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Fantasia 2021: "Mad God" Review

Certified critic on Rotten Tomatoes. Member of the Houston Film Critics Society. Also writes for Bounding Into Comics and GeeksHaveGame.

A Revolutionary and Visually Compelling Nightmare

Mad God is a stop-motion animated phenomenon that has taken three and a half decades to complete. This is very much Phil Tippett’s masterwork as he’s credited as the sole writer, producer, production designer, and character designer of the film as well as one of its producers, prop designers, and special effects artists.

Tippett has spent the majority of his film career doing visual effects. He’s done creature design as well as stop-motion and digital character animation for films such as the original Star Wars trilogy, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, RoboCop and RoboCop 2, Jurassic Park and the Jurassic World films, Starship Troopers, several of the Twilight films, and many others. Mad God is the film he’s always wanted to make, but no studio wanted to help fund, produce, or distribute it. So, along with the help of a successful Kickstarter campaign, Tippett did it himself.

There’s a short 13-minute documentary called Worse Than the Demon, which details Tippett’s work on Mad God as well as what some of his inspirations were as he builds creatures and sets for the film on camera. Filmed by Tippett’s daughter, Worse Than the Demon reveals that Tippett was not only inspired by Ray Harryhausen’s work but also met him. One of the reasons Mad God took so long was that it began as an all practical effects kind of film, but was then shifted to digital after production had already begun. The end result combines both mediums.

IMDb describes the plot of Mad God as, “A corroded diving bell descends amidst a ruined city and the Assassin emerges from it to explore a labyrinth of bizarre landscapes inhabited by freakish denizens.” While there are vocal audible noises contained within Mad God, there’s no coherent dialogue throughout its 83-minute duration; unless baby gibberish counts. The Assassin mentioned is dressed like a miner complete with a full leather outfit, gas mask, black gloves, and a black helmet that looks like a shiny bowler hat. He carries a briefcase and plunges into the depths of this destroyed city while following a frayed and delicate map that crumbles and deteriorates every time he takes it out of his jacket pocket.

What’s intriguing about Mad God is that it doesn’t really guide its audience with a firm narrative. You watch an Assassin willingly being lowered into this layered abyss of decaying darkness. The city that remains looks like it’s not only gone through a nuclear holocaust, but has attempted to carry on with life even though all of its living creatures are horribly misshapen. Very few humans remain as most lifeforms are either mindless, hairy slaves with no facial or memorable features at all or these disgusting horrific concoctions covered in teeth and the nastiest of body fluids. Honestly, Mad God is probably the wettest sounding animated film you’ve ever come across.

The first few layers of the ruined city are littered with desolation and war. The Assassin is submerged deeper as tanks and cannons fire explosive rounds in the sky. In a weird way, the opening of Mad God is a lot like the old Tweety Looney Tunes short, “A Tale of Two Kitties,” directed by Bob Clampett and released in 1942; at least as far as the air raid sequences go. Mad God is a mixture of animation and live-action as the shots of the Assassin walking as giants are tortured and electrocuted as their runny feces drips into the mouth of an enormous head behind him are jaw-dropping and incredible.

Mad God feels like it’s descending the Assassin through the different layers of Hell as each layer seems to be worse off than the last. The slaves are killed off more often than not as blood and various juices splatter all over the screen. The murderous monsters and creatures are pure nightmare fuel. One of the first characters we really see is missing the lower half of his body and has his entire head bandaged like The Invisible Man. He crawls out of a pipe and is then eaten by a creature with a body that looks like a potato. Potato-face has weird, pointed breasts, Jim Carrey teeth, and bulging bloodshot eyes.

The backgrounds are even more intricate than the monsters themselves and are loaded with rusted pipes, gears on the verge of no longer working, broken machinery, and factories that seem to be bleeding lava. If rotting steampunk was a genre, Mad God would be flourishing in it.

The film is classified as a stop-motion animated film, but it has unbelievable elements of sci-fi and horror. Mad God features some of the most unsettling sequences of any film in 2021. The surgery scene along with its out of tune score will haunt your brain. A poor soul has his rib cage torn open without anesthesia and the doctor is literally pulling organs out by the fistful without remorse. This doctor is elbow deep in a bloody ribcage as he begins to pull out pearl necklaces, books, and other random things before a screaming worm-like baby is pulled out whose only definable features are a protruding spinal cord and a massive mouth. What are these items the doctor is pulling out of his body? Prized possessions throughout his lifetime? Cherished memories? Maybe both.

Mad God is a terrifying triumph to animation. It is mesmerizing, unique, and disgusting through and through. The ruined city in the film is coated in these overwhelming layers of grunge and unknown fluids that practically ooze onto the audience. The film seems to draw homage from the Labyrinth Cenobites reside in from the Hellraiser films. Apart from taking away that we’re all doomed to repeat the same pain and anguish for eternity, Mad God’s one flaw is reasoning behind its gruesome existence. Dreams and aspirations lead us through life like a treasure map, which more often than not, never come true. There’s nothing out there quite like Mad God. It is frighteningly phantasmagorical and a horrific masterpiece of animation.

© 2021 Chris Sawin

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