The Devil’s Backbone

Movie Information

In Brief: Guillermo del Toro's frequently brilliant ghost story The Devil's Backbone (2001) — set at an orphanage during the Spanish Civil War — is one of the filmmaker's best works. It blends supernatural and human horror in such a way that the dividing line is not entirely clear. Even though del Toro has gone the film one better with his masterful Pan's Labyrinth (2006), this is still a movie well worth having.
Genre: Fantasy Thriller
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Eduardo Noriega, Marisa Paredes, Federico Luppi, Fernando Tielve, Iñigo Garcés
Rated: R

From the original review:

Though referred to by Guillermo del Toro as the “brother” film to his masterful Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), The Devil’s Backbone (2001) feels more like a rough sketch for the later film. But it’s a good rough sketch, and rough only in the sense that it doesn’t as effectively and completely blend the elements of fantastic and human horror. Where Pan’s Labyrinth comes across as a perfect blending of Luis Buñuel and Jean Cocteau, The Devil’s Backbone is more along the lines of a ghost story à la Buñuel — with at least one nod to Kubrick’s The Shining (1980). Still, the similarities between Backbone and Pan are inescapable, not in the least because both deal with the Spanish Civil War and the brutality and repression of Franco’s fascist Nationalists. (It may be worth noting that Pedro Almodóvar coproduced the film, since much of Almodóvar’s oeuvre is a celebration of the end of that repression — most directly addressed perhaps in Live Flesh (1997).) Also, both del Toro films look at the war through the perspective of a child, and contain sympathetic older men and an heroic domestic worker. There is a difference between the two films in that, in some ways, Backbone may seem to offer its child protagonist a kinder fate — albeit an open-ended one — but even that is a matter open to discussion.

Complete review here

Classic World Cinema by Courtyard Gallery will present The Devil’s Backbone Friday, Nov. 8, at 8 p.m. at Phil Mechanic Studios, 109 Roberts St., River Arts District (upstairs in the Railroad Library).  Info: 273-3332,

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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