2001 was a relatively good year for horror. As if "The Others," "Ginger Snaps," "Jeepers Creepers," and "13 Ghosts" weren't enough, fear filmmaker Del Toro polished the double-zero-one season off with "The Devil's Backbone," one of those rare foreign horror films that actually makes its way into U.S. theaters.
Del Toro was best known in the States for having directed the so-so "Mimic." But his earliest film, the vampire effort "Cronos," enjoyed a nice art-house following. The Mexican director also got the choice job of directing "Blade 2."
"The Devil's Backbone" was the movie he made to ensure he didn't sell out and become a fulltime Hollywood moviemaker. It was also easily among the best horror (and general) movies of 2001.
During the Spanish Civil War, an unexploded bomb lands in the middle of an orphanage. The same evening, one of the boys disappears. When a new child (Fernando Tielve) he begins seeing what is apparently the ghost of the missing boy. He also becomes embroiled in a conflict at the orphanage involving a love triangle, money and the idealism behind the war. Meanwhile, whenever the spirit of the missing boy turns up, blood oozes from his head as if he's underwater.
Del Toro's slow build up climaxes in a crescendo of violence that inevitably brings comparisons to "Lord of the Flies" and maybe even "Island of the Damned." Del Toro delivers a new type of horror film for the new millennium -- a serious one But unlike some filmmakers who took this approach to horror that eschews campiness (Kubrick is one name that springs to mind), Del Toro pulls it off marvelously, crafting a film that is scary, supernatural and believable all at the same time.
In this sense it bears some similarities to another serious ghost story by another Spanish-speaking director from the same year: Amenebar's "The Others." But "The Devil's Backbone" is the superior movie. Amenabar seemed a little out of place directing English-speaking actors. Here, Del Toro is right at home setting his film in Spain and with Spanish actors.