I loved The Spine Of Night, and I’m not afraid to admit it satisfied my inner thirteen-year-old boy with plenty of violence and full frontal nudity.
Those of a certain age will remember fondly the ’80s fever dream that was Heavy Metal. Many a night was spent hidden away in a darkened room after nervously renting the boob-forward wet dream of power ballads and sex juices. Ralph Bakshi’s hallucinatory adult cartoons were cut from a similar cloth. The Spine Of Night feels like the sweatier cousin of Bakshi’s animation. I mean that in the best way possible, as the former was one step away from being animated porn, and the latter is so stoner-friendly you can’t help but pop a gummy just thinking about them. The lovechild of cowriter and directors Philip Gelatt and Morgan Galen King is indulgent, bombastic, ridiculously gory, and an awesome reminder of what these kinds of movies can and should be.
The beauty of The Spine Of Night is the visual style, and adolescent moodiness we have come to expect is put to good use. A parade of scantily clad or buck-naked characters and a familiar theme make it a delightful throwback. Tzod, a gloriously throated Lucy Lawless having the time of her life, is a swamp witch who is our entry into this fevered world and the narrator of our story. She first appears determined and naked, climbing a snowy mountain oblivious to the weather. Then, through a series of somewhat disjointed memories, she tells The Guardian a weary and wise Richard E. Grant what happened to the Bloom.
The mystical blue flower is both the destruction of man and its salvation. Seeds of chaos reign down more often than seeds of peace but so is life. Like most metaphors for power and knowledge, corruptable people are always corrupted. The tricky balance between withholding information and resources for society’s safety and a megalomaniac’s self-interest is always precarious. Tzod has ventured to this unforgiving place to balance the scales of good and evil once more. Her altruistic quest is contrasted with that of ruthless leaders, cruel tyrants, and a scant few brave heroes.
There’s a horny rebelliousness that speaks of adolescent curiosity and deeper life truths. You don’t have to understand exactly what is happening all the time. You also don’t need to look for the artsy value in this nod to rotoscopic animation greats to enjoy it. The Spine Of Night is the type of movie that encourages you to let your freak flag fly with or without wearing a fetish mask. It’s that type of bonkers ascetic that makes it a must-see.
The script reads like the best of a D & D game from that one gamemaster everyone knew you got the best shrooms from. They were that person who always wrote the weirdest, horniest stories that didn’t always make the most sense but was the most fun to play. Lines like, “I will spread her open and take what I want from her” are delivered with grandiose seriousness to enthusiastic ears. Some voice talent is more committed than others, but Lawless and Betty Gabriel(Phae-Agura) are standouts. Gabriel’s librarian turned warrior is a creamy voice of sensitive reason among an increasingly power-mad faction.
The best of the sagas is Phae-Aguras, whose story is a cautionary tale of classicism, tyranny, and ignorance. She works for the powerful Pantheon, who withhold knowledge and food uniformly. The message is clear. There will always be those who are privileged and those who are not. We are doomed to take advantage of those less fortunate and try to control those we deem inferior. Her plight speaks to the best and worst of humanity. We are inherently flawed, and only hope can shine a light in that dark corner of despair and evil. A cosmic blue-eyed Pinhead who wants to rule the world, ripping souls apart one by one, is a worthy adversary for Tzod with his giant chest eye and entirely too self-serious tirades.
While not all the color palette choices and voice talent are ideal, what The Spine Of Night does well is near perfection. It shines when bodies are being torn in two and blood is spurting. When blood flows out of cleaved body parts like grotesque rivers of magical viscera, nostalgia takes over. There is a nonchalance to the violence that refuses to be cowed. For these people in this world, death, in the most brutal of ways, is part of life. It is expected, embraced even with a reverence that is as obscene as it is necessary. Although the moral of The Spine Of Night warns against greed, the constant onslaught of brains, guts, and sinew lures you away from more complicated endeavors.
Like Tzod says at the end, “My story simply is”. So ignore the messier pieces and sometimes too-loose narrative, and enjoy the ride. Like an impromptu Rush dance party that ends in a weird round of strip poker, some things are best experienced without commentary or expectation. It doesn’t have to be that deep or that sensical to be enjoyable. The Spine Of Night simply is. It may not shock you with its hormonal sexuality or make you titter with uncomfortable laughter like those strange hard fantasy harbingers of what fantasy could be, but it will remind you why you loved them in the first place.
The Spine Of Night is streaming on Shudder right now.
As the Managing Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre entertainment. I grew up with old-school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. My work can be found here and Travel Weird, where I am the Editor in Chief.