Combustible Celluloid
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With: Lucy Lawless, Richard E. Grant, Patton Oswalt, Betty Gabriel, Joe Manganiello, Jordan Douglas Smith, Larry Fessenden
Written by: Philip Gelatt, Morgan Galen King
Directed by: Philip Gelatt, Morgan Galen King
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 93
Date: 10/29/2021

The Spine of Night (2021)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Bloom and Bust

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This not-for-kids animated sci-fi gorefest makes up for its wooden storytelling with its wild visuals, its old-timey Rotoscope animation (both fluid and creepy), and its all-out, unchecked insanity.

A swamp witch, Tzod (Lucy Lawless), makes her way to a snowy mountaintop to find the Guardian (Richard E. Grant) of "the bloom," a magical blue flower with extraordinary powers. Tzod tells the Guardian stories, of how she was seized from her swamp home by a power-hungry prince (Patton Oswalt), and about the efforts of a young scholar-warrior (Betty Gabriel) to defend a massive library from a city of undereducated and underfed citizens.

A scholar, Ghal-Sur (Jordan Douglas Smith), gets hold of a mystical book that shows how to use the bloom, and he gains godlike powers and becomes a force for evil. In the remaining tales, various warriors try to end his reign. Then, the Guardian tells the story of where "the bloom" came from, and why it must be protected.

Paying tribute to films like Heavy Metal and to animators like Ralph Bakshi (The Lord of the Rings, Fire and Ice, Cool World) and artists like Frank Frazetta, The Spine of Night goes full-bore. In terms of full nudity and gore — characters are not just stabbed and sliced; their flesh and blood goes flying in different directions — it handily surpasses any of its inspirations. The dialogue, however, is mostly dreadful, with static, serious descriptions and explanations of just how dire everything is.

A notable exception is a scene in which a young couple, having survived an attack on their village, plop a bit of bloom in their fire and begin to "see the universe." They talk in high-school level poetry (the title comes from their dialogue). The animation, which traces the movements of live actors, is close enough to life to feel creepy, but it's also mesmerizing.

Lawless, Grant, and Gabriel (the latter of which actually looks like herself) manage solid performances, while Oswalt seems miscast. Larry Fessenden is hilarious as an old man who shrieks: "Doom! Hahahaha! Doom! Hahahaha!" Despite its creaky storytelling, the sheer corporeal energy of The Spine of Night may earn it a following.

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