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The Devil's Backbone (El Espinazo del diablo) (2001)



Average Rating: 7.5/10
Reviews Counted: 115
Fresh: 106 | Rotten: 9

Creepily atmospheric and haunting, The Devil's Backbone is both a potent ghost story and an intelligent political allegory.


Average Rating: 7.5/10
Critic Reviews: 30
Fresh: 29 | Rotten: 1

Creepily atmospheric and haunting, The Devil's Backbone is both a potent ghost story and an intelligent political allegory.



liked it
Average Rating: 3.9/5
User Ratings: 33,624

My Rating

Movie Info

The mournful fable of the Santa Lucia School during the last days of the Spanish Civil War. An imposing stone building set on a desolate plateau, the school shelters the orphans of the Republican militia and politicians, and other abandoned children. Upon his arrival at Santa Lucia, 10-year-old Carlos is confronted with the hostility of Jaime, the oldest of the children. Besides aged professor Casares, the adult personnel of the school includes Carmen, the steely headmistress; Alma, another

Jun 25, 2002

Sony Pictures Classics - Official Site External Icon

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Latest News on The Devil's Backbone (El Espinazo del diablo)

November 14, 2008:
Five Favorite Films with Guillermo del Toro
RT caught up with Hellboy II director Guillermo del Toro at the DVD/Blu-ray Launch Event for Hellboy...
July 13, 2008:
Guillermo del Toro - RT's Dinner and the Movies Interview
We have an extended chat with the director of Cronos, Pan's Labyrinth and this week's Hellboy II to...


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All Critics (116) | Top Critics (30) | Fresh (106) | Rotten (9) | DVD (19)

Del Toro's elegant pacing and gothic touches imbue the proceedings with a cool mystery.

October 7, 2013 Full Review Source: New Yorker
New Yorker
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It's a horror flick, and a creepily good one, that also functions as an allegory of the war that still haunts Spain seven decades later.

October 7, 2013 Full Review Source: Wall Street Journal
Wall Street Journal
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The Devil's Backbone augments its abundant creepiness with an equally powerful poignancy.

October 7, 2013 Full Review Source: AV Club
AV Club
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Though it fails in its final reels to capitalize on its early promise, pic is still stylish, accomplished and tremendously enjoyable fare.

October 18, 2008 Full Review Source: Variety
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An entertaining and atmospheric revenge tale.

September 24, 2007 Full Review Source: Chicago Reader
Chicago Reader
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If only for its technical aspects, this would rate as a pleasurably superior supernatural psychological thriller, with polished but subtle special effects, painterly, atmospheric cinematography and vivid performances.

June 24, 2006 Full Review Source: Time Out
Time Out
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Although spooky, The Devil's Backbone becomes weighed down by perhaps one too many subplots.

September 8, 2014 Full Review Source: Under the Radar
Under the Radar

What Del Toro provides with The Devil's Backbone is the recognition that evil exists within the most routine of circumstances. That knowledge is as old as humanity's belief in the fantastic, and just as powerful.

October 7, 2013 Full Review Source: Metro Times (Detroit, MI)
Metro Times (Detroit, MI)

You may find that images from this movie clamber back into your memory weeks after you see it, and give your spine a chill.

October 7, 2013 Full Review Source: Baltimore Sun
Baltimore Sun

Though the whodunnit takes a fairly predictable course, the Spanish Civil War background adds powerful narrative and symbolic weight, while the striking imagery is simply poetic.

October 7, 2013 Full Review Source: Radio Times
Radio Times

This moody ghost story follows generally familiar lines despite its unusual historical setting, but it's imaginatively filmed and builds a sense of brooding emotional power.

October 7, 2013 Full Review Source: Christian Science Monitor
Christian Science Monitor

an elegant, emotionally fraught ghost story

August 21, 2013 Full Review Source: Q Network Film Desk
Q Network Film Desk

Pure, uncut del Toro. The filmmaker accomplishes riveting scenes of suspense and scares he honestly come by, sticking the landing of every effect he attempts. [Blu-ray]

August 12, 2013 Full Review Source: Groucho Reviews
Groucho Reviews

...a hopelessly erratic piece of work.

January 15, 2013 Full Review Source: Reel Film Reviews
Reel Film Reviews

Blending terror with tenderness, Guillermo Del Toro has crafted something both traditional and original: a sun-kissed gothic horror.

October 8, 2012 Full Review Source: Total Film
Total Film

It's a schoolboy ghost story, the kind best told after lights-out.

May 4, 2010 Full Review Source: East Bay Express
East Bay Express

Besides being genuinely creepy, it is also surprisingly moving. It is, quite probably ... the saddest horror movie ever made.

July 14, 2008 Full Review Source: Cinefantastique

Calling The Devil's Backbone a ghost story is an unfair simplification of an exquisitely crafted film... If you must label this film as horror, then it's a horror film with a soul.

July 10, 2008 Full Review Source:

A weirdly poetic film.

April 2, 2008 Full Review Source: Mountain Xpress (Asheville, NC)
Mountain Xpress (Asheville, NC)

Beautifully filmed, written and acted.

December 27, 2007 Full Review Source: Big Picture Big Sound
Big Picture Big Sound

It's a striking film and further good news for the Spanish cinema, too few of whose films open here.

September 24, 2007 Full Review Source: Observer [UK]
Observer [UK]

A finely acted, atmospheric period piece with a strong streak of mystery and the supernatural. Both chilling and rewarding.

September 24, 2007 Full Review Source: Film4

Audience Reviews for The Devil's Backbone (El Espinazo del diablo)

The Devil's Backbone is more sad than frightening. It focuses on the children in an orphanage with nowhere to turn to as the Spanish Civil War soon empties on their doorstep. While the ghost of Santi is truly unnerving, the film reflects a common theme in Guillermo del Toro's films - that humans are the worst kind of monsters.
April 14, 2014

Super Reviewer

Guillermo del Toro's The Devil's Backbone is a stunning, atmospheric horror tale that keeps you on the edge of your seat from start to finish. Del Toro viewed this as one of his most personal efforts, and unlike his other films, this film really goes deep into the horror genre, and in turn delivers a tense, terrifying film going experience. del Toro's direction is terrific and the script is well thought out with plenty of twists and turns to make for an exhilarating and terrifying film going experience. For me, del Toro is a unique director in the horror medium, as he has made several genre pictures that really stood out. Cronos and Mimic are proof of that. Both different films, yet they brought a whole new level of creativity to the medium, which is refreshing to see as well. This is an effective ghost story that is sure to appeal to genre fans, and for viewers looking for engaging horror tale, The Devil's Backbone is one such film that delivers what you'd expect from a del Toro picture. In terms of storytelling, this is a richly detailed film that grabs your attention from the first frame onwards. For fans that enjoy a good old fashioned ghost story, this will surely appeal to you. Del Toro always has a unique vision for his films, and with this film we get a different type f film, but it still nonetheless possesses everything you'd expect from a del Toro picture. His films tend to have a great sense of storytelling aided by powerful visuals. With The Devil's Backbone we get a surprisingly well crafted horror film that will stick with you long after you've seen. The film is one of the best foreign supernatural horror films that I've and it showcases Guillermo del Toro's great talents as a filmmaker perfectly.
February 1, 2014
Jeff "The Dude" Lebowski

Super Reviewer

Fantastic ghost story, brooding and menacing, always tense and brilliantly acted.
January 13, 2013

Super Reviewer

Guillermo del Toro's third time in the director's chair sees him making a supernatural spook story set during the Spanish Civil War. Though there are some chills and scares, it's more of a subtle horror, with the supernatural playing a part, but the human element being the main focus. In a lot of ways, this is just a dry run for Pan's Labyrinth, just not as polished or fully realized.

Don't get me wrong: this is very well made, and it looks great and is enjoyable, but it really just felt like a stepping stone to me, and not really as special as many feel it is.
November 27, 2012
Chris Weber

Super Reviewer

    1. Casares: I always thought there would be an afterwards. There is no afterwards.
    – Submitted by Frances H (6 months ago)
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