The Devil's Backbone: Wikis


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The Devil's Backbone
(El espinazo del diablo)

Original Spanish-language poster
Directed by Guillermo del Toro
Produced by Guillermo del Toro
Pedro Almodóvar
Written by Guillermo del Toro
Antonio Trashorras
David Muñoz
Narrated by Federico Luppi
Starring Eduardo Noriega
Marisa Paredes
Federico Luppi
Íñigo Garcés
Fernando Tielve
Irene Visedo
Berta Ojea
Music by Javier Navarrete
Cinematography Guillermo Navarro
Editing by Luis De La Madrid
Release date(s) Spain:
April 20, 2001
United States:
November 21, 2001
Running time 106 min.
Country Spain
Language Spanish
Budget US$4,500,000 (est.)
Gross revenue US$6,459,020

The Devil's Backbone (Spanish: El espinazo del diablo, literally The Backbone of the Devil) is a 2001 Mexican/Spanish gothic thriller film written by Guillermo del Toro, Antonio Trashorras and David Muñoz, and directed by Guillermo del Toro. It was independently produced by Pedro Almodóvar.

It is set in Spain, 1939 during the Spanish Civil War. During the director's commentary in the DVD, del Toro stated that, along with Hellboy, this was his most personal project. The film was shot in Madrid.



A boy named Carlos (Fernando Tielve) arrives at an orphanage, thinking that he will be staying there for a while, until his father returns from the Spanish Civil War. In the center of its courtyard, there is a bomb which was defused. Carlos sees a ghost of a boy in the kitchen doorway. When he goes in to investigate, he is distracted by two orphans, Galvez and Owl, whom he befriends. He shows them his toys and comics, until Jaime (Íñigo Garcés), an older orphan, steals one of them. Carlos starts to fight with him but is distracted by the sight of his tutor and his bodyguard driving away without him. Although he doesn't know it, his father is dead, and he will be staying in the orphanage indefinitely. Dr. Casares (Federico Luppi), the assistant administrator, sympathizes with him.

That night, in his bed, Carlos is distracted by noises, suggested to be a ghost. The alleged ghost knocks over a pitcher of water, which wakes the rest of the orphans. Carlos and Jaime dare each other to go into the kitchen and refill the water pitchers. Carlos wanders down a spiral staircase, where he hears the ghost, who tells him cryptically that many will die. He runs away, but Jacinto (Eduardo Noriega), a former orphan who now works at the orphanage, catches him.

The next day, Carlos doesn't reveal why he was out, which earns him Jaime's respect. Jaime offers him valuables in trade for the stolen comic book, to which Carlos refuses. When a long sigh is heard, an orphan mentions a ghost, and it is explained to Carlos that a boy named Santi (Junio Valverde) had disappeared on the same night the bomb was dropped. Ever since then, there has been a ghost haunting the orphanage. Jaime acts as if he doesn't believe in the ghost. Another night, Carlos sneaks out to the courtyard. He approaches the bomb and asks it to show him the ghost. In response, a paper streamer on the bomb is caught by the wind and leads him to the ghost, but when the ghost touches him, he becomes scared, so he runs away. The ghost follows him into the main building, and Carlos locks himself in a closet, where he sleeps. Later when Carlos looks in Jaime's sketchbook and finds a picture of Santi, the ghost, he realizes that Jaime knows more than he's telling.

Jacinto has been in the orphanage for a long time, and despises the place. His girlfriend Conchita (Irene Visedo), (on whom Jaime has a crush) has plans with him to get married. He is aware of the existence of a stash of gold at the orphanage, and he uses sexual favors to steal keys from Carmen (Marisa Paredes), the head of the orphanage. Carmen loves Dr. Casares, though she is unwilling to acknowledge this. Dr. Casares is embarrassed by his impotence and it seems to inhibit his confidence relating to the physical aspect of his love. Jacinto is unsuccessful in stealing the right key to the safe.

On a trip to town, Dr. Casares witnesses Carlos' tutor and his bodyguard being executed by the army. Dr. Casares plans to lead the orphans away from the orphanage, because of the rapidly escalating war. Jacinto demands the gold but is forced to leave at gunpoint.

As the orphans and staff prepare to leave Conchita discovers Jacinto preparing to blow up the safe. She threatens him with a shotgun, he taunts her, and she accidentally shoots him in the shoulder. In the ensuing melee, Jacinto succeeds in burning much of the orphanage down before leaving. The explosion kills Carmen and many orphans, leaving many of the survivors badly wounded, including Dr. Casares. Dr. Casares promises the boys that he will never leave and takes up guard duty over the remains of the orphanage, waiting at the window with a shotgun for the return of Jacinto.

The night after the explosion, Jaime tells Carlos that he was present when Santi was killed. They had been collecting slugs near the cistern, a sort of man-made pool of water in the cellar under the kitchen. Santi hears a noise and discovers Jacinto trying to break into the safe. Santi runs back into the cellar and Jacinto follows. Jacinto tries to threaten Santi; when they struggle, Jacinto slams him against the wall. Santi goes into shock from his head wound and Jacinto panics. He ties weights to Santi's body and hides him in the cistern. Jaime has witnessed all of this from his hiding place.

The second day after the explosion, Dr. Casares dies at his post, and Jacinto comes back looking for the gold. En route back to the orphanage with two co-conspirators he meets Conchita, walking to town for help. When she refuses to apologize to Jacinto for shooting him, he stabs and kills her.

Jacinto and his friends imprison the orphans and then set about looking for the gold. His friends soon grow impatient and leave him, but he eventually finds it. Meanwhile, the orphans realize they'll be killed once Jacinto finds the gold. They sharpen sticks with shards of glass and escape their prison, with the aid of the ghost of Dr. Casares. Luring Jacinto into the cellar, they stab him and push him into the same pool of water Santi was drowned in. Weighted down by the gold and dragged down by the ghost of Santi, Jacinto also drowns. The surviving orphans leave, being watched by the ghost of Dr. Casares.


  • Fernando Tielve as Carlos: The protagonist. He is described by del Toro in the DVD commentary as a force of innocence. Tielve had originally auditioned to be cast as an extra before del Toro decided to cast him as the lead. This was his film debut. Both Fernando and his co-star Íñigo Garcés (Jaime) had cameos as guerrilla soldiers in Pan's Labyrinth.
  • Íñigo Garcés as Jaime: He begins as an antagonist, but later befriends Carlos.
  • Eduardo Noriega as Jacinto: The antagonist.
  • Junio Valverde as Santi: An orphan who becomes a ghost.
  • Federico Luppi as Dr. Casares: The administrator of the orphanage. He narrates in bookends at the end and the beginning. Luppi had previously been cast in del Toro's earlier effort Cronos.
  • Marisa Paredes as Carmen: A co-administrator of the orphanage.
  • Irene Visedo as Conchita: Jacinto's fiancée.


The response was generally 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 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."

This film was #61 on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments for its various scenes in which the ghost is seen. It was rated the #5 horror movie of all time by Rotten Tomatoes, and currently holds a 92% rating there. 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."[1]


The Devil's Backbone was nominated for a Saturn Award for Best Horror Film. It was also nominated for Best Costume Design and Best Special Effects at the Goya Awards. Fernando Tielve won a Young Artist Award in the category of Best Young Actor in an International Film.


External links

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