Mad God (2021) Shudder Movie Review – A nightmarish vision of hell by a legendary visual effects master

A nightmarish vision of hell by a legendary visual effects master

A figure known only as ‘The Assassin’ drops down from the heavens in what appears to be a diving bell and lands in a hellish apocalyptic world that is like nothing we have seen before. As he traverses this strange and dystopian wasteland, we are blessed (or cursed) with sights that we won’t be able to unsee.

A faecal creature armed with an axe goes to war against another strange beast. Faceless men are tortured and then electrocuted. Miniature figures wander to and fro within an industrial complex and work tirelessly to keep the cogs of the machinery running. Fire shoots through holes in the walls. Bellowing smoke rises from chimneys. The workers jump into fiery pits, presumably as a means to exit the horror of their world. And giant beasts that look like maggots are chained up, ready to be experimented on.

As the assassin descends further into the bowels of hell, soldiers scream, tanks trundle along the ground firing explosives, surgeons pull open their patients’ bodies for the entertainment of others, and a nurse gives an insectile baby to a mysterious cloaked figure in a 17th century physicians mask. Beasts hit one another with shovels and jab their fingers in one another’s eyes. And a giant hairy spider invades the only place of colour and joy and lays waste to its residents.

Needless to say, this isn’t a film that has a simple narrative but if you’re looking for an experience like none other, with stop motion animation rather than any form of digital trickery, this grotesque but spellbinding work from legendary visual effects supervisor Phil Tippett is for you!

Tippet’s film has been over 30 years in the making. He first started work on it in 1990 while doing the effects work on Robocop 2 but he shelved this passion project when he became convinced stop motion animation was dead while working with Steven Spielberg on Jurassic Park.

Years later, he was encouraged by members of his visual effects studio to commence work on Mad God and in 2021 he finally finished what he had begun all those many years ago.

It’s a good thing that he did as this is something of a technical marvel. While filmmakers are able to create many amazing worlds using CGI, there is still a place for the practical effects that once took precedence in the fantastical worlds that were put on screen.  These include the stop motion animation techniques that were made famous by Ray Harryhausen in such films as The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and Jason And The Argonauts although they actually date as far back as 1898 when cinema was still in its infancy.

Tippett was inspired by that aforementioned animator and you can see evidence of this in Mad God during scenes where beasts both large and small battle with one another. We can’t remember Harryahausen’s films featuring a great deal of blood and gore, however, unlike Tippett’s film which is literally overflowing with the stuff.

Visually, Mad God is a delight, albeit a nightmarish and grotesque one. Mangled bodies litter the war-torn wasteland, giant eyeballs peer out at the world around them with alarming regularity, and Tippett’s foul world is steeped in brown gunk and the guts of those that have been torn apart by those who have entrapped them. Aesthetically, this is one of the greatest depictions of hell ever put on film, and as bizarre and ugly as it is, you won’t be able to look away from it, as there is always something new and terrifying to behold around every dark and dirty corner.

In terms of the story, it’s a little hard to understand what is going on. It would appear that the gas mask-wearing assassin has been dropped into hell by his master (played by Alex Cox, one of only a few live-action performers in the film). He is presumably there to search for the crazed deity of the film’s title but the reason for this is a little unclear.

Not that this matters of course, as you shouldn’t come to this for any form of narrative cohesion. This is a film to be experienced for its visual mastery and not for its plotting so you should just settle down and strap yourself in for the harrowing ride.

This probably won’t be a film for everyone. If you are averse to scenes of torture, crawling maggots, and bodily fluids, you should probably steer clear. There are moments in Mad God that are extremely disturbing but if you are able to sit through and enjoy such films The Sadness and The Evil Dead there will be nothing to trouble you here.

Despite Phil Tippett’s assumption that stop motion animation was over, the technique has never really gone away. Wallace and Gromit can testify to that and so can such directors as Tim Burton and Wes Anderson who gave us Corpse Bride and Isle of Dogs respectively. Luckily for us, Tippett finally got around to finishing his magnum opus, presumably after realising stop motion still had its place, and if you have a Shudder subscription, you should definitely watch his film, provided you have the stomach for poo monsters and scenes of extended body horror.

Feel free to check out more of our movie reviews here!

  • Verdict - 7.5/10

Leave a comment