The Spine of Night (2021) poster

The Spine of Night (2021)


USA. 2021.


Directors/Screenplay – Philip Gelatt & Morgan Galen King, Producers – Will Battersby, Philip Gelatt & Jean Rattle, Animation Designed and Directed by Morgan Galen King. Production Company – Yellow Veil Pictures/Gorgonaut.


Lucy Lawless (Tzod), Richard E. Grant (The Guardian), Jordan Douglas Smith (Ghal-Sur), Joe Manganiello (Mongrel), Patton Oswalt (Lord Pyrantin), Betty Gabriel (Phae-Agura), Malcolm Mulls (Uruq Il-Irin), Abby Savage (Kestelwren), Tom Lipinski (Falconhawk), Nina Lisandrello (Sparrowcrow), Rod McClure (Gull), Maggie Lakis (Dae), Larry Fessenden (Prophet of Doom), Patrick Breen (Doa)


The witch Tzod climbs a mountain in search of the guardian of a blue poppy that has magical power. The guardian believes that he watches over the only flower but she informs him that its seeds have blown down and blossomed in the swamp from which she comes. She wore a garland of its poppies and was able to harness their magic. She was then captured by soldiers sent by Lord Pyrantin and her people slaughtered. Ordered to demonstrate her magic, she instead used the power of the poppy to hideously disfigure Pyrantin. He responded by burning the swamp to the ground. She was thrown in the dungeon with the scholar Ghal-Dur who inspired her to use her magic to break out, only for him to kill her and take the garland of poppies. Several years later, Ghal-Dur had been made a prisoner by librarians who were engaged in collecting all books of magic. He fooled the greedy head librarian Uruq into giving him the blood needed for a ritual, only to take all the power for himself. With the god-like in the abilities it offered him, Ghal-Sur created a great army to conquer the land.

The Spine of Night is an animated film. Morgan Galen King is a relative newcomer but co-director Philip Gelatt had previously made two live-action horror films with The Bleeding (2011) and They Remain (2018), as well as written scripts for SF films like Europa Report (2013) and AI Love You (2022), More recently, he has written scripts for the animated tv series Love, Death & Robots (2019- ). The film has attracted a surprising name cast.

Most Animation in the US is conceived as being for kids. People seem to come to a conceptual blank at being able to think of it as being anything else. The Spine of Night is definitely not kiddie animation – the witch heroine spends the entire film naked and wearing only a garland of flowers, while elsewhere we see bodies violently attacked and intestines torn out.

The witch Tzod i(voiced by Lucy Lawless) in The Spine of Night (2021)
The witch Tzod i(voiced by Lucy Lawless)

The Spine of Night is an Epic Fantasy – or perhaps you classify it more as Sword and Sorcery. It has the feel of one of the 1980s ripoffs of Conan the Barbarian (1982), albeit made with the darker, grungier tone that came in with tv’s Game of Thrones (2011-9). The nearest comparison you might make is to one of Ralph Bakshi’s fantasy films – in particular, the more adult likes of The Lord of the Ring (1978) and especially Fire and Ice (1983).

The Spine of Night is a well-made film. The fantasy element is absorbing. The characters have much more of a darker edge than usual and are given great and distinctive voicings by the respective actors. You attune to the world created because it is unique and different – a good deal has gone into establishing its back mythology and the ways in which its magic works. The animation comes with a straightforward simplicity, although there are times, particularly when Richard E. Grant tells the origins of the poppy and everything is rendered with black silhouettes with white features, where the artistry is quite stunning.

Trailer here

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