On a snowy mountain, the witch-queen Tzod is ascending to the peak in order to confront the guardian of the mystic flower known as “The Bloom”. Tzod starts telling the guardian about the events that led her there, and how her people were killed by a young tyrant, Lord Pyrantin, who captured her together with a renegade scholar named Ghal-Sur. She is coerced into showing Pyrantin some of the powers of the Bloom, but ends up blowing the blue flame in his face causing him to become irreversibly damaged. Both she and Ghal-Sur is then thrown into prison, where she uses the power of the Bloom to help them escape. In the events that follow, Ghal-Sur murders her and steals the Bloom from her, wanting its power for himself. He eventually becomes another tyrant, creating war machines to expand his conquest. As the story progresses, the mysteries about the Bloom and the truth behind its power gets revealed.
The Spine of Night is an animated fantasy horror movie directed by Philip Gelatt and Morgan Galen King, who also wrote the script. The film used rotoscope animation, which is a technique where artists hand-draw over live-action footage. This technique was also used in several of the early Disney movies, like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Cinderella and Alice in Wonderland. Most notably in more recent animated features for an older audience, Ralph Bakshi used this technique and the creators of this movie drew inspiration from his work, especially the 1983 film Fire and Ice. The animation process took seven years, and just a few weeks before the premiere at South by Southwest things almost went south (no pun intended) when the entire film was almost lost when King’s Microsoft Windows auto-updated while he slept. I guess this meant a lack up backups, and it makes me shudder just to think about such a close call for disaster. Fortunately, nothing was lost and the film released as planned.
What makes The Spine of Night an interesting and mesmerizing experience, is not just the visuals with the nostalgic old-school animation technique and the beautiful backgrounds, but also the tale of myths, magic and violence. And the latter comes in abundance, there’s so much gore and death here that it’s a shame no one’s made a kill-count video on YouTube yet. People are cut in half with swords, limbs are severed, bodies melted by lava, and loads and loads of blood and carnage. The voice actors also did a great job bringing life to the characters, and the soundtrack greatly enhance the mood. With the story being told backwards and from different times and with different characters, we get a variation of areas where the latter part of the movie even had some steampunk-vibes to it. The dark fantasy and mythological elements gives of a bit of Conan-vibes, and it’s clear that the creators have found their inspirations from a variation of dark fantasy and earlier animation features like the aforementioned Fire and Ice, and Heavy metal from 1981.
Overall, The Spine of Night is a very good throwback to the old-school animation style and techniques, with lots of bloodshed and interesting, sometimes even trippy, visuals. The Blu-ray also included two animated shorts plus a “Making Of”, which showed us several of the live-action scenes that were shot with a variation of props and costumes made out of cardboard. Despite all the hard work that was obviously put into this, it looked like they had a ton of fun!
In 2021, RLJE Films together with Shudder acquired the rights for the movie, and aside from being available for streaming on Shudder it is also available on Blu-ray.
Writers and directors: Philip Gelatt, Morgan Galen King
Country & year: UK, US, 2021
Voice actors: Richard E. Grant, Lucy Lawless, Patton Oswalt, Betty Gabriel, Joe Manganiello, Patrick Breen, Larry Fessenden, Jason Gore, Maggie Lakis, Tom Lipinski, Nina Lisandrello, Rob McClure, Malcolm Mills