47 of 52 people found the following review helpful
Guillermo del Toro is currently known as the guy who made the Oscar-winning "Pan's Labyrinth," the "Hellboy" movies, and came close to directing "The Hobbit."
But way back in in 2001, del Toro made a movie that serves as a sport of ghost-story prequel to "Pan's Labyrinth." With its mysterious specter, innocent hero and a story set during a bloody civil war, "The Devil's Backbone" is a unique kind of horror movie -- it deftly sidesteps the cheap tricks and scares that most ghost stories employ.
Unaware that his father has been killed, Carlos (Fernando Tielve) thinks that he's being left at a remote orphanage only temporarily. Kindly Dr. Casares (Federico Luppi) sympathizes with the lonely new boy, but Carlos soon is distracted from his troubles. He keeps seeing shadows, footprints and falling pitchers -- and when he wanders down into the vaulted cellar, he catches a glimpse of a silent ghost with a bleeding head wound. Even worse, the ghost -- which was a boy named Santi -- informs him that many people there will die.
But the most dangerous one at the orphanage is the brutal former-orphan Jacinto (Eduardo Noriega), who is searching for a cache of hidden gold. As Carlos tries to figure out how Santi died -- and what angry, miserable Jaime (Íñigo Garcés) has to do with it -- the orphanage is suddenly turned into an explosive war zone. As Dr. Casares tries to protect the remaining boys, Carlos discovers the reason Santi died -- and what he wants now.
"The Devil's Backbone" is a movie filled with death: the orphanage is a dying institution in a time of war, filled with orphans and surrounded by sun-burnt grass. It even has a defused torpedo stuck right in the middle of the courtyard. By the time the ghost shows up, it seems like almost a natural part of such a ruined, quietly sorrowful place.
Fortunately Guillermo del Toro avoids cheap scares -- the ghost doesn't make weird noises or leap out at Carlos for no reason. Instead he evokes the fear of a child in a dark, creaky old house who is ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN that there's something out there. Also some beautifully creepy visuals, such as blood floating in the air as if it were in water.
But the whole creepy-ghostly-factor is eclipsed about halfway through the movie. After a slow buildup of tension, everything suddenly erupts when Jacinto suddenly reveals his true self. Suddenly we've got explosions, blood, shattered glass, mangled bodies and an all-too human enemy who is slowly closing in. It makes the ghostly Santi seem suddenly very... nonthreatening.
And though the plot seems simple, del Toro spins a spiderweb of interconnected hints and plot threads -- comic books, slug collections, a wooden leg and blood-tinged water all come into play. There's loads of symbolism, and the beautiful scenes (Dr. Casares' final poetry recital to Carmen) are handled just as powerfully as the more gory, ghastly ones (the orphans' final assault).
It's kind of amazing that this was Tielve's movie debut, because he's simply incredible -- his character slides through fear, courage, sorrow and confusion, all with a kind of unshakable innocence. Garcés is equally good; at first he seems like a mere bully, but we gradually see how troubled and guilty he feels over what happened to Santi. Noriega is thoroughly nasty as a greedy, sociopathic thug who cares about nobody except himself (even his fiancee), while Luppi is a kindly, cultured old man who obviously loves the boys as if they were his own.
I can't think of a better movie to receive a Criterion release, and there's a decent showing of material in this new release -- new subtitle translations and film restoration; a booklet by Mark Kermode; audio commentary, video introduction and new interviews with del Toro himself; older interviews; a making-of documentary; storyboards and concept sketches compared to the final film; deleted scenes with commentary; del Toro's notes, and so on.
"The Devil's Backbone" is a haunting kind of ghost story, where the ghost is not the scariest thing you'll see. A powerful, striking movie.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
A mysterious ghost haunts a Spanish orphange and 10 year old Carlos is determined to find out who and why it is haunting the facility in Guillermo del Toro's exceptinal ghost story set during the Spanish Civil War. This exceptional film receives a deluxe Blu-ray treatment from Criterion. Unfortunately for those who want this edition, it is Region A locked. If you're in Europe, you'll need a region free player.
The transfer for "The Devil's Backbone" tooks absolutely stunning for this 2001 film. Detail is exceptional and there is no overuse of digital noise reduction. The film looks quite nice in its high def debute.
The lossless 5.1 audio also sounds terrific. This doesn't feature an English dubbed version but does feature English subtitles.
The special feaatures are a highlight on this set. We get an introduction by del Toro (in English), del Toro's 2004 commentary from the Sony release, deleted scenes, sketches, a 30 minute behind-the-scenes documentary (that is excellent)as well as a 15 minute interview with del Toro discussing the creation of one of the most memorable characters in the film. We also get an excellent featurette on the designs for the film featuring del Toro.
We also get "Director's Notebook" an interactive feature that allows us to dig in to the director's notes on the film. "Spanish Gothic" is an interview with del Toro, deleted scenes, a series of side-by-side comparisons of del Toro's thumbnail illustrations and the finished film. We also get a brief featurette with Spanish Civil War historian Sebastian Faber and the trailer for the film. As with all Criterion editions, this features a booklet with an essay on the making of the film.
An exceptional film from director del Toro, this edition of "The Devil's Backbone" is an improved on Sony's 2004 release and is recommended.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
The Devil's Backbone is a del Toro masterpiece. The story is psychologically scary, contains some minor, light humor and tons of atmosphere.
The story goes that a giant unexploded bomb (supposedly defused) sits in the center of an all boy's orphanage. Each child seems to be there based on the fact that their parents have died in the Spanish Civil War. In the opening a young boy dies and the rumor persists that the boy's ghost haunts the orphanage.
Mix in some greed and you have a tale that will leave you thinking.
Region A locked Blu Ray.
The best this film has ever looked. The darkness is properly exposed and there are no compression issues to be spotted, especially in the darkness shrouded areas. In the age of Blu Ray, thankfully improperly mastered video is a true rarity.
Criterion have gone back and cleaned up 1000s of instances of dust, dirt and scratches, so there really isn't any place where any of that appears in the video.
MPEG-4 AVC encoded with high bit rates.
DTS-HD 5.1 Spanish language with optional English subtitles. Given this is the original language track, it's no surprise this is the only option on this release given Criterion's love of authenticity. Had someone else already created an English overdub, it would likely have been included, so I assume no such dub exists.
The Devil's Backbone is not an action heavy scare fest with lots of explosions. There are some scenes of explosive violence, but it's not the focus. Dialog is crisp and clean. Sound envelops you nicely with the surround options.
10 featurettes are included, along with a commentary and trailers. The featurettes, if you want to gain a deeper understanding of the film, are well worth watching. Some are 1080i and others are 1080p.
There is also a booklet that goes in depth on the film, but for me it was more of a take it or leave it kind of thing. It was OK to read, but nothing profound.
A great film, with a great presentation with some really deep psychological terror.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on September 15, 2013
Watching this movie I could not help comparing it to Pan's Labyrinth. Both movies share the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War and concern themselves with the lives of children who are caught in the flow of those grand events.
This movie centers on a group of orphans whose parents are off fighting, or dead, as a result of the civil war. The children all reside in an orphanage, run by an old doctor and teacher, where they are taught and fed, as best as possible.
Whats beautiful about the movie is how, like Pan's Labyrinth, it explores the trauma of war on the arguably innocent bystanders in the conflict. The children take center stage. However, even as they act and slowly unravel the mystery surrounding the orphanage their fate is being decided by the adults around them - as it always has been. Its this lack of agency and exposure to the death and destruction of the war - the dud bomb sitting in the courtyard of the orphanage being a constant reminder of this - that haunts the children throughout the film.
I loved the setting and the visuals of this film, as I do with all the del Toro films I have seen. The scenery is so convincing that it would be easy to assume this is an accurate depiction of Spain in the 1930s, without any prior knowledge. As always, the horror and Gothic elements that del Toro constantly employs show up. Its this atmosphere that makes the film so enticing. The ability to create and maintain this distinct world from the first shot while simultaneously telling an engaging multi-layered story is a master's feat.
The movie is well acted, in particular Federico Luppi is brilliant. His performance as the old doctor, who constantly reminds the viewer and the boys that this tale is about revenge as much as trauma and war is as well done as any performance I've seen in theaters this year.
Apart from the obvious comparison to Pan's Labyrinth, which is a continuation, or companion piece, to this movie, I found myself being reminded of 1970s and 80s Mexican melodramas, specifically The Castle of Purity. There is a sense of the claustrophobic atmosphere of that film here. A doom seems to loom over all who leave this safety of the orphanage, yet salvation, transformation, and a future only seems to exist in the outside world.
On top of this, the film plays on the Peter Pan concept of the 'Lost Boys.' Everything from the title (about children who should have never been born), their lack of parents, purpose, and innocence marks these boys as 'lost.' This comparison is cemented by the last scene of the film as the boys limp out of the orphanage's gates.
Finally, let me say the Mike Mignola box art for this movie is beautiful!
Overall, I enjoyed this movie. It is a well-executed atmospheric supernatural horror film about death, trauma, and revenge. All of del Toro's brilliant abilities are on display as he creates a distinct moment in time and a thought-provoking narrative. Its worth a watch.
Check out more reviews of Criterion Collection movies at criterioncabaret . blogspot . com
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on February 9, 2014
Before he got really big he was doing great "smaller" flicks like this that show his style and story-telling. Without giving up the story the movie is about a boy left at an orphanage during the Spanish civil war. While there he uncovers a mystery that remains unsolved but through his ability to communicate with the deceased victim the truth unfolds. More of a story-telling than a gotcha or boo thriller type movie. And, reading an essay on the movie to understand the symbolism regarding del Toro's position on the war and socialism makes it all the more interesting.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on July 19, 2014
"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. An emotion suspended in time. Like a blurred photograph. Like an insect trapped in amber."
We are asked a question at the beginning of The Devil's Backbone. We are asked to provide the film with the definition of a ghost. This will be a query that will last the entire film. In 2001 director Guillermo Del Toro gave us his most intimate, disturbing, and powerful film, The Devil's Backbone. It is a ghost story about people who are used to being haunted. It is about people who are used to the chill. The film takes place in an orphanage, a home for lost and unwanted boys. We think of the scene where the good Dr. Cesares is explaining what a devil's backbone actually is to one of the orphaned boys. He explains that a devil's backbone is what the locals in town use when referring to the visible and rocky spines of stillborns and aborted fetuses. He says that the locals believe that these fetuses were destined to be nobody's children, children that shouldn't have been born. Cesares also explains that the liquid used to suspend the fetuses in jars is called "limbo water".
Now... I don't really have to go into all that and analyze it for several unnecessary paragraphs, right? I mean, we can all agree how blunt and straight forward Cesare was being. If not, in short, Cesare was using a parable to provoke pathos. The children abandoned at the orphanage can be viewed in much the same way as the the fetuses in the jars. Suspended in "limbo water", the world ignorant, wishing they had never been born for no one wants them.
I think that this film best makes use of Del Toro's unique style. The maestro of the macabre is in full form here and his talents are on full display. Del Toro is a very fantastical filmmaker with a one-of-a-kind imagination. Sui generis. He has been gifted with a distinctive voice and the amazing ability to coherently express it. He's a modern treasure. In The Devil's Backbone he makes eloquent use of the Spanish Civil War, using it as his backdrop. As is customary in a Del Toro picture, the ghouls may frighten you but the living are the ones that will give you nightmares.
Enter Jacinto. Portrayed excellently by the fully capable Eduardo Noriega, Jacinto is is the film's primary antagonist. And he's a villain for the history books, folks. This guy is absolutely nefarious. But he is also handled with such delicate care by Del Toro and Noriega that he ends up being the most complex and pitiful character of the film. Jacinto is the corrupt caretaker at the orphanage. When he was a boy, he was stuck in the very same place. And he hated it. It instilled in him an overarching sense of abandonment and inferiority. He is truly the prodigal son gone man. He is called a prince without a kingdom. He is christened the saddest orphan. And you can see it too, that utter despair in his face. That look of the unwanted and undesirable, usually reserved only for the dead, he has worn it all his life.
He is the epitome of selfishness, callousness, malevolence, and sadness and grief. He has no idea what it takes to be a man, for at heart he is still that weeping child all alone. He is so determined one could safely assume that he has a bone to pick with the entire world or at the very least something to prove to it. He wanted to prove that he was wanted once, that he was really loved, that his parents cherished him, that they were proud of having him and he was proud to come from such a rich lineage. But he couldn't have any of those things. Life gave him a raw deal and he didn't know what to do with all of it. You can sense inside of him an uncontrollable fear of dying insignificantly.
Jacinto is Del Toro's best honed villain. Not only is he despicable and ruthless, he is empathetic. You can't help but sympathize with him. Not with the monster he is now, but with the unloved child he once was. But then you realize and you understand that the same unloved child who received your sympathy is exactly what caused and gave birth to the monster. Without the unloved child inside of him, Jacinto would not have become so vengeful and vicious. He was not born evil, he is not naturally sadistic. He is a man-child, immature and greedy. An overgrown bully. A very sad person. But a person who resonates nonetheless.
It is for characters like Jacinto that remind me why I love the medium so much. Based on what you can communicate through it, film can be the most potent art form in the world. Especially when given the privilege of observing and concentrating on a character as complex and classical as Jacinto. Jacinto is easily one of the greatest villains of all time. There is virtually no end to his complexities and mysteries. He is representative of several incredibly interesting philosophical ideals. He is representative of several gender based and political issues. He is representative of the debate over what system really raises you, the nuclear family or the nuclear machine. Jacinto brings to mind countless questions that will echo, oscillate, and haunt you. Like a phantom. Like a ghost.
So. What's a ghost, huh? Well, there are endless ways to go about answering that, the film makes this perfectly clear. But what's so humbling about part of the answer that the film provides is that a ghost is the uninhabitable and cold parts of the living spirit. That we all carry around ghosts. That we must learn to make peace with what we can never have. Longing is one of the hardest ghouls to exorcize but to be happy in this world, we must.
The Devil's Backbone is a most extraordinary and chilling film. One of my all-time favorites.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on December 22, 2013
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.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on March 5, 2014
This Film is a must , for fans of Beauty and Terror , Which seems to be Guillermo Del-Toro Trade marks , I was fortunate to purchase
a signed Blu Ray Criterion . Del-Toro is an excellent Artist in his own , and it shows in this film , He has a way with directing chidden
so as to see the story from a child's point of view , Especially where scene's of Terror or horror to Adults would be running scared , The child is seeing , not horror , but instead hiding , the child or children are curious , a kindred spirit . The real horror is outside , with the living who willing to murder a child for just being in the way. Guillermo Del-Toro shows us, in this remarkable film .
Thank you everyone : For giving me your time.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on August 5, 2013
The good news is that all of the extras from the The Devil's Backbone (Special Edition) have been ported over with several new extras added into the mix on this new edition. The first disc includes a brief, new introduction by Guillermo del Toro talking about what this special edition has to offer.
He contributes an impressive audio commentary, talking about his aim to take the gothic romance novel and transport it into the Spanish Civil War. Del Toro was also interested in fusing the war genre with the ghost story. He goes into great detail dissecting the elements of the gothic romance and how it applies to his film in a very accessible and articulate way. There is not a single lull in this highly engaging and informative track.
Also included is a trailer for The Devil's Backbone.
The second disc starts off with "Summoning Spirits," a new interview with Del Toro where he talks about the gothic horror genre and how he created the ghost of Santi. The director talks about his drawings for the character and why he looks the way he does. We see how Del Toro achieved his vision and the special effects work that went into it. This is a fascinating look at the process.
"Making of Documentary" is a 27-minute look at various aspects of the film. They are broken down into six segments that can be viewed separately or altogether. Del Toro and his co-screenwriter, Antonio Trashorras talk about the film's classic ghost story and how they tried to put an original spin on it. The director, with his art director Cesar Macarron, talk about the look of the film and how they wanted characters to be framed in archways -- "Humans confined by architecture," as Del Toro puts it. This is an excellent look at how the movie was made and told in a concise and informative manner.
"Spanish Gothic" is a new extra that sees Del Toro talking about The Devil's Backbone and Pan's Labyrinth (New Line Two-Disc Platinum Series) and their relationship to the Spanish gothic genre. He talks about the origins of the film's title, steeped in Mexican folklore, and how he changed it to fit the Spanish setting. Del Toro also talks about how he tried to create something new within this genre.
"Director's Notebook" features a few scribblings from Del Toro's notebook. It is interesting to see how much the finished film reflects these drawings.
"Designing The Devil's Backbone" is a new interview with Del Toro, which examines the art direction and set design, singling out several key collaborators. A lot of planning and work went into the look of the film, from costumes to the content of the rooms, and it all had a purpose or a meaning.
There are four deleted scenes with optional commentary by the director. He explains that they were cut mostly because they slowed down the pacing of the movie.
"Sketch, Storyboard, Screen" allows one to watch parts of the film with selected sketches by Del Toro that he did for certain scenes. These drawings pop up in the corner of the screen so as not to obscure the entire frame. You can also compare six scenes from the film with the thumbnail drawings, storyboard and the final product simultaneously. There is also a gallery of sketches and drawings of characters, sets, and the special effects.
Finally, there is the "War of Values," featuring Spanish Civil War expert Sebastiaan Faber examining the role that this historical conflict plays in The Devil's Backbone. He provides a brief rundown of the war and puts it in the context of the film. This is an informative look at the historical backdrop to the film.
14 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on May 8, 2013
Guillermo del Toro's 'El Espinazo del Diablo' "The Devil's Backbone" tells a story set during the Spanish civil war in the 30's where a new orphan Carlos arrives at an orphanage that holds dark secrets. A few years before a young boy named Santi was murdered and recently the other boys who call him "He Who Whispers" tell Carlos about him and when Carlos first sees Santi the ghost boy tells him that many others will die. Carlos makes fast friends with some of the other boys and they're all wary about a large unexploded bomb that has landed in their courtyard. Plus, there's also the mystery of some gold that is kept in a secret hiding place by Dr Caspares.
When del Toro makes films in his native language they're just brilliant and this one is a precursor to his even bigger hit the Oscar winning 'El Labarinto del Fauno" "Pan's Labyrinth". As you can tell, this reviewer prefers to name the films by their foreign titles. So for genuine chills in a frightening ghost story when 'El Espinazo del Diablo' comes to Criterion Blu Ray at the end of July, snag it it's worth any price. A great film with a top-notch cast the boys are naturals in this "Oliver Twist" ghost story from one of our most imaginative directors.