Tales from the past...

Today, we’re talking about some of the anthology films we love.

Let's start with the obvious one. The big one:

 

HEAVY METAL is weird. It’s violent. It’s juvenile on almost profound level. And it's utterly awesome. It crosses genres and art styles. It feels underground and beautifully strange. It is a one of a kind movie. 

Often, when describing The Spine of Night, Heavy Metal gets referenced as its key forebear. The anxiety of its influence is something our film is constantly grappling with. Our hope is to fulfill the promise made by Heavy Metal: that an adult themed animated anthology can be as mature in its storytelling as it is in its content.

When, I asked Morgan to pick another anthology for this post, he chose DUNGEON MASTER. Or, as he points out, “ungeon Maste” if you’re watching the improperly cropped 4:3 version. 

Check out the trailer to that masterpiece:

Not really an influence on The Spine of Night. But, possibly, the only other fantasy anthology film out there. 

On the horror end of the anthology spectrum, I have a soft spot for Ealing Studio's 1945 film THE DEAD OF NIGHT.

A very early entry into the anthology sub-genre, it's notable for the fine craftsmanship in each of its segments. These are short films made by British studio masters, including Charles Crichton who would go on to a great career directing comedies, including the TV series The Avengers, THE LAVENDER HILL MOB  and A FISH CALLED WANDA.

The tone of the film is impeccable. It's unsettling, eerie. Horrific in a polite, classic way. A very British brand of surreal. Its wraparound story captures a dream-like feeling that unsettles even in those spaces between its segments. 

Another favorite of mine is The League of Gentlemen's Christmas Special. The League of Gentlemen is a comedy troupe from England that specializes in blending the utterly macabre into their comedy sketches. At times, the comedy disappears entirely, and it becomes purely dark drama.  It's not to everyone's taste, but it's definitely worth giving it a try.

Their Christmas Special is an homage to the Amicus studio horror anthologies of the 1960s & 1970s. Movies like TORTURE GARDEN, TALES FROM THE CRYPT and, their best, FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE.

The special features tales about voodoo, vampires and curses. It's wrap around segment has an evil gypsy Santa Claus. What's not to love? 

 

And then, there's NIGHT TRAIN TO TERROR, which I feel I have to mention. It's an exemplary case of just how crazy an anthology film can get if no one is manning the steering wheel.

It is not a good movie. No sir. But it's worth watching once just so you can say you did it. You have the devil and God playing chess, you have '80s jazzercise music for some reason, you have a first segment that was clearly a feature-length, instead hacked down to a weird, inscrutable and arty(?) 30 minutes.

NIGHT TRAIN TO TERROR is the horrible, raging, malformed id hiding under every other anthology film's veneer. But for the grace of the narrative gods, we'd all end up on that night train, riding towards madness. 

One final thing. Check out this great, mini-documentary for more on the history of horror anthology films:

Next week: we introduce one of our lead characters!

  

 

Woven of many fibers, stitched of many strands...

Anthology films. Some people love them. Some people hate them. Some people eye them with a raised eyebrow and skepticism in their hearts. 

They tend to be mixed bags, each comprised of a few standout entries, a few filler entries and a few outright duds.

For some reason, almost every anthology I know of is a horror anthology. Seems strange, right? There is something about the horror story being suite for the short form, I suppose. It feels like there’s plenty of room in the world for at least one Western anthology film. 

I sure hope there’s room for a fantasy anthology film, because that’s what we’re making over here.

The Spine of Night is compromised of 5 individual stories and 1 wrap-around story that unites them and contextualizes them.

With the film we're trying very hard to match the gold standard set by the best of the anthology form and also advance it, push it and expand it. 

Each segment in The Spine of Night tells a self-contained tale about an individual character and their journey. 

But the mega-story of the film is a tapestry showing the history of this strange fantasy world.

Each segment of our film takes place in a decidedly different moment in this world’s development. The effect of watching the film in its entirety will be propulsive, taking the viewer from the primitive swamps and frontier shanty towns all the way through to a mechanized, almost robotic future.

The astute viewer will be able to pick up on how the flow of history has taken certain aspects from the first segments all the way through to the last. Anthology film as world-building tool. 

I’ve never seen an anthology film that worked that way before. It feels like a great way to push at the boundaries of what anthology films, and film in general, can do. Here’s hoping we can pull it off.

And now, without further ado, I give you the titles of our five segments:

The Allsorrow

In Doom, I am Reborn

What Remains

The Road of Straw

Hierophant

And the sixth, the wrap around segment that introduces each of the others and connects them all on a lonely mountain top, rife with mystery and magic:

Peroratio

Much more on each of those in the coming weeks.

Next week, we'll delve a bit into our favorite anthology films. 

In parting, here's Death, rimmed in red and stitched in white on a medieval tapestry: