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The Devil's Backbone

The Living Will Always Be More Dangerous Than The Dead 

Year: 2001 
Running Time:
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 (XWide) 
Certificate: BBFC 15 Cert – Not suitable for under 15s 
Subtitles: The level of subtitling in this film is unknown to WSC 
Directed by Unknown 
Starring: Unknown  

Last year was a pretty good year for horror fans. There was the eerie melancholy of The Others, the impressive savagery of Brotherhood of the Wolf, and the artistic, deeply disturbing Spanish ghost story, The Devil's Backbone. In point of fact, The Devil's Backbone is one of the most horrific, subdued, and downright terrifying spook films around, imbued with an dark and oppressive atmosphere that seems to permeate the texture of the film and leaves one with a deep sense of foreboding long after the credits have rolled.

Set during the dying days of the Spanish Civil War, the action of the film takes place in a desperately poor and isolated orphanage, where the penniless war-orphans are placed and cared for by the benevolent director. When a new child is admitted to the institution the dreadful secrets of the institution's past begin to claw to the surface, in the shape of a terrifying ghost who haunts the windy corridors. As the children begin to uncover the mystery of the building, the past comes crashing violently into the present, and terrible events begin to unfold.

Guillermo Del Toro, director of the dark vampire chiller Cronos and the messy bug movie Mimic, brings a strong sense of atmosphere to the proceedings, as well as a hefty dose of symbolism - could the unexploded bomb in the orphanage's courtyard be any more meaningful? The dank cellar, where many of the key moments of the film take place, feels literally imbued with dank and decay. However, the most powerful factor of the whole film is the phantom itself; constantly bleeding from the head, dripping wet, and moving in a most creepy manner, it really is a disturbing image.

Although The Devil's Backbone, like The Others, relies heavily on its sense of atmosphere, it also serves as an exciting drama. There are moments of intense action (as well as several of intense violence) but never seems uneasy in its transition between these two genres. Quite the opposite, in fact, these elements add together to create a brooding, brilliant and downright scary horror thriller that injects a breath of fresh air into the well-worn genre of ghosty films.

Greg Taylor

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Screenings of this film:

2001/2002 Summer Term (35mm)