Guillermo del Toro's THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE (Originally titled EL ESPINAZO DEL DIABLO in Spain) is a creepy and stunning film from start to finish. The story is based in 1939 Spain at the end of the Spanish Civil War. A young boy (Carlos, played by Fernando Tielve) is brought to an orphanage that is barely surviving on the harsh outskirts of the country. Not even 5 minutes in his new habitat and the boy starts seeing the ghost of a dead boy that is known as "the one who sighs" - and Carlos is thrown headfirst into the secretive and harsh past of the school. He is curious to find out what has caused the ghost to haunt the place, while trying to outwit the school bully and stay away from abusive caretaker Jacinto (Eduardo Noriega). Everyone seems to have secrets...even the kind Professor Casares (Federico Luppi) and stern headmistress Carmen (Marisa Paredes).
Never overdone, this movie was spellbinding in its look and tone. The schoolyard itself is ominous with a huge bomb decorating it (one that has been diffused but cannot be removed for whatever reason) -- an ever constant reminder of the war and death that has taken its toll on the country. The typical Hollywood flash and scream-fest is checked at the door for a utterly spooky tale that reveals many more ghosts than a simple dead boy ghost with a warning. I found the sincerity of Federico Luppi's character Casares; he is what every "good" archetype strives to be. This film may be a few years old but holds up wonderfully in a horror genre that becomes more and more disposable every year.