The Devil's Backbone

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The Devil's Backbone
Espinazo del diablo poster.jpg
Original Spanish-language poster
Directed by Guillermo del Toro
Produced by
Written by
Narrated by Federico Luppi
Music by Javier Navarrete
Cinematography Guillermo Navarro
Edited by Luis De La Madrid
Distributed by Warner Sogefilms A.I.E.
Release dates
  • April 20, 2001 (2001-04-20) (Spain)
Running time
107 minutes[1]
  • Spain
  • Mexico
Language Spanish
Budget US$4.5 million
Box office US$6.5 million

The Devil's Backbone (Spanish: El espinazo del diablo) is a 2001 Spanish-Mexican gothic horror film directed by Guillermo del Toro, and written by del Toro, David Muñoz, and Antonio Trashorras. It was independently produced by Pedro Almodóvar, and filmed in Madrid.

The film is set in Spain, 1939, during the final year of the Spanish Civil War. Del Toro considers it his most personal film.[citation needed] The film was released to very positive reviews from critics and audiences.


Casares (Federico Luppi) and Carmen (Marisa Paredes) operate a small home for orphans in a remote part of Spain during the Spanish Civil War. Helping the couple mind the orphanage are Jacinto (Eduardo Noriega), the groundskeeper, and Conchita (Irene Visedo), a teacher who is also involved with Jacinto. Casares and Carmen are aligned with the Republican loyalists, and are hiding a large cache of gold that's used to back the Republican treasury; perhaps not coincidentally, the orphanage has also been subject to attacks from Franco's troops, and a defused bomb sits in the home's courtyard. One day, a boy named Carlos (Fernando Tielve) arrives at the home with two republicans, they both ask Cesares and Carmen to take him in because his father died fighting the fascists. Casares and Carmen take him in, and the boy soon strikes up an unlikely friendship with Jaime (Íñigo Garcés), a boy with a reputation for tormenting other kids. But Carlos soon begins having visions of a mysterious apparition he can't identify, and hears strange stories about a child named Santi who went missing the day the bomb appeared near the orphanage.


  • Fernando Tielve as Carlos, an orphan. He is described by del Toro in the DVD commentary as a force of innocence. Tielve had originally auditioned as an extra before del Toro decided to cast him as the lead. This was his film debut. Both Tielve and his co-star Iñigo Garcés had cameos as guerrilla soldiers in Pan's Labyrinth.
  • Íñigo Garcés as Jaime, the orphanage bully who later befriends Carlos.
  • Eduardo Noriega as Jacinto, the caretaker.
  • Marisa Paredes as Carmen, the administrator of the orphanage.
  • Federico Luppi as Dr. Casares, the orphanage doctor.
  • Junio Valverde as Santi, an orphan who becomes a ghost.
  • Irene Visedo as Conchita, Jacinto's fiancée.


Del Toro wrote the first draft before writing his debut film Cronos. This "very different" version was set in the Mexican Revolution and focused not on a child's ghost but a "Christ with three arms".[2]


The response was overwhelmingly 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 later in the same year.[3] 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."[4]

The film was #61 on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments for its various scenes in which the ghost is seen. It currently holds a 92% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.[5] 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."[6] The film has been described as a humanist ghost story.[7]

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