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A Beautiful, Bloody Ghost Story
Gafke21 May 2005
The year is 1939. The Spanish Civil War is nearing its bloody end. Ten year old Carlos, the orphaned son of a slain Republican, is left by his tutor at an isolated orphanage for boys. The school is destitute, barely able to provide enough food for the children, but headmistress Carmen and Dr. Casares do the best they can. Carlos accepts his fate bravely, but there are still school bullies to contend with, an unexploded bomb sitting in the courtyard as a constant reminder of the war which still rages, and an abusive caretaker named Jacinto who has his own secret agenda. As if that were not enough, a ghost begins stalking Carlos, the ghost of a boy named Santi whose demise is shrouded in mystery and who solemnly warns Carlos that many will soon die. As the war begins closing in on the orphanage, violence erupts within and Santi's prediction comes sadly true. But the worst has not yet happened. The abandoned boys must band together if they hope to survive, and the dead will aid their cause if they are to be avenged.

This is a beautiful movie, absolutely gorgeous from start to finish. The dusty, isolated landscape is a ghost itself and the constant threat of violence - from the war, to the bullies and, of course, from the traitorous Jacinto - gives this film an unrelenting atmosphere of tension and dread. The acting is superb, from the children as well as the adults. Federico Luppi as Dr. Casares is superb, providing us with a true hero, a gentleman of class and compassion. Eduardo Noriega is perfectly cast as the despicable Jacinto, making you despise him more and more as the film progresses. This is not just a ghost story, though the figure of Santi is central and key to everything that happens. It is a tale of love and honor as well as horror and ruin. It is a coming of age story and an adult drama. It also manages to be scary as hell when it wants to be.

Guillermo del Toro has made a masterpiece with "The Devils Backbone." Ten stars for this hauntingly lovely epic.
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Haunting, Sad And Beautiful
gogoschka-111 February 2018
A beautiful, atmospheric story about a haunted orphanage. To date, I think it's Del Toro's most "complete" film, combining his trademark visuals with a very touching story about war, death, guilt and grief - and ultimately hope.

Like 'Pan's Labyrinth' the story is set against the backdrop of the Spanish civil war (although here the war serves merely as a background noise). The film is so beautifully shot that I would recommend it even to people who don't normally like ghost stories (it does have some scary moments, mind); this one transcends the horror genre. 8 stars out of 10.

In case you're interested in more underrated masterpieces, here's some of my favorites:
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Masterful Spanish ghost story - an instant classic
Libretio6 May 2005
THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE (El Espinazo del Diablo)

Aspect ratio: 1.85:1

Sound format: Dolby Digital

During the Spanish Civil War, a young orphan boy (Fernando Tielve) is sent to an isolated boarding school where he encounters the ghost of a murdered child (Junio Valverde) who warns him of impending disaster...

A masterpiece. Filmed in Spain by writer-director Guillermo del Toro following his unhappy Hollywood debut (MIMIC), this spellbinding melodrama works both as an examination of the political turmoil which characterized the Spanish Civil War, and as a simple ghost story in which a tragic spirit seeks vengeance for a terrible crime. Employing restless camera-work and atmospheric set designs to their best advantage, del Toro visualizes his own script (co-written with Antonio Trashorras and David Muñoz) as the story of a vulnerable child cast adrift in a strange new world, where he must contend not only with everyday problems (such as the school bully, Ínigo Garcés, whose motives are rather more complex than they first appear), but also his frequent encounters with the unhappy ghost, some of which are genuinely unsettling (watch out for the heart-stopping sequence in which Tielve is besieged in a closet by the enraged phantom).

Production values are first-class throughout, ranging from César Macarrón's evocative art direction and Salvador Mayolas' ultra-creepy sound design, through to Luis de la Madrid's crisp editing skills and Javier Navarrete's unforgettable music score. Visual effects and makeup designs are also superb, though deliberately underplayed for maximum emotional effect. The cast is toplined by Spanish movie veterans Marisa Paredes (a favorite of Pedro Almodóvar) and Federico Luppi (CRONOS), and there are impressive turns by Irene Visedo as a young woman whose loyalties are divided by circumstances, and rising star Eduardo Noriega (the Spanish equivalent of Brad Pitt) as Visedo's boyfriend, an orphan-turned-caretaker whose volatile nature leads to a dramatic conclusion, with appalling consequences for everyone around him. Tielve is magnificent as the wide-eyed innocent at the center of the narrative, and Garcés is every bit his equal as the bully who reclaims his dignity during a climactic showdown with the forces of evil. Released around the same time as THE OTHERS (2001) - another Spanish ghost story, filmed in English as a vehicle for Nicole Kidman - THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE was consigned to Art-house distribution by virtue of its status as a subtitled movie and suffered a comparative loss at the US box-office, though del Toro's magical fever dream is unquestionably the better of the two films.

(Spanish dialogue)
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Better Than American Horror Films...
underfire3527 May 2003
THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE is a Spanish language supernatural thriller. It consists of a haunted school for orphaned boys. Now, in an American film that would be all you get, a ghost running around scaring the young inhabitants of the gloomy building. That's it, and it would not be scary at all. It is to the credit that the makers of THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE present the actual ghost as the least frightening aspect of the film; he becomes, in fact, the moral center of a deeply complex story.

In Spain, the year is 1939 and Franco's army is advancing towards the small village where the most notable landmark is an impotent bomb jutting out of the ground in the center of the town. A child, Carlos (Fernando Tielve), his father's life taken in the bloody civil war, finds refuge with the Leftist caretakers of the school. Not a good place to be around at that time. He finds himself under the wing of Prof. Casares (Fererico Luppi), a strange intellectual who fears the oncoming dirge of Franco's forces. There is also some intrigue involving the caretaker Jacinto (Edvardo Noriega) and the revolution's small supply of gold. Oh, right and there is a troubled spirit of one of the dead children creeping through the bowls of the school, uttering ominous warnings to young Carlos ("Many of you will die.")...

It is one of the strongest elements of THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE that it does not become distracted by the ghost story, I mean what is one ghost compared to the very real fears of war, death, greed, abandonment, political persecution, abuse at the hands of adults, lust, and acceptance. A spirit cannot hurt us, it does not exist on the same plain of the living. His life has ended and he can no longer be troubled by the reality the characters face. A bullet or explosion wil not penetrate his flesh, he no longer feels pain. The boys who survive him are those who have to struggle for their small place on this earth.

The film paints in detailed strokes and does not cut corners when it comes to the emotions involved in the plot. The characters are not pawns to be startled periodically by cats or loud noises, they just happen to occupy the same space with a sad and restless dead boy.

The director, Guillermo Del Toro (CRONOS, MIMIC, the better-than-the-original-but-that-ain't-saying-much BLADE 2), handles the material very well, never losing sight of the story he has set out to tell. The metaphors he uses (the bomb, the pool, the contents of the jars) are rich and creative. Del Toro, along with his crew and actors, create moments of intense fear and unsettling action; the musical score, by Javier Navarette, is particularly effective. The film is dark and gloomy (perhaps overly so at times), but never succumbs to the easy answers in the shadows. As for the American films it will be compared to: THE OTHERS-not scary, THE RING-not scary, DARKNESS FALLS-not scary...THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE is scary, complex and ultimately memorable.

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Poetry on screen - A classic Ghost story
sprigga18 May 2004
Some people think horror is about busty teens and young rebels being picked off by mysterious killers or lots of gore from a made up creature. Well this film has neither so stay away.

What you do have is a stunning film with great actors playing real people with real issues. Three or four stories are interwoven perfectly, set off with great imagery...all set around the Spanish civil war and the haunting corridors of an orphanage for abandoned children.

While the film does contain a ghost -the murdered child, Santi- the real horror of the film comes from the greed of certain adults who occupy the orphanage with the children.

This film is intelligent poetry on screen -mortality, love, hate, jealousy, greed and redemption are all explored.

This film puts many films to shame just for having a great story at it's core.
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among the best work I've seen
aktaylor2 May 2005
Great care has been taken with the art direction. You are immediately transported to 1939, with Franco's army about to descend on the Spanish countryside. Even the crumbling buildings of the boys' school the characters inhabit play a role. The actors are superb, and the child actors give award-worthy performances.

This story is only incidentally a ghost story. It's a story about love and betrayal and the miseries of war visited on a people. It has a lot to teach about the depths of human cruelty, and the grace of sacrifice. It left me weeping. I don't want to label it Del Toro's masterpiece so early in his career, but it will stand through the years with his best work.
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"What is a ghost? A tragedy condemned to repeat itself time and again? ...
G_a_l_i_n_a8 March 2006
...An instant of pain, perhaps. Something dead which still seems to be alive. An emotion suspended in time. Like a blurred photograph. Like an insect trapped in amber."

Often compared to "The Sixth Sense (1999)" and "The Others (2001)", "The Devil's Backbone" is even a better film, the ultimate ghost story that goes beyond the genre and very successfully mixes horror, suspense, and coming of age during the war time story. Written and directed by Guillermo del Toro, the film takes place during the Spanish Civil War in an isolated boarding school for the orphans of the War where a new boy, Carlos encounters the ghost of a murdered child Santi whose body was never found and who warns Carlos that "Many of you will die". How did Santi die? Why does not he leave the school's courtyard, what is the tragedy he is trying to prevent? It is up to Carlos to find the answers to these and many more questions as well as to stand up to the school's bully, Jaime and to find out what is behind the violent hostility of the orphanage's nasty caretaker, Jacinto who himself was and orphan and had been a pupil in the school as a child. The movie is not just beautifully directed – it is very well written and provides the deep insight into each character, including school headmistress named Carmen (Marisa Paredes), kind and brave Professor Casares, vicious bully Jaime who would turn a lonely and scared boy and even the embodiment of evil, Jacinto with his own heartbreaking story. Along with "The Spirit of the Beehive", "Devil's Backbone" is a harrowing exploration of the war and its affect on childhood. It also brings to mind such classic as Bunuel's "Los Olvidados" – and this is the best praise I have for any movie. Highly recommended.
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"What is a ghost?"
myboigie2 March 2006
"... As the road struck into the sierra we branched off to the right and climbed a narrow mule-track that wound round the mountain-side. The hills in that part of Spain are of a queer formation, horseshoe-shaped with flattish tops and very steep sides running down into immense ravines. On the higher slopes nothing grows except stunted shrubs and heath, with the white bones of the limestone sticking out everywhere. ..." - George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia, Chapter 2

It is unlikely that Mexican-director, Guillermo del Toro, will ever top this film, it is his greatest-achievement. While certainly a horror-film, it so-much-more, an allegory of the betrayals that led-to the rise-of-fascism in Spain. Most small-arms came-from Mexico, and Del Toro has said in-interviews that he lived-in a neighborhood populated by Republicans who had fled after-1939. Some have commented that the film takes-place after the fall of Republican Spain(the 1939 fall of Catalonia), but this is incorrect. The fall hasn't come-yet, and this free-fall state is the universe that the film inhabits. Taking-place in a Republican Orphanage for fallen-anarchists, Leftists, and Republican-politicians, the film is always in a state of anticipation and a kind-of limbo. All the Republican-caretakers can do is wait for the fall, and the repression that was surely-to-follow. Betrayed by the Catholic Church, the Soviet Union under-Stalin, political-infighting, and even the Western Democracies, Franco was given a blank-check to slaughter legitimate, democratic-forces by-1939. 2,000 Americans joined the "Abraham Lincoln Brigade" to fight Franco's forces, and a "United Front" of Leftists and Unionists from throughout-the-world had went to Spain to "fight the good-fight".

Meanwhile, the Roosevelt-administration banned all-sales of war-material (most-particularly, aircraft-engines and ammunition) to Republican-forces. Franco had many-allies, and would remain-in-power until his timely-death in November, 1975...Spain has been-celebrating ever-since. And-so, "The Devil's Backbone" can only be-about the ghosts of this period, particularly those Spaniards who were betrayed by politicians who shared so-much with Franco. The title, incidentally, comes-from a range-of-mountains where Republican-forces were bogged-down, then-defeated; it is referred-to as the Sierra de Alcubierre. Even George Orwell was there, and he wrote a book on his experiences fighting to save Republican Spain.

If "Devil's Backbone" says-anything, it is that "these were times that showed what people then were made-of." Dr. Cásares and Carmen represent the weakened-Republic, with her leg-missing, and he being-impotent. Then, there is Jacinto, once an orphan, now a caretaker of the orphanage--a betrayer, a criminal, and a murderer. Even-worse, though, is that amidst-the-chaos of the Civil War, the orphanage is haunted by the ghost of a former child-resident who may-have been murdered. The orphanage IS Spain, with its' fascist-bomb, unexploded in-the-courtyard, a direct-reference to the bombing of the Spanish-town, Guernica. Guernica was the first-incident of the bombing-of-civilians in modern-history, and was immortalized in a painting by-Pablo Picasso The deformed-fetus in the jar is the Spain-that-never-was, still-born, unnaturally. Dr. Cásares, then, is the legacy of Spanish Republicanism, a good-legacy that literally aids the living in the finale of the film. However, if I tell you anything-else this character, the film will be ruined! You can figure-out the rest, most audiences aren't given enough-credit. Stand-and-be-counted, these are "times that try men's souls". History never ends.
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A great ghost story!
The_Void24 November 2004
I'm a massive fan of the horror genre, but I don't like ghost stories. To me, ghost stories are a poor manifestation of the genre. It's not the idea of ghosts that's the problem, it's the way the stories are presented; often dull, slow moving and uninteresting, and those are things that do not make a good movie. However, there is an exception to every rule; and this film is the case with that one. The Devil's Backbone is a mesmerising and inventive addition to the ghost story tradition. The film moves slowly, but that is a definite advantage to it. The slow pace allows us to get to know, and even care for the characters before the horror starts, and this makes the horror all the more potent when it does start. The Devil's Backbone has been touted as 'the Spanish Sixth Sense', and although this is unfair as this is hardly a bad film; I can see where that notion is coming from. The main difference between the two, however, and the reason why this film works and Shyamalan's doesn't is that the parts between the horror here aren't boring, are well acted and serve a purpose in that they allow us to get to know the characters; Shyamalan got too caught up in trying to make his twist work and the drama in-between caught the brunt of that, rendering the film boring.

The film can't really be accurately described as a 'horror film', it's more of a drama come character study with horror elements. The horror elements are pronounced, as the ghost is the centrepiece of the story, but the film doesn't focus on them enough for it to be considered horror. Entwined within it's plot is a coming of age tale, a story of revenge and a nice little section on 'what is a ghost'. I like it when a film delves into it's subject material and attempts to give something of an explanation; Return of the Living Dead did it for zombies (albeit comically), and The Devil's Backbone does it here for ghosts. The coming of age side of the story is brought to life brilliantly by some sublime acting courtesy of the young cast. Entwined within the story are themes of the kids being thrust into a situation that requires them to grow up fast, and it also sees them dealing with themes of death and revenge.

One thing you will instantly notice about this film is the fantastic cinematography. The film has a gritty style, but despite this it manages to come off looking crisp and clean. There are some shots that are incredibly beautiful. All shots with the ghost, which is one of the best crafted ever, come to mind immediately but also of note are the underwater sequences, the special effects and the capture of the location. The film is set in an orphanage somewhere the Spanish desert, and this location serves the movie magnificently. The fact that it's a day's walk away from the nearest town makes the film very isolated, which allows the horror more potency. Guillermo Del Toro is an obviously talented director. He has this film under his belt, along with Cronos (which I haven't yet seen, but have heard great things), but after that it's hit and miss. Blade 2 was a good film, and a refreshing one after the lackluster first part; but Mimic wasn't very good on the whole, despite some good moments. More recently he's gone on to direct Hellboy, which again I haven't seen but it looks like another fun film. I hope Del Toro makes a return to art soon, he has the talent and it would be a shame to lose him to 'decent' films.
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a complete film
jimi9910 April 2005
This is not just an incredibly effective ghost story, but a cinematic masterpiece. Like his "Cronos," Del Toro has created a rich horror fable that is driven by 3-dimensional characters involved in a fascinating plot that leads to a wholly satisfying ending. With many developments along the way that shock, move, and thrill. And of course the political allegory and reality of the film, the Spanish Civil War, all the orphan boys of noble Loyalist fighters fighting their own war against a truly horrifying fascist villain, the young and handsome Jacinto, who is not without a sad ghost in his own past that feeds his destructiveness.

Del Toro is one of the most intelligent and humane directors working today, not something usually said about auteur in the horror genre. I have not seen "Hellboy" but think less of his US endeavors than these two Spanish masterworks...
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The Devil's Backbone
MartinTeller6 January 2012
Dull ghost story with half-hearted commentary on the Spanish Civil War. The whole thing seems to exist to prop up a few nifty special effects and a vague sense of atmosphere. I struggled to maintain interest... the characters are bland, the scares entirely absent (unless you have a weak stomach for mildly gory bits), the story feels slapped together from fragments of ideas. There's a reveal that I suppose is meant to be a surprise twist, but it's pretty obvious from the first act. It's just really hard to care about what's going on, and there's not much going on anyway. Carlos approaches the ghost and then gets scared and runs away. Creepy Eli Roth-looking dude does something nasty. Repeat, repeat, repeat. While the craftsmanship is somewhat impressive, it's an empty experience, free of passion, wisdom or thrills.
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Horrifying, Tragic and Beautiful: A Unique Moviewatching Experience
Chrysanthepop12 February 2008
'El Espinazo Del Diablo' is set in an orphanage (that beautifully symolizes Spain during the civil war) just before the fall of Catalonia. It works both as a gripping political drama and an engaging ghost story. Del Toro brings cleverly brings the elements of both genres together to tell the story, something he also accomplished in his more recent 'El Fauno del Laberinto' (where he amazingly combines fantasy horror with political drama).

Just like with 'El Fauno del Laberinto', Del Toro has taken care that this film isn't neglected in the aspects of film-making. The cinematography stands out. The yellowish tint stresses on the stifling heat and adds to the deserted isolation of the orphanage. The use of symbolism and riddles is remarkable. The details, e.g. flies buzzing around corpses, dusty atmosphere etc are given considerable attention. Visuals are just as impressive e.g. bloody flying in the air like a part of the wing. Del Toro extracts fine performance from all the actors. Seasoned actors like Federico Luppi, Marisa Paredes and Eduardo Noriega (in a menacing role) are superb to say the least but the child actors too hold their own.

The characters in 'El Espinazo Del Diablo' represent very distinct qualities that make a human nature. For example, Jacinto as the greedy one and Carmen's object of lust, Carlos as the innocent but determined one and Casares as the wise and silent one. In addition to that, the film itself is very poetic and metaphorical. There's a beautiful scene where Casares tells Carlos what a ghost is. Well, I won't say what was told but that was a very powerful scene.

In a nutshell, 'El Espinazo Del Diablo' is a horrifying, tragic but beautiful film. It will provide you with more than what you long as you don't know what to expect.
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Haunting and original
WillieKilligan20 May 2004
The Devil's Backbone may just be the finest ghost story ever put on film. No need for a twist ending or Hollywood shocks here, this is intelligent, thoughtful, imaginative film-making at its best. Guillermo del Toro is one of the most talented directors working today and this is the best film he's made so far. Seeing this movie makes The Others and The Sixth Sense look gimmicky and weak. Set during an orphanage during the Spanish Civil War we are treated to wonderful performances by the kids and adults, a very cool and creepy ghost (who always appears to be underwater), and a nice dash of action. All and all this is horror film-making at it's best, del Toro is truly a master as evidenced by this and his debut film Cronos.
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When a Ghost Story is not a Ghost Story
gpeevers18 June 2009
Warning: Spoilers
At its most basic this is a ghost story set in a remote school/orphanage for boys during the Spanish Civil War.

But this is also a film written, directed and produced by Guillermo del Toro who would go on later to write, direct and produce Pan's Labyrinth with which there are some obvious similarities. To begin with both films are set in Spain during the Civil War and both feature a child as the protagonist. Where Pan's Labyrinth was del Toro's spin on the Fantasy Genre with some very dark elements The Devil's Backbone is his spin on the Horror Genre or more specifically a Ghost Story but its not all thrills and chills. The film spends a lot of time developing various characters and also slowly unraveling the story behind the appearance of the ghost of the young boy who haunts the orphanage.

According to del Toro in his DVD commentary he was very much influenced by the Gothic Romance genre and that is how he would categorize the film, he also indicated there are numerous autobiographical elements in the film based upon his childhood in Mexico and particularly those things that frightened him as a child. These influences contribute to the obvious and deliberate style which is a hallmark of his films and also give us a fascinating tale of horror that doesn't need gore to be effective.

The film features very good overall performances from the cast, it looks great and very effectively creates the appropriate atmosphere but despite all this I did not find it as engrossing or as rewarding an experience as was Pan's Labyrinth.
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Huge disapointment.
alexperlman14 May 2004
Warning: Spoilers
From the writer-director of HELLBOY and MIMIC, what else can I say?

ATTENTION SPOILERS ****** I don´t care if The Devil's Backbone has received much critical acclaim, celebrated as an intelligent and subtle ghost story. This film is another huge disappointment. The critics' applause tells us less about the film and more about how desperate are some professional critics for any film that makes even a pretense to intelligence. The opening promises much more than the film delivers, as neither the plot nor the apparently complex set of questions and symbols hold the viewer's attention.

Despite the quite different settings and plots, Backbone is another reminiscent of The Sixth Sense. Both films have kids who see "dead people" and there is another similarity between Backbone and Sixth Sense that all critics have predictably failed to notice. Both films introduce religious themes and symbols only to let them drop entirely from the plot.

The appearance of the ghost is more absurdly comic than frightening. And the symbols, which emerge early and often in the film, remain undeveloped and entirely on the surface. This is especially true of the religious symbols. The name and life story of the ghost suggest a sort of holy innocent. The theme of the devil's backbone suggests an evil curse infecting nature and preying upon the weak. And the daily meals in the orphanage suggest a eucharistic theme. But none of these symbols or themes is adequately developed. One might be tempted to think that del Toro is here trying to imitate the surrealism of the famous Spanish director Bunuel, for whom religious symbols constitute one of many, arbitrary codes of meaning. But, unlike Bunuel, del Toro wants to tell a coherent story and he resorts to rather traditional narrative structure in the end. So we are left unsatisfied, wondering about the point of all the symbols.

The film is too long and far too pretentious a journey to a simplistic, Hobbesian conclusion about mankind in a state of nature. Why the pretense to complex symbolism? That reveals more about the sad state of contemporary film - and narrative generally - that wants desperately to free itself from a religious framework but has found nothing to replace the most powerful and most dramatic set of symbols available to the human race.

As much as I try to like The Devil's Backbone, it left me cold, since its most unique aspects seemed also to be its most frustrating ones. I appreciate its attempts to elevate the ghost story from a simple fright-fest, but the director seems to want to badly too scare us to make it wholly effective as a political allegory. 2 OUT of 10.
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What Was so Great About this Average Film?
osloj16 November 2002
I have to certainly ask myself what the other people saw in this film. To me, this film suffers from a lack of interesting plot, laughable interaction amongst the characters and a mediocre and conventional approach to a ghost story. To me, there was absolutely nothing interesting or "frightening" about the ghost and the 'ambiance' was typical fare. The story concerns a child who is left at an orphanage in the middle of the desert in Spain during the Spanish Civil War and instead of analyzing his soul, which one would hope would happen, considering this is a foreign movie, we are merely given cliched storylines like "the ghost is here for a reason," or "there's a ghost in this building," and its really all empty. Nowhere do we get to understand the nature of the inner dimensions of the characters. There is the typical mean kid bully, the nice teacher and then the sexual young man who is having sex with the older matriarch in one of the most brainless events in the film. Most of the effects were done with a computer and that takes away any imagination. The war planes flying above, the explosion in the rectory and even the ghost itself were "enhanced" with digital imaging and it further ruins this attempt at life so we are basically left with a modicum of interest. What is lacking is something inherently interesting, or movable, so there is a ghost, so what? What does he mean to us? By the end, we are numbed by the excessive and irrelevant use of violence from one of the characters. It all fails in the end when this becomes just another good vs bad soap opera in the world film. The only commendable part was the beginning and the end, where the teacher is contemplating the nature of what a ghost is, other than that, this is blantantly unintelligent. Grade D-
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boring as it can be
hoffes4 November 2010
I have no idea why this movie received so positive notes. This is a movie about generally nothing, boring as only very few I saw in last few years. Do not expect anything you did not see in previously seen horrors. Its not even a horror, its some kind of a tale, but well, there is not even 5 % of this spectacular "shining" in it, shining that some horrors carry inside. There is no action, no twist, you watch it and you yawn, nothing more. Plus there is some leftist propaganda. Thanks God much much less than in Pan's Labyrinth but still... Save yourself 2 hrs and skip it, believe me.

3/10 is max I could rate it.
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What a load of rubbish
meatandtatiepie13 October 2009
I'm sorry, I like good films. I like good scary, horror films with a bit more than just horror, something to say. Gimme The Wicker Man, or Alien, or even The Shining, Blair Witch Project or Eden Lake, but don't give me this rubbish, this is contrived, undeveloped, infantile nonsense. NONSENSE! And it isn't even scary. Watch it, and just have a think about all the different elements of the film, and how little they add up to. I'm not even that smart but it's so glaringly obvious it's almost embarrassing. So what if it's about the Spanish Civil War! It says NOTHING about the Spanish Civil War! Or anything else. This guy needs to give up making films and make cardigans instead, I'm sure he'd do a better job. I can't even stand thinking about his film making style, it's painfully bad. I respect everyone who goes a long way to make their vision a reality, but this only proves to me that said particular director is the product of a very naive, crowded and hyped up bandwagon of arty foreign horror nonsense film fans merrily giving up their money and time to elevate him to the inflated and undeserved status he has. Don't fall for it! Demand more! RAAAAAHHHHH! Sigh.
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Sad and Creepy Ghost Story
claudio_carvalho4 February 2015
During the Spanish Civil War, the twelve year-old boy Carlos (Fernando Tielve) is left behind by his family in an orphanage in the middle of nowhere. Dr. Casares (Federico Luppi) and his wife Carmen (Marisa Paredes) run the orphanage and the former orphan Jacinto (Eduardo Noriega), who lives with the teacher Conchita (Irene Visedo), is responsible to take care and for the maintenance of the place. Jacinto is an ambitious and violent man and has a love affair with Carmen trying to steal the key of the safe where Dr. Casares and his wife hide the gold that is used to support the Republican forces. Carlos is bullied by the strong boy Jaime (Íñigo Garcés), who is the leader of the other boys. One day, Carlos feels the presence of a ghost and soon he learns that he is the orphan Santi (Junio Valverde) that is missing. Carlos sees Santi several times and one day he learns the dark secret of his disappearance.

"El espinazo del diablo" is a sad and creepy ghost story in a dramatic environment. Having the background of the Spanish Civil War, Guillermo del Toro discloses the melancholic story of a boy abandoned by his family and his difficulties to adapt to his new life. The greedy Jacinto represents the worst that exists in the mankind, a cold and despicable man moved by ambition only. The performances are outstanding and the conclusion is heartbreaking since the boys are left with no perspectives in life. My vote is eight.

Title (Brazil): "A Espinha do Diabo" ("The Devil's Backbone")
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What a yawn
Jokkes113 May 2008
The only good thing there is to say about this film is that it has a nice nostalgic look - the scenery is OK.

Other than that it is just a great big yaaaaaawn of a film, from beginning to end. It has nothing driving the story forward whatsoever. I understand (from the IMDb rating) that people like hearing stories from the old days, but, give me a break. The story is just lame, childish and predictable and not worth hearing for adults. I never quit in the middle of a movie, but this time I had to give in. Life's too short! Really - see something else. And by that I mean, see something else from a different director, 'cause his other film, Pans Lab, was almost equally lame. Almost. This guy's at the moment directing The hobbit... Stay clear is my advice. I will!
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Another over-rated horror-flick
daggersineyes24 July 2013
Warning: Spoilers
This was one of the worst movies I've come across. It was dreary and unrelentingly bleak which I could forgive if there was any actual horror or scares etc but there wasn't. Nothing happened until the very end when all of a sudden lots of people died, but not because of anything supernatural. It was more a tale about bullies than anything else. So if you're interested in watching a very sad depressing, slow-moving moralistic story about sad kids in an orphanage and the consequences of greed then go ahead and watch this. If you're looking for a scary, creepy horror story then look elsewhere. Some reasonable acting especially by the youngster who plays the lead role and some lovely cinematography, plus interesting settings is not enough to make this a film worth watching. Another one I fast-forwarded through.

A hint: if you do get stuck watching this, stay with it for about half an hour then either fast forward to the last 20 mins or go do something useful around the house for a while and come back to it. The middle section is excruciatingly boring. The ending at least has a bit of blood and guts and explosions so it wasn't a complete loss. I won't bother watching any others by this director. This is the second film of his I've tried to watch and nearly fallen asleep to.
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What is a ghost? A tragedy condemned to repeat itself time and again? An instant of pain, perhaps. Something dead which still seems to be alive.
lastliberal24 July 2008
A steady diet of the usual horror flicks might lead one to think that all horror must have copious amounts of blood and bared breasts. To see a master craftsman at work like Guillermo del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth, Cronos) is a real treat.

Like Pan's Labyrinth, this film is set during the Spanish Civil War, during the last days when Franco's invading army was about to defeat the defenders of democracy and freedom.

In a small orphanage run by Marisa Paredes (The Flower of My Secret) and Federico Luppi (Pan's Labyrinth, Cronos), the children of the left are cared for. Left there after the death of his father is Carlos (Fernando Tielve), who sees the ghost of a dead boy in the cellar.

Eduardo Noriega plays the gardener, who thinks there is gold hidden in the orphanage and is screwing the headmistress to find the key.

Carlos is slowing learning to trust/accept the ghost and eventually learns the truth of it's death, and it's need for revenge to rest.

The film is beautifully shot, and a slowly developing tale of pain. Not only the pain of the ghost, but the pain of Spain as it is dying.
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on the way to Pan's Labyrith
dromasca25 May 2008
It looks like Guillermo del Toro will be one of the busiest directors around in the coming few years. IMDb tells us that he has one film in post-production and other five booked in different preparation phases, and all this until 2011. This is more than all films he has done until now, and certainly much of this busy schedule is due to his so very different film 'Pan's Labyrinth'.

It is from this perspective that it's interesting to see 'El Espinazo del Diablo'. It does happen in the same period - ravaged Spain at the end of the Civil war, it shows the same world of kids and teenagers trying to cope with the brutality of the world around. In this film however the principal character does not have the strength or the imagination of creating his own fantasy world, but he is subject to the invasion of evil both in the real and in the super-natural world.

The tools used by del Toro here are the mainly the ones of the phantom horror movies. The combination works well, is efficient although it does not reach the visual complexity of the later film. As in Labyrinth the real world is the one which is more schematic and less credible. This is one step in a career of a director whose busy schedule will hopefully result in one or more of these great movies everybody feels wait from beyond the corner.
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Thematic Overview of Devil's Backbone
nicholasg0021 June 2007
Warning: Spoilers
The Devil's Backbone originally titled in Spanish as El Espinazo Del Diablo is a Mexican film written and directed by Guillermo del Toro released in 2001. It is currently known as the prequel to Pan's Labyrinth, another of Guillermo's wonderfully haunting and visually imaginative films. The Devil's Backbone is both a ghost story and a political allegory. Set in 1939, when the Spanish Civil War is coming to its end, a ghost appears to the young protagonist, Carlos and warns him of the deaths to come. The cast is located at an all boys orphanage in Spain, destitute and forsaken by the inequity of their ruling government. Many themes and motifs seem to casually run through the film where average moviegoers could mistake for methods of storytelling. This can be concluded from unresolved fractions in the plot such as the unexploded bomb. The bomb is a character in itself, which if not viewed thematically charged can leave viewers in puzzlement and discontent for its static presence. It was placed to allegorically mark the orphanage as a site of inevitable death and destruction. The impotence of the bomb is a direct parallel to the idea of suspension in the film, which can be easily mistaken by incapacity. Is it mere coincidence that everything around the bomb exploded in destruction and not the bomb itself? This is where happenstance reigns over circumstance further emphasizing the motif driven conventions of the film. Duality circles through the film as well posing as shadows to events taking place where they would normally be seen unfit. Such as the well, a common purification metaphor and source of life, where in the film is depicted as a site of the horrific murder and death of Santi, the ghost which haunts and alerts Carlos of the events to come. Other thematic vices include that of the barrier, agenda and the secret. Carlos frequently finds refuge from Santi behind closed doors, which in reality holds a semi-permeable resolution due to the ghost's trans-dimensional appearances invading spaces normally deemed secure. The barrier motif is primarily a peripheral extension of the agenda of the character. Jacinto, the terrorist and main oppressor of the plot is separated from the gold he desires as well as keeping his love affair with Carmen a secret. The melodrama of the movie starts to reveal itself when these barriers and secrets are broken. Such as when Caesar walks in on a conversation Jacinto and Carmen were having concerning their secret love affair. This event broke the psychological barrier between secret and agenda, which inevitably led to the downward spiral of conflict. Jacinto's mentality of selfish individualism mirrors that of its political context of the behavior of the masses where animalistic desires surface due to the absence of judgment. Thematically Jacinto is seen as the governmental oppressor, which subdues the rest of the cast into his mal-intention. The political parallel of the film is not only framed by the current situation of the Spanish Civil War but by the metaphorical characteristics of the characters themselves. Dr. Casares and Carmen, the stoical old leftists that guard the orphanage symbolically suggest the weakness of the republic by their metaphorical baggage. Dr. Casaeres's chronic impotence and Carmen's wooden leg emphasize the weakness of the republic unable to defend themselves against Jacinto, the embodiment of the fascist revolution encircling their republican agenda. Another political reference is that of the penultimate scene of the boys banding together to overthrow Jacinto with hand carved spears. One child remarks that Jacinto, their oppressor, is "bigger than us" but Carlos then remarks "there are more of us". This is very popular among American western movies where the united can never be defeated. Coincidentally the last shot of the movie perfectly mirrors that of the famous last shot of "The Searchers" where the bewildered orphan boys emerge out into the desolate sunlight of the Spanish plain.
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Absolute rubbish!
simonlb-110 April 2007
Warning: Spoilers
After struggling to stay awake through this incredibly painful excuse of a film, I have to say that with even the best will in the world, it is utter rubbish! Where to begin? The awful acting? The tediously drawn out plot? The pointless unexploded bomb? The almost non-existent ghost? No, it's so pathetically done, that it is pointless to even try. The whole story could have been told in about an hour, but instead is padded out with meaningless plot 'development' which even the most dedicated film buff would be hard pressed to stay awake through. This is supposed to be a ghost story, but the ghost is hardly ever seen, only referred to in passing.

The film only manages to redeem itself enough to get one star due to the actual quality of the ghost itself, which would do any Wes Craven or John Carpenter film proud.

Unfortunately, though, this still does not help lift this film above the abysmally poor level of mediocrity inhabited by the likes of The Gift and Jeeper Creepers.

Take my advice, go and watch wood warp instead!
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