The Devil's Backbone
The Devil's Backbone (Spanish: El espinazo del diablo) is a 2001 gothic horror film directed by Guillermo del Toro, and written by del Toro, David Muñoz, and Antonio Trashorras. It was independently produced by Pedro Almodóvar as an international co-production between Spain and Mexico, and was filmed in Madrid.
|The Devil's Backbone|
Original Spanish-language poster
|Directed by||Guillermo del Toro|
|Narrated by||Federico Luppi|
|Music by||Javier Navarrete|
|Edited by||Luis De La Madrid|
|Distributed by||Warner Sogefilms A.I.E. (Spain)|
Sony Pictures Classics (International)
|Box office||US$6.5 million|
The film is set in Spain, 1939, during the final year of the Spanish Civil War. The film was released to very positive reviews from critics and audiences.
Casares (Federico Luppi) and Carmen (Marisa Paredes) operate a small home for orphans in a remote part of Spain during the Spanish Civil War. Helping the couple mind the orphanage are Jacinto (Eduardo Noriega), the groundskeeper, and Conchita (Irene Visedo), a teacher who is also involved with Jacinto. Casares and Carmen are aligned with the Republican loyalists, and are hiding a large cache of gold that is used to back the Republican treasury; perhaps not coincidentally, the orphanage has also been subject to attacks from Francisco Franco's troops, and a defused bomb sits in the home's courtyard.
One day, a boy named Carlos (Fernando Tielve) arrives at the home with two republicans, they both ask Casares and Carmen to take him in because his father died fighting the fascists. Casares and Carmen take him in, and the boy soon strikes up an unlikely friendship with Jaime (Íñigo Garcés), a boy with a reputation for tormenting other kids. But Carlos soon begins having visions of a mysterious apparition he can't identify, and hears strange stories about a child named Santi who went missing the day the bomb appeared near the orphanage.
- Fernando Tielve as Carlos, an orphan. He is described by del Toro in the DVD commentary as a force of innocence. Tielve had originally auditioned as an extra before del Toro decided to cast him as the lead. This was his film debut. Both Tielve and his co-star Iñigo Garcés had cameos as guerrilla soldiers in Pan's Labyrinth.
- Íñigo Garcés as Jaime, the orphanage bully who later befriends Carlos.
- Eduardo Noriega as Jacinto, the caretaker.
- Marisa Paredes as Carmen, the administrator of the orphanage.
- Federico Luppi as Dr. Casares, the orphanage doctor.
- Junio Valverde as Santi, an orphan who becomes a ghost.
- Irene Visedo as Conchita, Jacinto's fiancée.
This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (October 2015)
The film was an international co-production between Spain and Mexico.
Del Toro wrote the first draft before writing his debut film Cronos. This "very different" version was set in the Mexican Revolution and focused not on a child's ghost but a "Christ with three arms". According to del Toro, and as drawn in his notebooks, there were many iterations of the story, some of which included antagonists who were a "doddering ... old man with a needle," a "desiccated" ghost with black eyes as a caretaker (instead of the living Jacinto who terrorizes the orphans), and "beings who are red from head to foot."
As to motivation for the villain, according to the actor who portrayed him (Eduardo Noriega), Jacinto "suffered a lot when he was a child at this orphanage. Somebody probably treated him wickedly: this is his heritage. And then there is the brutalizing effect of the War." Noriega further notes that "What Guillermo did was to write a biography of Jacinto (which went into Jacinto's parents, what they did in life, and more) and gave it to me."
DDT Studios in Barcelona created the final version of the crying ghost (victim and avenger) Santi, with his temple that resembled cracked, aged porcelain.
The response was overwhelmingly positive, though it did not receive the critical success that Pan's Labyrinth would in 2006. Roger Ebert compared it favorably to The Others, another ghost story released later in the same year. Christopher Varney, of Film Threat, claimed: "That 'The Devil's Backbone' makes any sense at all – with its many, swirling plotlines – seems like a little wonder." A.O. Scott, of The New York Times gave the film a positive review, and claimed that "The director, Guillermo del Toro, balances dread with tenderness, and refracts the terror and sadness of the time through the eyes of a young boy, who only half-understands what he is witnessing."
The film was #61 on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments for its various scenes in which the ghost is seen. It currently holds a 92% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Bloody Disgusting ranked the film at number eighteen in their list of the 'Top 20 Horror Films of the Decade', with the article calling the film "elegant and deeply-felt... it’s alternately a gut-wrenching portrait of childhood in a time of war and a skin-crawling, evocative nightmare." The film has been described as a humanist ghost story.
- "The Devil's Backbone - El Espinazo del Diablo (15)". British Board of Film Classification. 13 September 2001. Retrieved 11 September 2016.
- "The Devil's Backbone (2001)". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved 27 December 2017.
- "Guillermo del Toro Q&A at Hero Complex Film Festival 2013". youtube.com. 12 May 2013. Retrieved 24 May 2013.
- del Toro, Guillermo (2013). Cabinet of Curiosities: My Notebooks, Collections, and Other Observations (1st ed.). Insight Editions/Harper Collins. pp. 102, 103, 105. ISBN 9780062082848.
- Noreiga, Eduardo (2015). "Interview". In Olson, Danel (ed.). Guillermo del Toro's _The Devil's Backbone_ & _Pan's Labyrinth_: Studies in the Horror Film (1st ed.). Lakewood, CO: Centipede Press. pp. 269–280. ISBN 9781613471012.
- Ebert, Roger (December 21, 2001). The Devil's Backbone (review). Chicago Sun-Times
- Scott, A.O. (November 21, 2001). The New York Times. The Devil's Backbone (review overview).
- The Devil's Backbone at Rotten Tomatoes
- "00's Retrospect: Bloody Disgusting's Top 20 Films of the Decade...Part 4". Bloody Disgusting. Retrieved 3 January 2010.
- Krake, Kate. "Guillermo del Toro's The Devil's Backbone – A Humanist Ghost Story". Guessing Tales. Retrieved 13 November 2017.
- Official website
- The Devil's Backbone on IMDb
- The Devil's Backbone at AllMovie
- The Devil's Backbone at Box Office Mojo
- The Devil's Backbone at Rotten Tomatoes
- The Devil's Backbone at Metacritic
- Review at Cinefantastique Online
- The Devil’s Backbone: The Past Is Never Dead . . . an essay by Mark Kermode at the Criterion Collection