Time was, if you ever needed some sort of rampaging beast to tromp through your fantasy/sci-fi epic, there was a one in ten chance you’d call Phil Tippett. This was pre-cgi, you understand and his talent for making the immobile move with his unparalleled, stop-motion wizardry gave us everything from that weird-ass “chess game” from Star Wars to the glory of Vermitheax Pejorative as she hissed and roared through the best bits of Dragonslayer. AT-ATs, Scout Walkers, ED-209, Cain from Robocop 2, the Dark Overlord of the Universe… all fired up the imagination even if some of the movies they were featured in didn’t quite live up to Tippett’s glorious efforts – and then Jurassic Park happened. Even though Phil nabbed an Oscar for his troubles by using his talents to figure out how the dinosaurs should move, it became increasingly obvious that while Spielberg’s dino epic effectively brought those iconic thunder lizards back to life, it was also essentially condemning his craft to extinction. However, Tippett never truly said die and after thirty years of painstaking toil, his stop motion opus Mad God was finally finished and unleashed on the world – but was it worth his time… and ours?
In a fantasy realm so dark it makes the Dark Crystal look positively neon in comparison, we join our… protagonist? I think? as he embarks on a mission to be lowered behind enemy lines in a rusted diving bell to plant a suitcase bomb in the middle of a writhing, industrial hell-scape of misshapen creatures, faceless workers and groaning machinery that seem to have no discernable purpose except for grinding both bodies and hope into formless mush.
The soldier is dubbed “The Assassin” and as he presses ever forward thanks to the directions laid out in a decaying map, he (and by extension, we) are exposed to ever more deranged imagery that continues to stubbonly defy logic. Yet, when his mysterious mission of destruction is thwarted mere seconds from completion, The Assasin is tortured by deranged surgeons who ruthlessly explore the inside of his torso in order to find something that may bring change to a world who, unsurprisingly, is uninterested in following the rules of the Geneva Convention.
Meanwhile, back at The Assassin’s equally bleak home base, bespectacled leader, The Last Man prepares another map in order to send out another Assassin to try to take another crack at the bombing run and this time the weary soldier takes a different route to succeed in an obviously impossible mission, but as this one heads toward his goal at an equally slow trudge, something that has been found in his predecessor’s ribcage is brought reverently to a lab in order to be put to use, but what possible good can it do in a world where hope is a four-letter word?
It becomes incredibly apparent as you let the endless images of filth and squalor wash over you that the Mad God of the title may well be Tippett himself as the movie is less a coherent story and more of a continuing stream of unfiltered imagination that takes the form of barely connected vignettes. There’s no real plot to speak of aside from The Assassin’s repeated slog to achieve his doomed mission and if you’re expecting any exposition or explanation as to how and why everything is happening, you’d be better served looking for something a little less esoteric as Mad Dog makes Eraserhead seem as easy to follow as See Spot Run. But Tippett has no interest in such trite things as coherence and is far more interested in grabbing us by the hand and dragging us through sight-seeing trawl through a shit-stained, dystopia.
The sights we see are as endlessly inventive as they are repugnant and it’s as if the baby of Guillermo Del Torro and Clive Barker suffered a mental break while watching Tetsuo: The Iron Man and then had Terry Gilliam read it a bedtime story while it waited for its meds to kick in. Populating this hideously illogical ecosystem are a possession of unfiltered nightmare fuel that include (by aren’t limited to) a yawning mouthed beast seemingly made of butts, featureless twine-people who slave and die in droves in a lethal foundry, card playing weevils, hooded tumor people and an ethereal creature in a black plague mask who floats around trailing black robes. No of this makes any sense whatsoever, but what I could discern through the seemingly random chaos is that the movie is seemingly riffing on the insanity of mindless repetition. The twine people endure the endless grind of their existence until a gruesome industrial accident Grant’s them blessed release while the proof of the futility of the repeated attempts of the Assassin’s mission is prevalent in the huge mountains of unexploded suitcases that greets him when he reaches his goal. Yet the myopic Last Man (played by Alex Cox in long, white Fu Man Chu nails) still insists on sending these gas masked being out in an endless cycle that seems reminiscent of innocent men being sent to their deaths during wartime.
Anyway, whatever the hell it all means, its definitely a singular vision and it’s one that’s strikingly told – but make no mistake, this isn’t Paranorman and many may find this bleak, inpenetrable world too much of a formless fever dream to stomach (there’s so much faeces). But as therapeutic as it might have been for Tippett to get these nightmarish images on screen during his thirty year odyssey, you can’t help but feel that maybe therapy might have been the quicker way to go. However, we would have been all the poorer for it as this Mad God is worthy of as much deranged worship as it can get.