Bonus Reviews: The Spine of Night (2022) and Puppet Master III (1991)
Horror Bulletin Bonus Reviews for week 168
For this week’s bonus films, we’ll look at a couple of fun horror movies, starting with the animated “The Spine of Night,” a new release found on Shudder, and the third film in the “Puppet Master” series from 1991.
Don’t forget, the first week of each month, we publish ALL our reviews, including the bonus content, in our monthly “Horror Bulletin” print magazine (also available as an ebook). If you don’t have time to read the website or email, here’s one more option for you! The March issue is out now!
The Spine of Night (2022)
• Directed by Philip Gelatt, Morgan Galen King
• Written by Philip Gelatt, Morgan Galen King
• Stars Richard E. Grant, Lucy Lawless, Patton Oswald, Betty Gabriel, Joe Manganiello
• Run Time: 1 hour, 34 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
This one is animated. It’s an ultra-violent, epic fantasy set in a land of magic that follows heroes from different eras and cultures battling against a malevolent force.
A woman walks alone through a snowstorm up the mountain. Credits roll.
Eventually, she comes upon a giant skull with a flower growing inside. The bloom has a guardian who threatens her. She tells him that his magical bloom has spread, so he no longer needs to guard what he thought was the only one. She begins her tale...
Tzod is the high priestess of the Mud Folk, conducting her ritual. Men attack the group, killing all but Tzod, whom they take prisoner. Their leader, Mongrel, takes her to civilization. A scholar, Ghal-Sur, has also been summoned to the court of Lord Pyrantin, who is not happy Ghal-Sur is so late to arrive. Pyrantin plans to torture her, but he also wants to see her magic. The magical demonstration goes badly for Pyrantin, but when Mongrel tries to kill Tzod, Ghal-Sur intercedes and offers her his protection. Mongrel throws them both in the dungeon.
Pyrantin comes back to torment them, and his face is mostly gone now. He says he’s had her swamp burned; there’s nothing left of her home now. Ghal-Sur convinces Tzod to break out of the prison, and Pyrantin pursues them, at least until he ends up in the swamp’s quicksand. Ghal-Sur then betrays Tzod, dumping her in the quicksand and stealing her magic blooms. Mongrel goes back to the castle to take over.
Back in the skull cave, the guardian wonders if he’s hallucinating Tzod, since she just described her own death. The story continues...
Years have passed. The peasants starve as the scholars, who have taken over, get more books. Mongrel has died without an heir, and the city is having hard times. Inside, the Grand Inquisitor doesn’t want to share what they have with the people outside, but some of his underlings disagree.
Phae-Agura has brought all those new books. She details her travels to Inquisitor Uruq and the search for more books. Uruq goes to see Ghal-Sur, who has been imprisoned due to his lack of mastery of the blooms. He shows Ghal-Sur the newest book, which he cannot read. Ghal-Sur has clearly gone insane, but he agrees to do the ritual outlined in the book for Uruq.
Ghal-Sur does the ritual, and all the peasants in town become possessed. The guards open the gates and allow the possessed peasants inside. Then the spell ends and the peasants attack for food— from inside the keep. There’s a bloody battle, which is exactly what Uruq and Ghal-Sur need. The ritual continues. The blood from the battle flies into the castle and surrounds Ghal-Sur, who grows a giant eye in his chest. This goes badly for Uruq.
Uruq, now all charged up with power, goes outside and kills nearly everyone. He explains his plan to Phae-Agura, who disagrees with his new ideas. Suddenly, a giant eye in the sky opens up and dissolves Uruq. At the same time, Ghal-Sur arises and destroys everything.
The guardian doesn’t want to hear any more of this story, so Tzod explains some other things that have happened.
More years pass, and Ghal-Sur has raised an army to invade other lands. The survivors of one of the attacks survey the damage, and there’s not much left. They find a small bit of the bloom that Ghal-Sur dropped. It gives them a vision before they die.
The guardian tells a tale of the dead gods. One of them dreamt of mankind, and mankind eventually swore revenge on their gods. Eventually, all the gods were killed, one by one. One of the men stayed behind at the body of the last god and waited. The god decomposed down to a skull, and inside grew the bloom. He learned the truth of the universe and then decided to spare men the horror of the truth. Guardians of the bloom came and went up until this guardian came.
The guardian then explains his first experience with the bloom and its nihilistic meaning of nothingness. He regrets spreading the spores to Tzod’s people.
Tzod continues her own story now. A whole lot of years have passed, and wars continue. The immortal Ghal-Sur still fights, and technology on both sides has advanced. Airships and tanks are involved in the fight. Some of the people want to board one of Ghal-Sur’s airships and ride it back to Ghal-Sur’s fortress and stop him.
Two of the conspirators die in the bloody attack on board the airship, but the third flies to Ghal-Sur’s tower. Stopping the crashing airship takes Ghal-Sur’s attention, while the final conspirator stabs him in the back. Before she dies, she distracts him enough that the airship explodes, destroying the tower.
The bloom from the tower flows back into the swamp, reviving Tzod, who begins her journey up the mountain to meet the guardian.
Ghal-Sur wakes up, still not dead. He’s lost his bloom, but knows that it’s up there on the mountain. The old guardian dies, and Tzod waits for Ghal-Sur to arrive. She wants to destroy the bloom forever, while he just wants all his power back. He has his men shoot her full of arrows.
She does an incantation, and all the dead guardians from ages past revive to fight. It’s a whole army of the dead, and Ghal-Sur’s men don’t last long. They close in on Ghal-Sur and tear him apart. The resulting explosion sends Tzod’s skull into orbit. It also spreads the pollen of the bloom worldwide...
With visuals clearly influenced by the 70’s classic “Heavy Metal,” this rotoscope-animated feature has many similarities to other animations of the 70s. There’s lots of excessive violence, gratuitous nudity, and psychedelic imagery, so if you like that sort of thing, this is right up there with the classics. The music here is fine, but fairly unimpressive, unlike some of those old films.
It’s an ambitious, multi-generational story with lots of neat visuals and ideas. Despite being described as “psychedelic,” it all does make sense and is easy to follow. I liked it, but I also wouldn’t really call it a classic. Still, it took FOUR animators seven years to create, so that’s a feat right there.
Puppet Master III: Toulon’s Revenge (1991)
• Directed by David DeCoteau
• Written by Charles Band, C. Courtney Joyner, David Schmoeller
• Stars Guy Rolfe, Richard Lynch, Ian Abercrombie
• Run Time: 1 Hour, 22 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
Despite it being the third in the series, it actually takes place before the first movie. There is more backstory of Toulon, his wife, and the puppets in this one. This bucks the trend of sequels tending to get worse or less interesting. It’s at least as good as the first two if not better.
In World War II-era Berlin, Major Kraus goes into the laboratory of Dr. Hess, who is experimenting on his Deathcorps project. He’s trying to reanimate the dead to use as human shields in the war. Outside, Kraus’ driver plays with a marionette. Suddenly, the dead man rises up and attacks both of them. Success! Credits roll.
Andre Toulon does his puppet show for the children, having his Six-Shooter doll shoot a Hitler doll. One of the Nazi Youths in the audience takes pictures and doesn’t laugh at the show. The kids are happy, which pleases Toulon. Lt. Stein - the driver for Major Kraus who was playing with a marionette earlier - confronts him after the show, and says he’s a bit of a puppeteer himself. He didn’t appreciate the Fuhrer being portrayed like that. But he admired the special puppets. “Almost like magic,” he says. The living puppets watch the meeting from the shadows, but they don’t like Stein.
Stein peeps in the window later and sees the living puppets. He takes photos of Tunneler, Pinhead, Jester, and Six-Shooter as they get their injections of serum.
Toulon makes a puppet of his wife, Elsa. Stein goes to Hess and Kraus with his photos and stories. Toulon can animate his puppets without string, which immediately gets the attention of both men. Kraus just wants to torture Toulon, so Hess calls in General Mueller to get his way.
The Nazis stomp into Toulon’s theater and take some serum. Elsa gets shot by a soldier as they drag away Toulon. Hess doesn’t approve of Kraus’s violent methods, and neither does the general. In the other car, the puppets make short work of Toulon's guards and he escapes. Toulon grieves over his dead wife, and the puppets understand.
Hess analyzes the serum and has some success. The puppets break into the morgue and kill the attendant. Toulon comes in and cuts into Elsa’s body to get some of her essence. Next, he injects the doll he made of Elsa, and she soon wakes up. He then stuffs her full of leeches. Leech Woman is born!
Several of the puppets disable Stein so that Leech Woman can practice new her skills. “Goodnight, fellow puppeteer,” taunts Toulon. After that, he hides out in an abandoned factory to start his work again. The next day, he sends Six-Shooter to kill General Mueller. Six-Shooter climbs up the wall like a spider and gets in the window. The six miniature pistols make short work of the old general. Well five actually, the general shoots back, and he loses an arm.
Mr. Hertz and his son Peter are also fugitives hiding in the same building as Toulon. Toulon works on a new puppet, and it looks a lot like Kraus— it’s Blade. Elsewhere, Kraus puts Hess under armed guard to keep him in line.
The next morning, Peter goes out to Toulon’s lab to find a replacement part for Six-Shooter. Hess is there, searching for records and catches Peter. Peter leads Hess to Toulon, and they talk about science. Toulon reveals that each of his dolls contains the essence of a real human who was killed by the Nazis. They were all volunteers.
Meanwhile, Peter’s father is selling out Toulon to Kraus. They arrive as Hess is helping pack up the dolls; he wants to help Toulon now. There’s a battle between the puppets and the soldiers. Hess is killed, much to Toulon’s disappointment.
Toulon and the puppets make their way back to the theater, where, with the help of some reused footage, we once again get a flashback to when Toulon learned the secret in Egypt.
Kraus goes to his office and encounters Blade, who is now alive. With the help of the puppets, they wire up Kraus from the ceiling like a marionette himself. Kraus ends up getting impaled as he falls. Toulon and his friends hop on a train and make their escape.
This one is a prequel to the other two films, showing what happened prior to Toulon’s death in the opening of the first film. It’s fun to see the origins of a few of the puppets and more of the backstory behind what happened in the first film.
This one had more story and drama than most of the others. This is, in my opinion, the best of the first three films. Still, if you were implanting your dead wife’s soul into a doll, would you really give her the super power of puking up an unlimited supply of leeches? Who does that?
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