If you’re anything like me, cartoons made specifically to fuck you up mentally are the best kind. Everyone’s nostalgic for sorrow! I don’t know if that’s true, but damned if it didn’t make your spooky little ears perk up. Somewhere mid-between the existential crisis of The Last Unicorn, and the heavy metal kickassery of Mandy, lies The Spine of Night.
“…a cartoon for gorehounds.”
Written and directed by Philip Gelatt and Morgan Galen King, The Spine of Night immerses audiences in a dystopian, medieval-ish universe where the sword does most of the fighting.. and the talking.. and it talks a lot. Our entry point is Tzod (Lucy Lawless, Ash vs. Evil Dead the Series), an earthen, pagan-like ‘Bog Witch’ who lives on the outskirts of society with her followers. Unlike the egos of the kings and men around her, Tzod cares about balance, utilizing her leafy brand of magic – a blue floral wreath called the ‘bloom’ – to practice.
But once these men- particularly Lord Pyrantin (Patton Oswalt, Dude Bro Party Massacre III), his right-hand Mongrel (Joe Manganiello, HBO’s True Blood) scholar Ghal-sur (Jordan Douglas Smith), and the Prophet of Doom (Larry Fessenden, Jakob’s Wife), set eyes upon her magical bloom – greed and envy take over. Thus sparking an epic journey across time, exploring humankind’s obsession with power, knowledge, and control.
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While Tzod’s journey bookends within The Spine of Night, the film spans eras with villains and heroes alike. Like a relay race of good-and-evil, Tzod’s plight passes hands through time to noble scholar Phae-Agura (Betty Gabriel, The Purge: Election Year), a doomed peasant couple, a trio of birdlike rebels Falconhawk (Tom Lipinski, Snowpiercer Series), Sparrowcrow (Nina Lisandrello), and Kestelwren (Abigail Savage, Orange is the New Black), and The Guardians – the original keepers of the very magical flower The Spine of Night players covet so.
The mysterious but grounded Tzod is voiced to perfection by a raspy Lucy Lawless, who has reigned queen supreme in the fantasy genre since Xena: Warrior Princess when it premiered in 1995. She’s joined by the soothing and calming sounds of Betty Gabriel, whose voice previously lulled us directly to our doom in Jordan Peele’s Get Out (2018). The final vocal standout is ancient Guardian, voiced by Richard E. Grant’s velvety British croon; a Croon you’ll likely remember from big baddie Barkus Bittern in Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride (2005).
And thought Spine of Night is an animated, two-dimensional epic, believe me when I tell you this movie is gory. The violent action scenes are depicted with depth and are rendered viscerally. Heads will fly, wounds will split open, and things will ..splay out.. all about the screen. This is a cartoon for gorehounds. Though fantasy films have their fair share of bloodshed, few delight in it to the level of The Spine of Night.
“Though fantasy films have their fair share of bloodshed, few delight in it to the level of The Spine of Night.”
Perhaps only missing a few shrill licks of an electric guitar, The Spine of Night is a fantastical fight for power through the eras, one that delights in visceral gore and violence. …Actually, now that I’ve written it out, that actually might be more heavy metal than a standalone guitar lick.
The Spine of Night celebrated its World Premiere at the 2021 SXSW Film Festival. RLJE Films will be releasing the film in theaters later this year and Shudder will premiere the film on its platform in 2022. Click HERE to follow our full coverage of the festival and be sure to let us know if you’re excited to check out this gory epic over on Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, and in the official Nightmare on Film Street Discord. Not a social media fan? Get more horror delivered straight to your inbox by joining the Neighbourhood Watch Newsletter.