posted 00/00/2008

Directed by:
Guillermo del Toro

Marisa Paredes ... Carmen
Eduardo Noriega ... Jacinto
Federico Luppi ... Dr. Casares
Fernando Tielve ... Carlos

Country: Spain |Mexico
Runtime: 76 min
Original title: El espinazo del diablo

Guillermo del Toro likes placing his tales within the context of Spanish wars. This is the second film I know of where he does this. You might probably know the first. It’s the well received Pan's Labyrinth. I loved The Devil's Backbone and Pan's Labyrinth. I own the latter and am marveled at how well Toro handles fantasy elements with such beauty. The only other one I’ve seen and disliked was Hell Boy, though I found the character designs very good.

During a stressful war period an orphan boy, Carlos, is left at a remote school for boys nestled in the desert. There is a large un-exploded bomb in the center of the school yard which commands our attention yet remains mysterious and symbolic of danger all around us. Carlos is no pushover. He gets picked on at the beginning by the other boys but manages to keep himself from being dominated.

During one of the boy’s night escapades Carlos and the bully leader Jaime sneak into the dark, large kitchen to fill a jar with water. Here they see the main villain, Jacinto. He is a violent, selfish young man who’s sole motivation is to find the gold bricks hidden somewhere in the school. Later we see he is also banging the much older, saggy skinned, Carmen. She run’s the school along with Dr. Casares, a noble ,old scientist. Oh, and did I mention that Carmen has her right leg amputated at the knee and wears a scary looking wooden leg.

So Jacinto is seen fumbling with a key, trying to open a vault hidden in the wall. No luck this time. This is not the first time an orphan boy catches Jacinto red-handed. The following which happened a while back gives us the supernatural element of the movie. Santi, a boy, runs into Jacinto. Jacinto gets mad and shoves him hard into a wall killing him instantly. He then covers up his mess by tying up the corpse, taking it downstairs and dropping it into a pool of murky water. Don’t ask. I don’t know what a deep pool is doing in the basement of the kitchen. Santi now haunts the school.

Later Jacinto is exposed for wanting to steal the gold and is driven out into the dessert. But later he returns for vengeance. He stocks the kitchen with gas cans and douses those with lots of gasoline leading to a truck just outside. There is a lot of gas and when he lights it up the entire kitchen and part of the school, with the kids still inside, explodes with a mighty blast and gust of flames. Both Carmen and Dr. Casares die. Jacinto finds the gold and plans to retreat. I won’t say where the gold was hidden. That will be left to surprise you when you see the film.

The ending is just as great as any other part of this film. I must say that Jacinto gets what’s coming to him. Now, let me warn you, there are spooky moments but very little ghost involvement. To me the human drama was the real story. The ghost felt like just a subplot. You know that I can’t figure out why the movie is called The Devil's Backbone. In one scene the Doctor shows Carlos a jar with a fetus in it. The back, or spine, looks stitched up from neck to ass. During the main credits you see a similar fetus with spikes running down his back. Ok, I don’t know what Guillermo was thinking. The Doctor tells Carlos that babies born with screwed up spine spikes means that the child should not have been born. What the HELL?! This is the only time that this is spoken about and this is the only explanation we get. This movie was great. But Guillermo, give us a break!

  - Jorge Antonio Lopez


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