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The Devil's Backbone (2001)

El espinazo del diablo (original title)
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After Carlos, a 12-year-old whose father has died in the Spanish Civil War, arrives at an ominous boy's orphanage he discovers the school is haunted and has many dark secrets that he must uncover.


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6 wins & 7 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Dr. Casares
Íñigo Garcés ...
José Manuel Lorenzo ...
Francisco Maestre ...
El Puerco (as Paco Maestre)
Berta Ojea ...
Adrián Lamana ...
Daniel Esparza ...
Javier Bódalo ...
Búho (as Javier González Madrigal)


It is 1939, the end of three years of bloody civil war in Spain, and General Franco's right-wing Nationalists are poised to defeat the left-wing Republican forces. A ten-year-old boy named Carlos, the son of a fallen Republican war hero, is left by his tutor in an orphanage in the middle of nowhere. The orphanage is run by a curt but considerate headmistress named Carmen and a kindly Professor Casares, both of whom are sympathetic to the doomed Republican cause. Despite their concern for him, and his gradual triumph over the usual schoolhouse bully, Carlos never feels completely comfortable in his new environment. First of all, there was that initial encounter with the orphanage's nasty caretaker, Jacinto, who reacts even more violently when anyone is caught looking around a particular storage room the one with the deep well. Second, and more inexplicable, is the presence of a ghost, one of the former occupants of the orphanage named Santi. Not long after Carlos' arrival, Santi ... Written by Anonymous

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


The living will always be more dangerous than the dead. See more »


Drama | Fantasy | Horror

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for violence, language and some sexuality | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:




| | |


Release Date:

20 April 2001 (Spain)  »

Also Known As:

The Devil's Backbone  »

Box Office


$4,500,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend:

$34,963 (USA) (23 November 2001)


$754,749 (USA) (3 May 2002)

Company Credits

Production Co:

, ,  »
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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?


Was strongly inspired by the director's personal memories, especially his relationship with his uncle, who supposedly came back as a ghost. See more »


[first lines]
[voice over narration]
Casares: What is a ghost? A tragedy condemned to repeat itself time and again? An instant of pain, perhaps. Something dead which still seems to be alive. An emotion suspended in time. Like a blurred photograph. Like an insect trapped in amber.
See more »

Crazy Credits

During the opening credits sequence, the letters of the film's title can be seen floating around the preserved fetuses. Eventually, the letters come together to form the title. See more »


References The Searchers (1956) See more »


Besos fríos
Written by R. Romero and R. Lhoba
Performed by Raquel Meller
Courtesy Blue Moon Producciones Discograficas
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

Masterful Spanish ghost story - an instant classic
6 May 2005 | by See all my reviews

THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE (El Espinazo del Diablo)

Aspect ratio: 1.85:1

Sound format: Dolby Digital

During the Spanish Civil War, a young orphan boy (Fernando Tielve) is sent to an isolated boarding school where he encounters the ghost of a murdered child (Junio Valverde) who warns him of impending disaster...

A masterpiece. Filmed in Spain by writer-director Guillermo del Toro following his unhappy Hollywood debut (MIMIC), this spellbinding melodrama works both as an examination of the political turmoil which characterized the Spanish Civil War, and as a simple ghost story in which a tragic spirit seeks vengeance for a terrible crime. Employing restless camera-work and atmospheric set designs to their best advantage, del Toro visualizes his own script (co-written with Antonio Trashorras and David Muñoz) as the story of a vulnerable child cast adrift in a strange new world, where he must contend not only with everyday problems (such as the school bully, Ínigo Garcés, whose motives are rather more complex than they first appear), but also his frequent encounters with the unhappy ghost, some of which are genuinely unsettling (watch out for the heart-stopping sequence in which Tielve is besieged in a closet by the enraged phantom).

Production values are first-class throughout, ranging from César Macarrón's evocative art direction and Salvador Mayolas' ultra-creepy sound design, through to Luis de la Madrid's crisp editing skills and Javier Navarrete's unforgettable music score. Visual effects and makeup designs are also superb, though deliberately underplayed for maximum emotional effect. The cast is toplined by Spanish movie veterans Marisa Paredes (a favorite of Pedro Almodóvar) and Federico Luppi (CRONOS), and there are impressive turns by Irene Visedo as a young woman whose loyalties are divided by circumstances, and rising star Eduardo Noriega (the Spanish equivalent of Brad Pitt) as Visedo's boyfriend, an orphan-turned-caretaker whose volatile nature leads to a dramatic conclusion, with appalling consequences for everyone around him. Tielve is magnificent as the wide-eyed innocent at the center of the narrative, and Garcés is every bit his equal as the bully who reclaims his dignity during a climactic showdown with the forces of evil. Released around the same time as THE OTHERS (2001) - another Spanish ghost story, filmed in English as a vehicle for Nicole Kidman - THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE was consigned to Art-house distribution by virtue of its status as a subtitled movie and suffered a comparative loss at the US box-office, though del Toro's magical fever dream is unquestionably the better of the two films.

(Spanish dialogue)

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