The Devil’s Backbone (2001)

devils backbone poster 2001 movie el espinazo del diablo
9.5 Overall Score
Story: 9/10
Acting: 9/10
Visuals: 10/10

Great looking movie, smartly acted, good story


Movie Info

Movie Name:  The Devil’s Backbone

Studio:  Canal+ España

Genre(s):  Horror/Drama

Release Date(s):  April 20, 2001

MPAA Rating:  R

devils backbone jacinto eduardo noriega

That gold will be mine…oh yes, it will be mine!

It is 1939, and war is raging in Spain. The orphanage is housing war orphans and a secret stash of gold which is funding rebels. When Carlos (Fernando Tielve) is brought to the orphanage, he is confronted by bullies led by Jaime (Íñigo Garcés) but finds friendship in the orphanage doctor Casares (Federico Luppi). There is something hiding in the orphanage, Carlos sees a strange ghostly child (Junio Valverde) that appeared the same day that a bomb fell from the sky and remained un-detonated. When Jacinto (Eduardo Noriega) demands and the headmistress Carmen (Marisa Paredes) turn over the gold, his vengeance will unleash the secrets of the orphanage and bring death.

Directed by Guillermo del Toro, The Devil’s Backbone (or El Espinazo del Diablo) is a Spanish mystery-horror, Gothic ghost story.  Following Mimic in 1997, the movie is often seen as a companion piece to Pan’s Labyrinth which has a similar setting and shared themes.  The film was released to positive reviews and has become a cult favorite along with many of del Toro’s movies.  The Criterion Collection released a remastered edition of the film (Criterion #666).

devils backbone santi ghost pool

No, I’m good…I just don’t get much sun

I’ve seen The Devil’s Backbone a few time now, and I am very impressed and would argue that The Devil’s Backbone is Guillermo’s best (or second best film next to Pan’s Labyrinth). I think the reason is that the film is very personal. He reportedly wrote the script while in college and pushed to make the movie.

The movie looks great. The setting of the orphanage in the middle of plains surrounded by mountains almost gives it the look of a Western with imagery that evokes something like a John Ford or Sergio Leone film. When the story goes inside, it gets a real feeling from the dingy creepy surroundings of the orphanage, and it feels modern and archaic at the same time.

The kids and adult actors are also strong. Both Fernando Tielve as the likable protagonist and Íñigo Garcés as the bully are nice because they are rounded characters and they behave like kids behave.  Federico Luppi, just like his turn in Guillermo’s Cronos, is great as the mentoring doctor.  Eduardo Noriega plays a perfect villain who also has a bit of a sad backstory himself.

devils backbone carlos jaime dr casares federico luppi fernando tielve-inigo-garces

Dude…we’re in some serious s#@! I don’t know that singing “It’s a Hard-Knock Life” will help!!!

The story is good because it is a ghost story where the ghosts aren’t really the thrust or the real enemy. The Devil’s Backbone almost isn’t a ghost story and the ghosts are incidental to a good drama taking place during the war. It is the same type of surrealism that exists with Pan’s Labyrinth where the ghosts are almost unreal (but can’t be imaginary either).

Whenever a director of Guillermo del Toro’s skill really has a pet project, it can either be the best or the worst experience. The Devil’s Backbone is a good experience because Guillermo seemed to have control. He doesn’t play it for being cool and allows the story to lead the images. It is a sign of a good filmmaker, and The Devil’s Backbone is a welcomed addition to the world of creepy ghostly stories.  Guillermo del Toro followed The Devil’s Backbone with Blade II in 2002.


Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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