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The Devil's Backbone

Starring Fernando Tielve, Federico Luppi, Marisa Paredes, Inigo Garces
Screenplay by Guillermo del Toro, Antonio Trashorras and David Muñoz
Directed by Guillermo del Toro

In Spanish, with subtitles.

IN SHORT: We hate nitpicking on technical stuff but... [Rated R for Violence, Language and Some Sexuality. 106 minutes]

The nastiest thing we can say about Guillermo del Toro's most satisfying ghost story The Devil's Backbone is that the subtitles suck. That won't keep you from following the story though misspellings of one "character's" name in the first half of the film could throw you for a loop. Simple proofreading or a spellcheck would have caught almost any error.

And, lest we get nasty comments about this site, we do the best our solo fingers can. Then again, if you've written to complain about mistakes made years ago (and still in the archives) you're just the type who will bitch the most about this flick.

Somewhere in the Middle-Of-Nowhere, Spain, sits an orphanage that looks like an old fort. Inside an elegant couple, teacher Carmen (Marisa Paredes) and husband Dr. Cásares (Federico Luppi) look after their children, many of them victims of the Civil War ravaging pre-WWII Spain. We begin with the arrival of ten year-old Carlos (Fernando Tielve) who does not know that his parents have been dispatched in the fighting between the Fascists and the Communists. Carlos' parents, as is the orphanage, side with the latter with the orphanage being a secret depository for gold used to fund the Red effort. Among the other grownups is Jacinto (Eduardo Noriega), who spent 15 years under the Doctor's care and has returned to the orphanage as a caretaker, though he spends his time shtupping the boss lady for access to her set of keys. His motive? He is seeking the gold.

Carlos knows nothing of this. All he knows is that the name "Santi" is carved into the locker next to his assigned bed. When he speaks the name, a ghostly voice calls back, scaring the beejeezus out of the kidlet. As time passes the ghost, first called the "one who sights," makes noises, rattles stuff, and occasionally appears to our boy, who already has his hands full fighting off the dormitory bully Jaime (Iñigo Garcés). In the course of events with Jaime, Carlos sees Jacinto doing something way outside the line of duty . . . and we discover the identity of the ghost, now called the "one who sighs".

We're guessing that two different people wrote the subtitles. The first couldn't translate and the second couldn't spell. It's the little things that can put the royal kibosh on enjoying a great film like this one and it's the last time we'll warn you about it. Hopefully by the time the film gets out of pre-release screenings and onto the big screen, someone will have come up with enough money to crack the negative and reburn the titles. We doubt it.

What's left is a very cool ghost story, with a couple of nice twists held for the finale.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Nine Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Devil's Backbone, he would have paid . . .


The title refers to a fetal anomalie in which the spine grows outside of the body. The good doctor has one of these poor creatures soaking in a bottle filled with rum, becausean orphanage has got to get its funding somewhere...

We tussled with the idea of spilling the "what for" of that last paragraph but it's too good a story point to reveal.

amazon com link Click to buy films by Guillermo del Toro
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