapped into electric chairs. As lightning bolts of electricity arc down from above into their vast skullcaps the giant’s spasm and writhe in their dying moments and defecate into a cavern below where a large disembodied biomechanical head swallows their effluence. As striking and outrageous as it may sound this is still nowhere near the weirdest or most extreme sight you will experience in this extraordinary, deeply original vision from the special effects wizard who has helped bring legends such as Dragonslayer’s Vermithrax Pejorative, Robocop’s ED-209 and Jurassic Park’s T-Rex to the screen in his already legendary career.

 

Filmed over three decades in his own garage this is a painstakingly executed work that sears itself through your eyeballs, storing its nightmarish mosaic of a world gone to Hell and beyond in your memory forever more. Following that gas masked figure on his mysterious journey through this grotesque landscape we witness a dark odyssey through a world where there is only cruelty and pain in all their various and often surreal guises. The gas masked figure, known only as The Assassin, is on a quest, searching for something with the aid of a cryptic map he tears up as he descends further and further through a world gone mad. Narratively there is little else going on here but for once it hardly matters. MAD GOD is all about the visual experience.

 

Immersive from the beginning with its apocalyptic biblical quote from Leviticus setting the tone, MAD GOD is a tapestry of madness that equals anything Hieronymus Bosch committed to canvas. The lack of a storyline or relatable characters does not distance viewers who may find themselves immediately seduced by this original work. It is fascinating to think that while Tippet was working on the likes of mega-budget blockbusters such as Jurassic Park and Starship Troopers he would retreat to his garage in his spare time to capture this darker than dark fantasy frame by frame. As uncommercial as his paying gigs were ultra-commercial it always feels like the work of a driven artist determined to capture the madness and chaos bouncing around in his own skull. The timely process would go onto consume Tippett so much that he would end up in psychiatric care at one point.

 

It is perhaps this temporary break that necessitated the brief moments of live action, featuring cult movie hero Alex Cox no less, that stitch the dreamlike narrative together. Such moments do not capture the imagination as much as the animated work that dominates the film. However, it lends the film a nightmare logic that is reminiscent of Jan Švankmajer’s dark animations. There are moments of dark beauty captured amongst the bloody and visceral environment where everything exists only to be crushed by something bigger and crueller lurking around the next corner, pulling you in further and further to its surreal, apocalyptic environment.

 

Although Shudder should be commended for bringing the film to a larger audience it feels a shame not to experience such a vision on a larger screen than what you would find at home, but then it feels that no other distributor would dare take on the risk of delivering such a deeply personal, nihilistic and baroque vision that revels in blood and madness. By the time its cosmic and time defying climax unfolds it is safe to say that there is little else you will see onscreen anywhere that looks and feels like MAD GOD. As an animated piece it is a stunning achievement. As dark unique entertainment, it is near-essential viewing.

 

Iain MacLeod.

 

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