“The Spine of Night” – A Deep and Visually Fascinating Piece of Dark Fantasy/Horror

Knowledge is a powerful tool and those who wield can either do so with good or ill intent.  Promote it and a society can elevate, hoard and gate-keep it and a single person can grow too powerful.  It is this very idea that Shudder’s latest exclusive film, The Spine of Night seeks to explore.

Far from your typical animated film, The Spine of Night is violent, dark, definitely inappropriate for children, but also beautiful and poetic in its own way.

Cold, Dark World
Opening up in a vast wilderness, we meet a witch named Tzod (voiced by Lucy Lawless) as she meets The Guardian (voiced by Richard E. Grant) on a mountain, and she tells the stories of a mythical dark power over the generations, and how it can be used for both evil and good.  While not an outright anthology, the movie’s 90 minute runtime does feel like a collection of smaller vignettes and storylines that are strung together by Tzod’s overarching narrative.

Spine of Night cover
Tzod is a mysterious character at first, but she gets more interesting and relatable as the movie goes on.

Each one tells of a violent fantasy world in which knowledge is manipulated by those in power, and how they keep people down using it.  Unlike a lot of other fantasy, Spine of Night doesn’t dwell too much on its own world-building.  Rather, it drops us off right in the middle of this universe and it’s easier than you’d think to catch up and become immersed.

You don’t walk away feeling like you fully understand this world, but it does keep the audience engaged with its variety of stories and characters and seemingly switch out every 20-30 minutes.

Spine of Night 4
We meet different characters across different times, but none of them are boring.

Unique Style
Animation for adults is unfortunately a rather limited market.  There’s an unwarranted bias that animation is strictly for children.  Comedies like South Park, The Simpsons, as well as most of Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim lineup got a free pass because they were satirical so people were more accepting of the medium.

Spine of Night 5
To be fair, this movie has its share of humor with Patton Oswalt voicing Lord Pyrantin. He’s a villain that’s whiny and selfish, and you can tell he’s just having fun with the role.

But aside from anime, adult animation drama isn’t usually taken seriously, but it’s done absolutely brilliantly in this film.  The animation itself has a smooth movement style of the characters with gorgeous backdrops that look like paintings.  For those familiar with Ralph Baskhi’s 1978 Lord of the Rings film, this style will feel both familiar and comforting.

It’s every bit as epic as something like Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones, and the animation certainly doesn’t hold it back.  If anything, the fact that it’s animated allows the intense violence, gore, and visual effects to blend seamlessly because there’s no real footage to make CGI stand out.

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Some of these backgrounds look like beautiful paintings.

It has all the blood, gore (and nudity) you’d expect from a hard R movie or show.  Hell, Tzod is pretty much naked the entire movie, which again would be more of a challenge if hiring an actress to play the role live action.

The Power of Knowledge
At its core, The Spine of Night reinforces the concept of just how powerful knowledge can be.  The movie shows us despots and Necromancers trying to keep knowledge for themselves, in order to keep others down.  Granted, the “knowledge” in question deals with magic and sorcery, but it’s a very real metaphor for the way that governments would restrict access to education to keep people docile.

Prior to the Protestant Reformation, the Catholic Church seriously restricted literacy in order to prevent common people from reading the Bible, that way they could tell the public whatever they wanted.  The same occurred much later during the abysmal days of American slavery.

It was illegal to teach slaves to read, because doing so might lead to them organizing and uprising.  Even today, how many shady employers do all they can to prevent their employees from knowing labor laws that are there to prevent them from being exploited?

Spine of Night 2
There are two types of societies, those that value the welfare of their leaders and those in power, and those that value the welfare of the people.

So when we have a certain Necromancer who’s determined to keep the magic to himself and kill all the villagers who rise up against him, it’s based in a very real history of human behavior.  It seeks to demonstrate how even a dark fantasy horror movie set in some other world can be incredibly relatable.

The Spine of Night boasts absolutely beautiful animation that is both creative and visually interesting.  It’s deep in its symbolism, while also visceral in its approach.  It’s one of the most unique and memorable Shudder exclusives of the past year!

What did you think of The Spine of Night?  What are some of your favorite campy horror movies?  Let us know in the comments!

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