Phil Tippett’s Mad God
It’s hard to say what is more shocking about Phil Tippett’s Mad God, a savage feature that has been called the most graphic movie ever made. Is it Tippett’s view of human nature, his non-verbal characters, or that the film started production in 1987, years before many of us were even born?
Written back when MTV was still cool and the New York Knicks were still relevant, Mad God is a true passion project, a movie that has been tinkered with and mulled over more times than most great paintings. Though the picture has evolved over time, it’s very much remained the same in terms of what it’s trying to do and how it’s trying to do it.
Make no mistake, this is the work of someone who knows exactly what lane they’re in, and that their lane is essentially a highway to hell.
Our guide on this journey is a man whose face is hidden behind a mask. His wardrobe of metal, rubber and leather might remind some of a certain comic, but make no mistake, his descent into the pits of fire and brimstone is no laughing matter.
The people who populate this world are tortured in ways that would make even Dante turn a blind eye. They are squashed by rollers, eaten by lizards, zapped by lasers, burned by fires and gutted by doctors who use their intestines as currency. Just when you think things couldn’t get any worse, a sign on the turnpike says “New Jersey.” Not really… but you get the point.
This is a series of vignettes that make up a demonic mosaic. As the man walks to his final destination, stunning landscapes of nuclear destruction make way for intricate mazes of bone and dust. Scenes of slaughter take place in the shadows, a food chain is run by scientists, monsters are given boners, breasts and smaller monsters to feed on, and our hero is given a briefcase to blow up a naked minotaur. Altogether, this world seems populated by every creature Tippett wasn’t allowed to use on Star Wars or Jurassic Park.
With brilliant use of space, sound, and design, he maintains an almost unbearable sense of dread throughout Mad God, until he unleashes a parade of monsters seemingly intended to serve his narrative. It’s just that it’s never clear what that narrative is, with its dragons and zombies and babies being torn to shreds.
Tippet poses questions about the ramifications of work and hierarchy, rattling the audience with bone-chilling images and bone-crunching gags. But he doesn’t manage to shake out any coherent answers, which is a detriment only because he seems to be trying to say something.
However, the seedy underworld keeps us invested every step of the way. There’s a reason this took 30 years to make: every detail is remarkably, miserably alive. 3.5/5