Through dark clouds it descends, a diving bell with a single passenger, lowered from unseen levels above and fired upon by heavy artillery in barbed wire emplacements, dropping down through ammonite encrusted caverns and oozing fossil beds to a pit of fallen idols, the explorer in his gas mask and heavy-duty hazard suit disembarking to begin his quest.
A ruined landscape populated by forlorn creatures in cages and dolls with pleading eyes, a no-mans’ land of the damned, elsewhere pulsating organs, moist and hungry, seek nutrients while mechanised muscles pump, and shambling, half-formed serfs are sacrificed to the machines they serve even as they toil, raking ash and erecting blank monoliths, serving an unknown purpose in the name of the Mad God.
Conceived by special effects maestro Phil Tippett, known for his contributions to Star Wars, RoboCop, Jurassic Park and Starship Troopers to name but a few, this is the world of the Mad God, a project begun in 1987 and worked upon piecemeal until 2020, the nightmarish hellscape of a collapsed empire of war of monstrous scope, its dark genius celebrated with a UK premiere at the Edinburgh International Film Festival.
Set against a darkened architecture of skull and bone and decaying industrial waste created primarily with stop-motion animation with occasional live action performances including Repo Man’s Alex Cox as a shamanic figure who directs his followers through their dark devotions of experimentation on live subjects.
The sparse dialogue unintelligible and the narrative tenuous, through the sensory overload and shadowed ruins patterns emerge from the apparent chaos, and characters recognisable by their masks if not their hidden faces recur as they shuffle, the aftermath of some terrible destruction, gargantuan viral particles eliminating the population at a touch while elsewhere creatures to give Lewis Carroll nightmares enjoy their tea party.
A parade of distorted, deformed and deranged figures which would cause Mary Whitehouse to have palpitations marching to the tune of Terry Gilliam at his most vicious, the workhouse of the Mad God is a stunning technical achievement, from the searchlights scanning the smoke filled skies to the textures of the glistening walls and the screaming, writhing parasite which might be the adult form of the Eraserhead baby, culminating in a vision of cosmic creation and downfall: if 2001 was “the ultimate trip,” this is the ultimate bad trip.