Descending from above into the depths of grotesque terror and suffering, The Assassin steps out of the drop pod with a gas mask, industrial armor, a suitcase, and a crumbling map. Bearing witness to the surrounding horrors – cruel experimentations, enslaved beasts, tortured manufactured slave laborers, dog-eat-dog atrocities – The Assassin sallies forth, descending deeper into the primordial pit. The missioned at hand is to set an explosive charge that will eradicate out the ruinous, oppressive filth that aims to corrupt the everything, but there the darkness won’t be so easily wiped away and The Assassin must stay in the shadows and out of sight or else become a tortured fixture in the fray.
“Mad God?” More like mad genius! Phil Tippett’s 34-year, stop-motion, pet-project “Mad God” is the purest Hell I’ve ever seen. Tippet, famed stop-motion and puppeteer effects artist responsible for the iconic visual effects and stop motion work in fan films such as the original “Star Wars” saga and the “Robocop” franchise as well as cult favorites “Howard the Duck,” “Piranha” and “House II: The Second Story,” started “Mad God” in 1987 that become more of an ambitious project than originally thought and once the 1993 saw a computer generated effects revolution with a little prehistoric dino-disaster film called “Jurassic Park”, a film Tippett also did work on as dinosaur movement consulting supervisor because of his expertise on the short “Prehistoric Beasts,” the gifted animator had shelved “Mad God” for about 20 years with the though a newer, shiner, computer-driven animation would be the next best thing studios would ardently desire. This two-decade span gave Tippett time to outline objectives and really expand upon ideas of how “Mad God” should look and feel when conveyed. Tippett co-produces the film with Jack Morrissey under Tippett Studios and presented by IFC Midnight and AMC’s Shudder.
Just because “Mad God” is dialogue-less doesn’t make the “Mad God” voiceless. All around, in every scene, is a disturbing commentary or an unhinged metaphor bred mostly out of the animatable inanimate, but there are some live action performances weaved into the mad tapestry of monstrous titans and despot of cruelty. The most clearly discernible face of the lot comes from a director, “Repo Man” and “Sid and Nancy” director Alex Cox to be more exact. Cox plays the long nailed and regime-driven “Last Man,” representing divine leadership of a modest, dieselpunk heaven above a more organic and grotesque hell-type world. Only on screen for perhaps a total of 5-to-10 minutes, Cox grunts and gestures with precision articulation to give off a fair and just ruler impression. Niketa Roman plays the next real person to have some substantial screen time. Less of an actress and more of an animator by trade, with credits including “Blade II,” “Jurassic World,” and “Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker,” Roman finds an expressive talent in her striking, heavily made-up eyes overtop a surgical mask and gown when whisking away one of the Assassin’s souls to be studied and experimented on by a broodingly ethereal entity. Other micro-performances include minor roles of tortured monkeys, various iron-cladded Assassins, witches, and gnomes from Satish Ratakonda, Harper Gibbons, Arnie Hain, David Laur, Chris Morley, Anthony Ruivivar, Tucker Gibbons, Tom Gibbons, Hans Brekke, and Jake Freytag.
“Mad God’s” possibilities and interpretations are endless. Phil Tippett pulls from a motley of inspiration that includes, but is not limited to the fantastical, sometimes hellish, paintings of Hieronymus Bosch, the wacky, often gonzo animation of Tex Avery, the stop-motion titans of Nathan Juran’s “The 7 Voyages of Sinbad, and Dante’s Inferno. The mind is a deranged and wonderful creator of the macabre and of the aberrant and as a receiving device, the mind can also, if opened up enough, accept such visceral visuals of bowel fluids being jettisoned out by electric shock and into the mouth of an organic machine that manufactures fibrous, lumbering humanoids for slave labor. Like lemmings in a way, these exploited shadows of human beings will succumb under their own demise or at the gnarled and unforgiving hands of their master’s gargoyleish work-whippers. “Mad God’s” eye for detail is greatly disturbing to see cities in monolithic cities and cultures in ruins, the composite depth between foreground and background action in one scene reminds me a lot of older works like “The Neverending Story” or “Clash of the Titans” that create a vast scale with smaller objects, and the playful irony of a nightmare netherworld being commanded over by a baby’s babble doesn’t nearly seem to a stretch from the truth. As the multiple Assassins trek through the chaos and the insanity, an overwhelming sense of life is meaningless scores the landscape as there isn’t an ounce of compassion or empathy to be had or displayed for any of the malformed creatures and wretched humans. A laborer is crushed by a stone – no biggie. A cute and cuddle animal is attacked and whisked away for food storage – all in the day of cruelty. A man is stripped of his armored gear, injected with a mysterious substance, and prepped for exploratory surgery – all for show in front of a live clapping and cheering audience. The only compassion I can make sense is the Assassin’s mission to blow up this God-forsaken world of eternal suffering to restart the heart. Madness grinds bones, fillets spirits, and crushes souls in Phil Tippet’s Godless underworld and can haunt you even while you’re awake.
A surreal stop-motion wonder and excruciation, “Mad God” brings all the horrors of the subconscious mind to the surface with a high-definition, 1080p Blu-ray. The region 2, PAL encoded release from UK distributor Acorn Media International presents Tippet’s tour de force in a widescreen 1.78:1 aspect ratio and the image is purposefully varied to exhibit different strokes of craft as students would assist Tippet with contrastive topographies to carve out an apocalypse-riddled world that’s in a state of a violet retrogression. Tippet and Tippet Studio visual effects artist, Chris Morley, pivot to “Mad God’s” cinematography appearance with brooding, darker tones that illuminate and are erratically sparked with warm neon glows or brilliant voltage streaming through highly conductive bodies. Some earlier scenes from the late 80’s have natural grain from the 35mm stock and then later, more recent scenes have a cleaner, sleeker look with the digital recording. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound mix has an all-embracing range, mostly with sudden and alarming blazons of guttural roars, unnerving baby babble, elongated zaps and shocks, and the indistinct yips and yaps of a mad world, that sustains on a line of being lesser than crisp, which might be contributed to the inexact capture of depth as sometimes all sounds casts like from inside the reverberations of a fishbowl. Descriptive SDH subtitles are available. Bonus features include audio commentary with Phil Tippett and “Pan’s Labyrinth’s” Guillermo del Toro, cast & crew commentary, an interview with Phil Tippett, “Mad God’s” various painter, cartoonist, animator, and psychology inspirations, the making-of “Mad God,” Maya Tippett’s Worse than the Demon – Phil Tippet’s daughter’s 12-minute thesis documentary of her father’s 34-year passion project journey, Academy of Art & “Mad God,” a behind-the-scenes montage, and a behind-the-scenes photo gallery. “Mad God” has a runtime of 84 minutes and is UK certified 18 for strong violence and gore. A motion picture diorama of Phil Tippett’s neoteric psyche, “Mad God” is wrath wrapped in heart and soul, two descriptors not topmost on the surface but are meticulously integrated into every frame of pain, suffering, and despair.