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The Spine of Night (2021) Review

The Spine of Night opens with a nude woman struggling to make her way up a snowy mountain. She is Tzod (Lucy Lawless, Xena: Warrior Princess, Spartacus) and it’s not clear whether the climb or the weight of her enormous breasts is the reason for her exhaustion. She enters a cave shaped like a skull and approaches a glowing blue flower, The Bloom.

Before she can take it she’s approached by the masked, sword-wielding Guardian (Richard E. Grant, Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker, Palm Beach) who warns her that mankind isn’t ready for The Bloom. She informs him that man has already been exposed to it and tells him of the effects it’s had. Beginning with how her own land was conquered by Lord Pyrantin (Patton Oswalt, Eternals, Freaks of Nature) and the warlord Mongrel (Joe Manganiello, True Blood, Sabotage).

Rather than using modern animation techniques, The Spine of Night was filmed using rotoscoping where live-action footage is traced over to produce the final animated product. It was used in the 70s and 80s by Ralph Bakshi in films like Fire and Ice and Lord of the Rings, both of which were inspirations for this film. While it may look crude to some it’s a complex and time-consuming process, as a result, it took seven years for The Spine of Night to be completed.

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Writer/directors Philip Gelatt (They Remain, Gray Matter) and Morgan Galen King based their script on King’s only other film, the short Exordium, and expanded it in the style of another vintage animated fantasy, Heavy Metal. Just as it was a collection of stories illustrating man’s interactions with the Loc-Nar throughout history, The Spine of Night is a series of tales showing how The Bloom has affected humanity.

And, also like Heavy Metal, the individual segments vary widely in terms of quality. The stories range across a span of centuries from what seems like the Middle Ages to a Steampunk-styled world complete with flying, or at least gliding, assassins. The problem is, that they frequently feel like they’re just there to serve as a framework to hang a constant stream of violent sequences on. Probably because that is what they are.

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The Spine of Night is an incredibly violent film with a very dismal view of humans as a species. The result is a constant stream of battles, tortures, betrayals, and bloody death in general. Heads and limbs are sliced off, hearts ripped out, faces burnt off, and that’s just a partial list of the carnage. There’s also plenty of animated nudity, male and female, on display as well. This is very much an adult fantasy.

Regular readers will know I have no problems with blood and breasts, even in large quantities. The problem I had with The Spine of Night, apart from the weak scripting, is its depressing tone. Since the only character to appear in all the segments is the villain Ghal-Sur (Jordan Douglas Smith) the overall tone is very downbeat as the segments leading up to the wraparound’s resolution end with evil triumphant and anyone who is the least bit likable meeting a nasty end.

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The Spine of Night lacks a strong hero and sense of bloody fun that the best films of its kind, such as Conan, The Sword and the Sorcerer, or The Beastmaster have. There are just endless scenes of good people dying at the hands of an evil ruler and his army. It’s great to see a film made using classic animation rather than something done by a computer. But The Spine of Night doesn’t really do justice to the technique. I commend Gelatt and King for sticking to their vision and making the film they wanted, but their vision didn’t really work for me.

The Spine of Night will be available exclusively to stream on Shudder starting on Thursday, March 24th. As a Shudder exclusive, the platform will be the only subscription service that will carry the film in the U.S., Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand. And if you’re looking for something similar, try FilmTagger.

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