The Devil's Backbone DVD Review

Written by Steve "Alien Redrum" Pattee


DVD released by Columbia Tri-Star



Directed by Guillermo del Toro

Written by Guillermo del Toro, Antonio Trashorras and David Muñoz

2001, Region 1 (NTSC), 106 minutes, Rated R

DVD released on June 25th, 2002


Eduardo Noriega as Jacinto
Marisa Paredes as Carmen
Federico Luppi as Casares
Fernando Tielve as Carlos
Íñigo Garcés as Jaime




During the Spanish Civil War, a plane flying high in the dark rainy night releases a bomb.  The bomb plummets to the earth and lands smack in the middle of an orphanage, only it doesn’t explode.  Could this be a sign of things just not right with this boy’s village, or is it just a fluke?

Some time after the bomb has dropped, a young boy named Carlos is dropped off at the orphanage.  Carlos thinks his tutor is at the orphanage on some kind of business.  What Carlos doesn’t realize is that he, Carlos, is the business.  Apparently the orphanage is for boys who have lost their fathers in the war and the people who run it are sympathizers to the rebel fighters. 

From the moment Carlos steps onto the orphanage property things start going wrong for him.  First he sees an aberration of another boy in one of the buildings doorways.  For a moment his attention is distracted elsewhere and when he turns back, the boy is gone.  Then, Carlos has the first, of which will be many, run ins with the lead bully of the school.  The worst part of this is these things happen before Carlos finds out he’s getting left behind by his tutor.


As the movie progresses, a couple of things are learned… 

First, the headmaster of the school, Carmen, has gold.  She uses the gold to support the freedom fighters of the war.   Apparently Carmen's husband was heavily involved with the orphanage at one point, but he up and died on her. 

Next, Jacinto, the ‘all hands man’ of the school, wants the gold.  He grew up an orphan at the school and he wants that gold so he can make a new life.  This guy isn’t the nicest guy around and he’s carrying his own secrets with him. 

Also, there is the Professor, Casares.  Casares makes a potion that he sells in town to get money for food and supplies for the orphanage.  It’s a rather interesting concoction that the old man sells.  For some reason, it is impossible to use the gold to keep the school running. 

Finally, there is a ghost running around the grounds.  The ghost takes an immediate attraction to Carlos and Carlos must overcome his fear to see exactly what this phantom wants.



I had heard bits and pieces about this movie through the internet and it was all good reviews.  I happened to be at a local video store during on of it’s numerous used DVD sales (I’m a sucker for these) and I picked it up.  Hell, it was only 10 bucks.  I figured my late charges are usually that much, so what the hell.

Let me tell you something,  I hate subtitles.  Hate them.  I will take a dub over subtitles on almost any day of the week.  It’s not the reading that bothers me (I’m actually a voracious reader), they are just distracting.  I watch a movie to WATCH the movie, not read it.  This rant is important because…

Visually, this movie is terrific.  From the bluish hue of the nights to the brightness of the days.  The movie has a wonderful pallet of colors and shots.  It’s tough to appreciate the beauty of this film on just one viewing and the subtitles do not help.  Yes, yes, I realize this is a foreign movie, but I am a spoiled American.  And since I am the one writing the review, I have every right to complain. 

The relationships between the actors was terrific.  From the tension between Carmen and Jacinto and the strained relationship between Carmen and Casares, to the violent relationship between Jacinto and the boys.  del Toro did a wonderful job weaving a plethora of different relationships between the characters.  The actors did a stand up job in their respective roles and you really got to care about the characters.

Guillermo del Toro is probably best known in the U.S. for directing Blade 2.  Don't let the style of Blade 2 fool you.  The Devil's Backbone and Blade 2 are two completely different movies, both visually and action wise.  It’s very rare when a director can put out two completely different movies with two completely different styles and both movies be just as good as the other.  As I watched The Devil's Backbone, the thought ‘I just can’t believe this is the same guy who did Blade 2’ occurred to me a couple times. 

The special effects in The Devil's Backbone are very good because they are so subtle.  Sometimes a horror movie will go overboard with the special effects and it ruins the mood of the movie.  However, in Backbone, the effects are only used when needed and they are not over the top.   




Video and Audio:

The Devil's Backbone is 1.85:1 Anamorphic widescreen.  The colors are solid with no bleeding that I could tell.  A beautiful transfer.

The movie is presented in Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 with English subtitles.  The movie sounds terrific with a lot of ambient sounds that never overtake the dialogue.  This is the first time I've reviewed a movie where I wished I had rear speakers.  Maybe it's high time for me to get a set.



Special Features:

  • Commentary with Guillermo del Toro and cinematographer Guillermo Navarro
  • Making of featurette
  • Storyboard comparisons
  • Trailers

First, the commentary was entertaining and informative.  Although this may have been del Toro's introduction into DVD commentary, he does a fine job with it and seems very relaxed.  The commentary is in English and is worth a listen.

The featurette and comparisons are worth a watch, but nothing you haven't seen before.  Same goes with the trailers.

While I wish there were more special features, I'm glad the features they provided were either in English or subtitled.





Movie: – This is one of the better movies out there and has a high rewatchability factor.  A solid purchase.
Video: 4 Stars – Very little grain in some of the night shots, but the overall look of the film is stunning.
Audio: 4 Stars – Some great ambient sounds going on in the background and it never overtakes the dialogue.
Features: 3 stars – Your standard fare.
Overall: 4 Stars – I wish there were a little more special features, but this is a solid purchase regardless.


The bottom line is this is a great movie.  It’s not conventional horror, but it does have it’s moments.  I would consider The Devil's Backbone to be more of a drama with some horror elements.  Or even a ghost story where the ghost is almost of a side note due to the bigger problems that life creates.  Either way, I highly recommend it.


© 2003 Horror No use of this review is permitted without expressed permission from Horror

Steve Pattee
US Editor, Admin
He's the puppet master. You don't see him, but he pulls the strings that gets things done. He's the silent partner. He's black ops. If you notice his presence, it's the last thing you'll notice — because now you're dead. He's the shadow you thought you saw in that dark alleyway. You can have a conversation with him, and when you turn around to offer him a cup of coffee, he's already gone.
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