Lagniappe Podcast: Mad God (2022) & The Overlook Film Festival

For this lagniappe episode of the podcast, Boomer, Brandon, and guest Bill Arceneaux discuss a selection of high-style, high concept horror films that screened at this year’s Overlook Film Fest, starting with Phil Tippett’s psychedelic stop-motion nightmare Mad God (2022).

00:00 Welcome

01:50 Mad God (2022)

29:15 The Overlook Film Festival
35:20 Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon (2022)
44:05 Nosfera2 (2022)
1:01:31 Deadstream (2022)
1:15:22 Swallowed (2022)
1:27:57 Hypochondriac (2022)
1:33:22 Piggy (2022)
1:37:53 Flux Gourmet (2022)

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– The Lagniappe Podcast Crew

The Overlook Film Festival 2022, Ranked & Reviewed

The sudden appearance of The Overlook Film Festival on the local scene in 2018 & 2019 was an unholy, unexpected blessing. There are only a few substantial film fests staged in New Orleans every year, so for an international festival with world premieres of Big Deal horror movies to land in our city was a major boon. It was almost too good to be true, so after a couple off years of COVID-related delays, I was worried The Overlook might not make it back to the city. But here we are again, praise the Dark Lord.

Two dozen features and just as many shorts screened at the festival over the course of a single weekend in early June. It was overwhelming. Self-described as “a summer camp for genre fans,” The Overlook was centrally located, corralling almost all of its screenings to the new Prytania Theatres location at Canal Place. It was wonderful to attend this unbelievably cool genre extravaganza again, especially after two years of seeing their incredibly sharp programming talents get absorbed by the online-only Nighstream festival.

Listed below are all nine features I caught at The Overlook Film Festival that weekend, ranked in the order that I most appreciated them, each with a blurb and a link to a corresponding review. For a more detailed recap of our festival experience beyond these reviews, check out the next Lagniappe episode of The Swampflix Podcast, where I will be discussing the fest in full with local critic Bill Arceneaux.

Mad God

Phil Tippett’s stop-motion passion project is both a for-its-own-sake immersion in scatological mayhem & an oddly touching reflection on the creative process, the indifference of time, and the cruelty of everything.  It’s meticulously designed to either delight or irritate, so count me among the awed freaks who never wanted the nightmare to end.

Flux Gourmet

David Cronenberg isn’t the only auteur fetishist who’s returned to his early works to construct a new fantasy world overrun by grotesque performance art.  This feels like Peter Strickland revising Berberian Sound Studio to bring it up to speed with the more free-flowing absurdism he’s achieved since.  The result is not quite as silly as In Fabric nor as sensual as The Duke of Burgundy, but it hits a nice sweet spot in-between.

Deadstream

A found footage horror comedy about an obnoxious social media influencer getting his cosmic comeuppance while livestreaming his overnight tour of a haunted house.  This was a constantly surprising delight, getting huge laughs out of supernaturally torturing a YouTuber smartass with a sub-Ryan Reynolds sense of humor.  It effectively does for Blair Witch what Host did for Unfriended, borrowing its basic outline to stage a chaotic assemblage of over-the-top, technically impressive horror gags.

Good Madam

I will be interested to compare this with Nanny once that makes its way to the general public, since both films revisit Ousmane Sembene’s Black Girl through a supernatural horror lens.  Considered on its own, this is perfectly chilling & sharply political, pushing past an easy metaphor about a house being haunted by apartheid to dig into some surprisingly complicated, heartbreaking familial drama.

Piggy

Not enough people have seen The Reflecting Skin for the comparison to mean anything, so let’s call this Welcome to the Dollhouse for the Instagram era.  A bullied outsider’s coming-of-age horror story accelerated by a cathartic, torturous team-up with the neighborhood serial killer.  It’s made entirely of pre-existing genre building blocks, but it still feels freshly upsetting & perversely fun in the moment.

Swallowed

Low-budget queer body horror about a drug deal gone horrifically wrong, featuring sharp supporting performances from Jena Malone & Mark Patton.  Has some great squirmy little practical gore gags that keep the tension high throughout, but I was most thrilled just to see a harrowing queer story that wasn’t about coming out or gaybashing.  Even more thrilled to see a movie where fisting (almost) saves the day.

Hypochondriac

Queer psych-horror about a potter who’s being hunted down by his childhood trauma, represented by a Halloween costume wolf (halfway between the Donnie Darko bunny & The Babadook, except the monster wolfs ass).  More charming than scary, but judging by the “Based on a real breakdown” title card it’s coming from such a personal place that it’s easy to root for.

Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon

What if Harmony Korine had to be less choosy with his projects and settled for making a straight-to-Shudder Gen-Z update of Carrie?  It’s certainly a step up from The Bad Batch, but I’m not convinced Ana Lily Amirpour has lived up to the potential of her debut yet.  Smart programming for the opening night of Overlook Film Fest either way, since it’s steeped in plenty of Nawlins Y’all flavor to acclimate the tourists.

Watcher

A little too lacking in scene-to-scene tension & overall novelty for the fourth Rear Window riff of the past year (bested by Kimi & The Voyeurs in those rankings, surpassing only The Woman in the Window).  Still, I appreciate the icy mood it echoes from post-Hitchcock Euro horrors of the 1970s, and the ending is almost enough of a shock to make up for the dead air. 

-Brandon Ledet

Mad God (2022)

By the time Phil Tippett’s stop-motion freak show Mad God closed this year’s Overlook Film Festival, it was up against a towering wall of anticipation – not just from over the weekend but from decades of production delay.  The finished product was very divisive in the room.   It was my favorite movie I saw all festival, while the lovely chap I was chatting with in line on the way in said it was his absolute worst.  Teasing out his reasons for despising it, it sounded like he experienced Mad God purely as a for-its-own sake immersion in scatological mayhem, with no meaning or emotion behind its non-stop, nonsensical gore gags.  He also had no idea what the movie was about or how it was made before the screening started, other than it was one of the more hyped titles on the program.  Knowing Mad God’s backstory as an abandoned project from the early 90s that was recently completed through horror nerd crowdfunding on Kickstarter, I found it to be an oddly touching reflection on the creative process, the indifference of time, and the cruelty of everything.  We’re probably both at least a little bit right.

There’s no spoken dialogue in Mad God, nor is there a discernible narrative.  It’s a movie built entirely on nightmare logic, where one bizarre event mutates into another with no strict reasoning behind the progression. It’s mostly an animated experiment in scale.  A faceless soldier with no discernible personality or inner life follows his mysterious master’s marching orders to explore a post-apocalyptic hellscape populated by specimen-jar freaks of all shapes & sizes.  It’s like the unexplained, awesomely scaled Space Jockey reveal in 1979’s Alien repeated over & over again as our faceless, soulless protagonist explores dank hellpits populated by grotesque monstrosities big & small.  The scale of these hideous creatures’ violence also varies wildly, from petty squabbles over who has to shovel the shit of the bigger monsters that tower above them to real-life footage of nuclear blasts.  Phil Tippett did not work on the special effects for Alien, but he did work on other beloved genre classics like Star Wars, Robocop, and Starship Troopers.  If Mad God is “about” anything in particular, it’s about displaying the full dark magic of what his stop-motion wizardry can do on-screen.  The clay soldier is more of a starting point than a proper protagonist, as the movie has more to say about Tippett’s adventures in the industry than it does that disposable, replaceable explorer.

The story goes that Tippett began working on Mad God while doing the animated effects for Robocop 2 in the early 90s.  When he was subsequently hired for special effects work on Jurassic Park, he was convinced that the stop-motion medium was an inevitable dead end, soon to be replaced by animatronic sculpture & CGI.  The project was then shelved for three decades until younger collaborators in love with his traditionalist techniques convinced Tippett to complete the abandoned project.  Smartly, he appears to have left the original, shot-on-film footage from the project’s early days mostly untouched.  The first half is like a lost artifact from an era when artists like Dave McKean, the Quay Brothers, and Jan Švankmajer ruled over a steampunk hellworld that’s since been paved over by brightly lit computer graphics.  The original footage ends with the clay explorer being decommissioned & dismantled, and we cut to modern digital footage of fellow genre filmmaker Alex Cox (as a wizardly Tippett surrogate) plucking an identical, soulless soldier from his vast, unanimated supply to send on another mission in new dank hellpits with new grotesque monsters haunting them – now in crisp HD.  Tippett marks the passage of time between these bifurcated segments with repeated images of clocks, candles, death, and rebirth.  In the tension between its two parts, it becomes a self-reflective story about the resilience of personal creativity.  As an artist he has no choice but to keep sending his little soldiers out into the cruel world, hoping one of them one day completes their mission.

Mad God is meticulously designed to either delight or irritate.  It’s especially grating in its soundtrack’s relentless use of crying babies & ticking clocks, making a large contingent of the audience wish the term “Silent Cinema” was literal.  You can count me among the awed freaks in the room who never wanted the nightmare to end, though, especially since I doubt I’ll ever have the chance to see it projected on the big screen again.  Catching Mad God at Overlook was vital, even though it will soon be streaming on Shudder in a more accessible, affordable presentation.  I don’t know that I’d have the mental willpower to watch the entire runtime without glancing at my phone when it’s available to stream at home, but in that theater I was outright mesmerized.  It’s a spell that doesn’t work on everyone, but it’s a powerful source of creative dark magic if you can open yourself up to it.  Knowing the backstory of how it was made might be an essential part of that receptiveness, but it’s a stunning work of visual art no matter the context.

-Brandon Ledet