The Spine of Night (2021)

The Spine of NightOn 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.

 

The Spine of Night The Spine of Night The Spine of Night

 

 

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
IMDb: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt3885422/

 

 

Vanja Ghoul

 

 

 

No One Gets Out Alive (2021)

No One Gets Out AliveAmbar is a young woman who tries to move from Mexico and settle in Cleveland, Ohio, after her mother passes away. Unfortunately, she’s an undocumented immigrant, which makes it incredibly hard to find a job and a place to live. She works at an “under the table” job, with an asshole boss who treats her like shit because he knows she doesn’t have much of a choice. In a desperate search for some place to stay, she finds a dilapidated boarding house where the owner, Red, doesn’t care about asking any questions as long as one month’s rent is paid up front. Shortly after she moves in, she starts experiencing strange things and sees ghostly figures. Some of the rooms in the house is also filled with strange artifacts, as Red’s parents were archaeologists. And to top it all, Red’s got a mentally disturbed brother who acts in a threatening manner. And while she isn’t the only woman in the house as there’s also two other young women renting a room there, Ambar soon feel that the supernatural visions and the overall threatening atmosphere in the house is becoming a bit too much…

 

No One Gets Out Alive is a supernatural horror film from 2021, directed by Santiago Menghini and based on an Adam Nevill novel by the same name. It premiered on Netflix on 29 September 2021. Now, while I have read some of Adam Nevill’s books I haven’t read this one, so on that part I’m unable to make any comparisons. I think this movie is a little bit of a modern gothic horror, set in a gloomy mansion-like boarding house where ghostly apparitions fit well in with the interior, so to speak. It’s atmospheric and offers mysteries and tension, which are not all caused by the supernatural affairs. Ambar’s experience as a lost, lonely and desperate young woman in a place where she basically has no value, and constantly in a situation where others might take advantage of her without repercussions, adds to the feeling if despair and tension. Even when Ambar befriends one of her colleagues who promises to get her a fake ID, she just ends up getting robbed by this woman whom she thought would help her. If Ambar hadn’t been in a very despairing situation, I don’t think the underlying tension would have been quite as effective.

 

The movie also hints that it exists in the same universe as The Ritual, as a newscaster mentions the four lost hikers in the Swedish woods. The Ritual is another book by Nevill which had a movie adaption released in 2017, and is currently also available on Netflix. Just like in The Ritual, there’s a god-like monster here. It isn’t particularly well explained, but it is some kind of Aztec goodess named Itzpapaloyl, which actually means “clawed butterfly” or “obsidian butterfly”. In Aztec religion, Itzpapaloyl is a fearsome skeletal death goddess. And just like in The Ritual, the monster design and effects are neat and otherworldly to the max, even if their display time is minimal.

 

Overall, No One Gets Out Alive is gloomy and creepy, where the heroine’s problems are just as much related to financial and social problems than just the supernatural ones. While it certainly isn’t fast paced I didn’t ever find it boring, and consider it a pretty enjoyable watch.

 

No One Gets Out Alive No One Gets Out Alive

 

Director: Santiago Menghini
Writers: Jon Croker, Fernanda Coppel
Country & year: UK, 2021
Actors: Cristina Rodlo, Marc Menchaca, Vala Noren, Claudia Coulter, Teresa Banham, David Barrera, Alejandro Akara, David Figlioli, Cosmina Stratan
IMDb: www.imdb.com/title/tt13056008/

 

 

Vanja Ghoul

 

 

 

Willy’s Wonderland (2021)

Willy's WonderlandA quiet drifter finds himself in a situation where he’s stranded in an isolated little town. His car is in need of repairs, but he’s not able to pay for it…however, he gets an opportunity to pay for the expenses by spending a night in an abandoned family fun center called Willy’s Wonderland, by cleaning it from top to bottom and thus preparing it for its supposed re-opening. While locked inside the place, however, he finds himself in battle with a bunch of possessed animatronic mascots whose obvious intent is to rip him apart.

 

Willy’s Wonderland starring Nicolas Cage as the quiet/mute janitor, is a ridiculous yet entertaining horror movie, with a premise that probably rings some bells if you’ve ever heard about the game series Five Nights at Freddy’s (FNaF). While I haven’t personally played any of the games, it’s also about killer animatronics (although they only come alive at night) and a security guard that needs to survive the nights. Other than that there appear to be several differences, but since I haven’t played any of the games I can’t really delve too much into any of that.

 

Now, the plot itself is kind of ridiculous, but it actually works pretty well for a movie like this. Willy’s Wonderland, before its abandonment, was a typical Chuck E. Cheese type of restaurant aimed for children, with animatronics who would happily sing songs like Head, Shoulder Knees and Toes, and everything seemed to be all fun and pleasantries. Except that the place was run by a child killer, and the employees had the same urges as he did. When the police got on to what they’d been secretly doing at the place, that’s when all hell would break lose.

 

As for performances, Nic Cage is, well… Nic Cage, he pretty much plays himself and there’s nothing wrong with that. He doesn’t deliver a single line during the entire movie, and his lack of surprise towards the murderous animatronics (despite going in full Cage-Rage mode and smashing them to bits and pieces), somehow implies that he knows fully well what’s going on at the place, and can make you speculate whether he might be a a sibling to one of the children that were killed at the place in its hay-days, or something like that, and has seen it as his mission to take on the child killers once and for all. We don’t know anything about his character (not even his name), which makes you wonder if a sequel (or prequel) has ever been in the plans. The other characters provide decent performances as well, but everything is pretty much carried on Nic’s back. Now, as for the animatronics…they actually look pretty good, and were played by stunt people in costumes (with the exception of Ozzie the Ostrich, which was a puppet).

 

With some fun practical effects and a silly yet entertaining plot, Willy’s Wonderland is a campy cheese-fest filled with whimsy and blood spatter, and definitely not for people who want their entertainment to have a more serious tone, but pleasant enough for those of us who every now and then like to watch a movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s fun and cheesy, and sometimes, that’s enough.

 

Willy's Wonderland

 

Director: Kevin Lewis
Country & year: USA, 2021
Actors: Nicolas Cage, Emily Tosta, Beth Grant, Ric Reitz, Chris Warner, Kai Kadlec, Caylee Cowan, Jonathan Mercedes, Terayle Hill, Christian Delgrosso, David Sheftell, Jiri Stanek, Jessica Graves Davis, Taylor Towery, Chris Schmidt Jr., Christopher Bradley, Duke Jackson, Billy Bussey, BJ Guyer
IMDb: www.imdb.com/title/tt8114980/

 

Vanja Ghoul

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Resurrection Corporation (2021)

Resurrection CorporationDottor Caligari is an undertaker who finds himself in an existential crisis since no burials are taking place in the city anymore. Why? Because “Resurrection Corporation”, a company run by a man named Potriantow, has found a way to bring the dead back to life. Caligari and his companion Bruta, a loyal young woman whose heart is a clockwork-mechanism which Caligari himself has inserted into her, decide to find out more about Potriantow and his death-defying business who has turned Caligari’s life and ambitions upside down. They visit the castle of Potriantow’s supposed mentor, but soon find themselves facing unexpected dangers.

 

Resurrection Corporation is an indie black and white animated movie from Italy, which pays an inspiring homage to films like The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari, Nosferatu, Der Golem and Vampyr. The movie was completed in 2020, which fits perfectly with the 100th anniversary of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. It mixes Gothic expressionism with comedy, and oh boy, does it get crazy at times! The director, Alberto Genovese, is also behind a Troma-distributed film called Sick Sock Monsters From Outer Space, which from the trailer looks so mind-blowingly hilarious that we decided we just have to check it out sometime.

 

The animation is reminiscent of the South Park-style, which probably sounds a bit weird considering this is actually a pretty dark and atmospheric movie despite the comedic parts in it… but together with the more detailed and surreal backgrounds it actually fits pretty well. The voice acting is overall engaging and solid (we watched the Italian version). The protagonist, Dottor Caligari, is pretty much a very self-centered man who, to be honest, comes off as a bit of an asshole… in contrast to his companion Bruta, who comes off as the most sympathetic character in the whole movie. This does make for some interesting character interactions, and the viewing experience was anything but predictable.

 

Overall, Resurrection Corporation is a fun and unique ride, with amusing characters, a crazy plot, and a music score that together with the atmospheric graphics manages to set the tone in all the scenes. It is an inspired indie animated feature that pays homage to several black and white classics, while adding its own bizarre comedic elements.

 

Resurrection Corporation is currently available on streaming on Amazon (US and UK).

 

Resurrection Corporation Resurrection Corporation

 

Director: Alberto Genovese
Country & year: Italy, 2021
Voice actors: Antonio Amoruso, Alessandro Bianchi, Eliana Farinon Lazzarino, Erik Martini, Paola Masciadri, Marco Soldá
IMDb: www.imdb.com/title/tt9890120/

 

 

Vanja Ghoul

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prosjekt Z (2021)

Prosjekt Z

We’re in the 1980s somewhere in the Norwegian forests, where the young couple Rebecca and Thomas are on a car trip. They run over a dog, and assume that the owner lives in the old victorian-styled hotel not so far away. Rebecca takes on the task to enter the hotel, which seems to be abandoned at first glance. But a horde of zombies suddenly show up, with the transsexual zombie-hotel owner itself Mor Monsen (Mother Monsen). This is not really happening, by the way, we are at the beginning of a clunky student film called “De Døde Våkner” (The Dead Awakens) and we get a series of behind-the-scenes footage that documents the film shooting, that goes from chaotic to the brink of disaster, and a showcase of how the film industry may not be as glamorous as one might think.

 

We meet the insecure director Julie Lundgreen with a big ego who has her script carved in stone, and is constantly in a protecting mode of “her vision” while the film’s main character, Rebecca, played by Iben Akarlie, is a feminist who tries to persuade the director to skip the scene where she has a threesome with two zombies. Nearly everyone are obviously amateurs, and gets really starstruck when they hear that the veteran Dennis Storhøi, which is one of the biggest movie stars from Norway, will play the role of the transsexual zombie. It does not take long before he starts fighting with the film crew and makes the director cry, and realizes that this is way too amateurish for a serious movie star like him, while he strongly misses the good ole’ days. So what else can go wrong here? Of course, a meteor strikes right next to the filming location, that could have been something straight from Alien, and someone is stupid enough to stick his hand in it. Not a good idea..

 

So what exactly is this? Drama? Comedy? Horror? All of the three, I would say, plus some turbulent relationship drama and how crazy you have to be to make a film with a low budget, little resources and zero experience. Meta-film, as it is called, although it is more in the mockumentary territory with a clear inspiration from The Blair Witch Project. The Japanese One Cut of the Dead also comes to mind even though this is a completely different beast. This is far from a traditional horror film, and in fact the first of its kind that has been made in Norway which puts it in a unique light. The monster scenes are placed in the back seat where the focus is mostly on the chaotic film-making, which may be a disappointment for some. What makes the film work so well is the dysfunctional relationship between the characters, and surprisingly good acting with dialogues and a dynamic that seem both organic and natural, while the line between fiction and reality gets somewhat unclear.

 

Prosjekt Z

 

There are many fun moments here, especially the scenes where the stressed director goes into full Stanley Kubrick mode and wears out the actors with an x-​​number of takes till they act badly just on purpose to taunt her. And Dennis Storhøi as the more eccentric version of himself made me laugh several times. Unlike the role he plays, he seems to really have a blast in Project Z and is one of the main reasons I will re-watch this movie several times. The only thing that does not work as well, is the ending, which seemed a bit anti-climatic.

 

Technically, the film looks really good. It’s limited with shaky-cam, which is a plus, and the aesthetic with the victorian-like surroundings gets a lot of room to shine, thanks to steady cinematography by Oskar Dahlsbakken, the brother of the director, Henrik Martin Dahlsbakken. The older audiences will also appreciate the fact that “The Dead Awakens” segments are filmed in the old-school way at 35mm, while the documentary is shot digitally in various formats. Considering that director Dahlsbakken can make two films a year, completely independently and outside the studio system, one could expect some direct-to-DVD cheapness, but it’s surprisingly competent. And the guy seems to have a good sense of humor and the ability to mix genres without it getting muddy. So yeah, it will be interesting to see what he does next. And as we speak he is already in post-production with his next horror film titled “Possession” which seems to go in a far more serious direction. I’m already excited.

 

Prosjekt Z

 

Director: Henrik Martin Dahlsbakken
Country & year: Norway, 2021
Actors: Eili Harboe, Vebjørn Enger, Iben Akerlie, Dennis Storhøi, Ole Christoffer Ertvaag, Alfred Ekker Strande, Regina Tucker, Jonis Josef, Arthur Berning, Alexandra Gjerpen, Laila Goody, Benjamin Helstad
IMDb: www.imdb.com/title/tt11444644/

 

Tom Ghoul