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on October 2, 2013
The movie looks incomparable to older versions. The picture and sound on this transfer are leaps and bounds above what you will find anywhere else. Guillermo Del Toro always does great supplemental material on his films as well. There is a lot of insight behind the storytelling and the technical side as well. This is a great movie...better than El Laberinto Del Fauno (Pan's Labyrinth) in my humble opinion. I love Pan's Labyrinth as well but there is something more tangible here and the message is more precisely delivered. Even though they are "sister" movies each should be judged on their own merits.

The supernatural element device in this film is not meant to insight horror in the same way a typical Hollywood scream flick would. There is meaning in each carefully orchestrated encounter that you do not fully realize until the the conclusion. The cinematography, story, setting, characters, direction, editing, even the sometimes brutal violence is all beautiful and none of it is filler. I wish Guillermo got to do more of this type of work instead of his mainstream projects as of late. Without a doubt he is one of the most talented and passionate directors/storytellers in the business today.

I would recommend this movie to anyone who loves a great story, great characters, and above all else a memorable experience. To quote the movie itself..." 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." This movie is a beautiful creation trapped in amber awaiting you to view it with the respect and awe that it deserves. Slasher fans need not apply this is a great period piece with a hint of the supernatural and realistic brutal violence which is not glorified. It is a restrained and delicate movie that requires attention and thought to be completely enjoyed and appreciated.

It is probably obvious at this point but this is one of my favorite movies. Should I have to narrow my collection of over 150 carefully selected favorites on blu-ray down to 10 or even 5 this one makes the cut without question. Criterion has some great films in their collection and this one has earned the right to be included along with the best of them. Love it or hate it (an unlikely outcome) you have to respect the passion that went into this movie and all the things that set it apart from so many forgettable blockbusters.

My only minor complaint is that I am a bit anal about continuity on my movie shelf and the different size and color case don't fit in with the rest of my collection (I know, I know). If I had the luxury of owning more Criterion titles this might not be an issue and of course many people simply wouldn't care. There is no hope of moving the artwork over to a regular blue case though since it comes in different dimensions. So, it sticks out like a sore thumb on the shelf but it is completely worth it.
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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.
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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
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on August 7, 2013
Being a tremendous fan of Guillermo del Toro's masterpiece Pan's Labyrinth, I have long awaited the opportunity to view its "sibling" film, The Devil's Backbone. The Criterion Collection's new Blu-ray release has finally allowed me to do so in a manner befitting del Toro's vision for the film.

Set in the final days of the Spanish Civil War, the film concerns a young boy named Carlos as he is abandoned at an orphanage set in the middle of the war-torn landscape. With the orphanage having only a minimal staff and dwindling supplies, Carlos's situation is exacerbated by bullying from the other children and encounters with the restless ghost of a boy who disappeared some time ago and whose fate seems inextricably linked to a future catastrophe that threatens the lives of everyone at the orphanage. Carlos must learn to stand up for himself, make friends, and unravel the mysteries of the ghost's past while conditions both outside and within the orphanage deteriorate and tensions build to an explosive confrontation.

Like its successor film, The Devil's Backbone works both on its own terms and as allegory on resisting oppression. The execution is neither as flawless nor as intricate as in Pan's Labyrinth, but del Toro manages to put enough of his own macabre touches -- a prosthetic limb and jars of pickled, deformed fetuses among them -- to keep things interesting. The rendering of the ghost, Santi, is wonderfully melancholic and beautiful in design. Guillermo Navarro's cinematography is sumptuous and rich. The acting is uniformly excellent, even from the child actors, and does an excellent job of drawing the audience into the story. The Devil's Backbone is not del Toro's magnum opus, but it is still a beautifully realized film and well-deserving of its quality reputation.

Criterion's Blu-ray is equally noteworthy. The cover artwork by Guy Davis is quite striking, and the audio/visual presentation is superb with significant detail and immersive surround. The big reason I waited for this release to view the film is the new subtitle translation, personally translated by Guillermo del Toro himself after going on record with his disappointment in the original translation featured on Sony's release of the film. Also included are del Toro's commentary from the Sony release, as well as several documentaries and interviews, an interactive notebook, comparisons between sketches and storyboards and the finished film, deleted scenes, the theatrical trailer, and a booklet featuring an essay by film critic Mark Kermode; a basket of riches that, frankly, I have yet to explore much of its contents, but del Toro is known for his enthusiasm and quality in his film supplements and it appears that he has given Criterion substantial access in assembling the feature package for this disc.

This is a first-rate presentation of a haunting and poignant film. Don't miss it.
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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.
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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.
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on September 12, 2017
This is not a Horror movie. It's a Ghostly Drama. Very well-acted, and the story is melancholy and beautiful. I sobbed like a baby about 4 times during my 3rd viewing. It's very sad.
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on March 6, 2017
https://smile.amazon.com/dp/B00CEIOH3M/ref=cm_cr_ryp_prd_ttl_sol_6 Great movie. Good copy and sound.
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on July 21, 2017
Super edition.
As with all the Criterion edition this is no exception.
The only complain about it is not about this title but about the rest of the entire catalogue of Criterion.
I'm a spanish speaker. Of course, I can watch a movie in english without subtitles but not all can do the same.
Is it so expensive for Criterion to include subtitles in other language than english in their releases?
I think thay they're loosing a big chunk of the market for not doing it so.
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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.
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