Phil Tippett is one of the pioneers in the field of stop motion animation having worked on Robocop, Star Wars, Starship Troopers and Jurassic Park. It is a varied and long career; his skills have won him Emmys and Oscars. But it is unlikely that any of them will prepare the viewer for Mad Dog which is a personal project of more than 30 years.

Opening with a quote from Leviticus, an assassin, wearing a gas mask and tough protective clothing, with a briefcase is lowered in a diving bell through several levels of bizarre structures, which include giant skulls and other very strange shapes.

The assassin ends up landing in a nightmarish world, which recalls and brings to life the sculptures of the Chapman Brothers’ hellish landscapes. These landscapes are populated by mutated creatures, who fight among themselves, dominate and abuse each other. Misery and cruelty are all that surrounds the assassin as he journeys on his mission.

Reaching the target, his explosives fail. He is captured and taken to a place where the killer (and others) are operated on (tortured) until the thing they are looking for is found and placed in the hands of a nurse (Niketa Roman) and the viewer is taken to another strand of this very strange world and story.

A mad god as beautiful as it is grotesque struggles to be totally coherent in a narrative sense. There are early images of characters being created just to do chores, until they die on the job or are killed. It doesn’t matter much more where they come from. It could be an allusion to the painful everyday life and exploitation. Just as the captured and eviscerated assassin is soon replaced by another, by an overlord played by Alex Cox.

Less abstract are the references to 2001: A Space Odyssey with big crashing and crashing black monoliths, some kind of stargate experiment and a baby. It certainly looks in style and imagination rather than substance. But what incredible style and imagination as Tippett brings his singular ideas to the screen through stop-motion, live-action and animation to tell this dark story.

It’s relentlessly dark and depressing, save for a few moments when the film bursts into gorgeous color hinting at optimism, only for hope to be dashed and cruelly cast aside, sending the viewer back into the pit. Mad God is definitely a unique experience that deserves to be shown on the big screen.

Mad God will be on Shudder starting June 16, 2022.