Mexican-born actor Guillermo DelToro debuted as a director at 29 with
Cronos (1994), followed by Mimic (1997), two films about the
Set in Spain during the Civil War of the 1930s,
El Espinazo del Diablo/ The Devil's Backbone (2001) is a ghost story,
a children story, a political fresco and a sordid melodrama.
Underlying the fairy tale of a living child who is trying to communicate with
a dead child are a story of sexual frustration and a story of political
In the first scene a child dies, blood pouring out of his skull.
Carlos, another child, doesn't know it, but his father has been killed in the Spanish civil war. His tutor brings him to the house of a rich middle-aged lady with
a wooden leg, Carmen, the widow of a leader of the rebels, who, together with
an elderly Argentine-born doctor,
is now taking care of many children like him, orphans of dead rebels
Carlos' tutor begs her to take Carlos. Carmen begs him to take her gold so
the fascists will not find it if they win the war.
Carlos thinks he is just visiting the odd compound, but instead the tutor leaves
him there. While he was waiting in the courtyard, admiring an inexploded bomb
that is still stuck in the ground, he saw a strange figure that
disappeared after a few seconds. At night he thinks he hears someone.
Carlos is afraid but determined to meet the ghost, and follows him into
the basement wearing only his pajama.
The children know about the ghost, and so do Carmen and the doctor.
Jacinto also lives in the house. He is a young man, a former pupil, who now
works as a caretaker in return for shelter and food. He is engaged to the
beautiful Conchita, the housekeeper, and they dream of starting a life in
But Jacinto is actually a sadistic man who one day scars Carlos with a knife
to punish him.
The doctor, instead, is a nice man who knows how to deal with the children.
When Carlos tells him about the ghost, the doctor shows him the secret of the
orphanage: a drink that they make out of some secret potion and that gets its
taste from the bodies of unborn children. The doctor invites him to drink
in order to heal his wound, and Carlos immediately retracts his ghost story
rather than drink. The doctor smiles, but then he drinks his own disgusting
potion: popular superstition has it that it cures male impotence.
Jacinto is also a cheater: he is Carmen's secret lover (the secret lover of
his former teacher, of the woman who saved him and raised him).
The doctor hears
them make love from the other side of the wall.
And Jaime, the most arrogant of the children, is secretely in love with
the pretty Conchita, who obviously treats him only like a child.
The children finally tell Carlos that he has been assigned the bed of a child,
Santi, who disappeared the night that the bomb dropped from the sky. Nobody
knows what happened to Santi.
Carlos looks again for Santi and finds him, but Santi is evil and locks him
in a closet.
One day the doctor learns that their friend has been taken prisoner. Knowing
that he will talk under torture, the doctor persuades Carmen to take as many
children as possible and leave before the fascists come to search the house.
He thinks that Carmen still has the gold.
So does Jacinto, who reveals the real reason for his sexual favors to Carmen:
he wants the gold. He grabs the key of the safe, but the doctor shows up in
time with a gun and kicks him out of the orphanage.
While the children get ready to leave, Jacinto returns, damages the only truck
and is pouting gasoline to set fire to the building while the children
are still inside.
Conchita sees him and grabs a gun, but can't find the strength to shoot.
Carmen and many children are killed in the explosion.
The survivors have to camp among the ruins. The doctor, wounded, is determined
to kill Jacinto.
Jaime finally tells Carlos how Santi died: he was killed by Jacinto who threw
him against a wall, breaking his skull (the first scene of the film).
Then Jacinto threw the body into the pool. Jaime watched unseen, powerless
to save his friend. Minutes later bombers appeared in the sky and a bomb fell,
narrowly missing Jaime. Now Jacinto too is determined to kill Jacinto.
In the meantime, Conchita has set out on foot to look for help. Instead
she runs into Jacinto, who does not hesitate to kill her. Jacinto is coming
with friends to loot the place. The old man is waiting for him at the
window, armed with a gun, but getting weaker. He promises to protect the
children to the end, but instead he dies.
In the meantime Jacinto meets Santi who asks: "bring him to me".
Jacinto is already there, and forces the children to help him search for
the safe. When they find it, they find it empty. BUt Jacinto is obsessed with
the gold and wants to continue searching. And he succeeds: Carmen had hidden
lots of gold inside her wooden leg.
The children had been locked in a room but a mysterious hand opens the door
The children make sure that Jacinto chases them into the room where Santi
was killed. Then they throw him in the pool for Santi to finish the job.
What really kills him is the gold that he has in his pockets: the weight
drags him to the bottom and makes him drown, his body struggling underwater
next to the skeleton of Santi.
The surviving children leave the building and start walking along the road.
Once they have left, the doctor appears at the gate:
he is the new ghost of the place. The last words of the film are his.
(Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx) |
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