[[quoteright:300:http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/the-devils-backbone-1.jpg]]

1939, Spain.

It is the Spanish Civil War. Casares and Carmen operate a small orphanage in a remote part of Spain, along with the groundskeeper Jacinto and a teacher, Conchita. Casares and Carmen keep a large cache of gold to help support the treasury of the Republican loyalists, making this remote site a frequent target of Franco's troops; an unexploded bomb waits to be defused in the orphanage's courtyard.

When a small boy named Carlos arrives there, he believes that he is only staying until his father returns from the war[[spoiler:, unaware that his father is already dead, and he is to stay at the orphanage indefinitely]]. However, Carlos is about to learn that more than the living dwell here, as he starts seeing an apparition he cannot explain, and hears tales of a boy named Santi who disappeared the day the bomb showed up.

''The Devil's Backbone'' (Spanish title: ''El espinazo del diablo'') is a 2001 Mexican/Spanish {{horror}} {{film}} written and directed by Creator/GuillermoDelToro. It stars Fernando Tielve, ═˝igo GarcÚs, and Eduardo Noriega. del Toro has stated on the DVD that, along with ''{{Film/Hellboy}}'', this was his most personal project.

In 2013, it was added to Creator/TheCriterionCollection, and its spine number is [[NumberOfTheBeast 666]]!

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!! ''The Devil's Backbone'' contains examples of:
* [[spoiler: [[AndThenJohnWasAZombie And Then Dr Casares Was A Ghost]]: It's unclear whether or not this actually counts, since the ghost ultimately turned out not to be the villain, but still...]]
* BlackEyesOfCrazy[=/=]CreepyChild[=/=]LooksLikeCesare[=/=]UndeadChild: Santi.
* BoardingSchoolOfHorrors
* BookEnds: [[spoiler: The film begins and ends with the dead Casares' musing on the nature of ghosts.]]
* ChekhovsLecture: Who knew that learning how prehistoric hunters took down larger prey would come in handy later?
* ChildrenAreInnocent: Deconstructed. While the orphans like most of the things children like, they are a complex bunch, [[spoiler: and ultimately prove quite capable of taking down Jacinto.]]
* DarkIsNotEvil: Santi.
* DeathByIrony: Doubling as DeathByMaterialism. [[spoiler:After being thrown into the pool beneath the orphanage and dragged down by Santi, Jacinto is weighted down by the bars of gold in his pockets -- the treasure he's spent years searching for.]]
* [[spoiler:DownerEnding: The teachers are dead, and the children have no choice but to venture out into the desert for help -- where they'll most likely die as well, forgotten by all.]]
** [[spoiler:BittersweetEnding: Both Carlos and Jaime have cameos in the film PansLabyrinth as guerilla soldiers, implying that they survived.]]
* FamilyUnfriendlyDeath: One class of children with spears vs. one adult bad guy.
* GenreSavvy: Unlike characters in most Hollywood ghost stories, it actually occurs to Carlos to ''simply ask the ghost what it is he wants''. [[spoiler: He wants Jacinto.]]
* GhostlyGoals: Santi just wants his murder uncovered.
* HardHead: Averted.
* HotForStudent: The primary villain has been having an affair with his principal since he was barely a teenager.
* ImColdSoCold: [[spoiler: Principal Carmen]].
* OrphanageOfFear
* OurGhostsAreDifferent: Santi is caught in an existential loop until he can avenge his death.
** According to WordOfGod on the (American release) DVD commentary, he is ''still'' in an existential loop after the end of the film. Also, the opening narration poses the question, ''what is a ghost?'' and one of the following lines suggests an ''insect trapped in amber''. So presumably, ''all'' ghosts exist in that way.
* PeopleJars: Pickled fetuses with the titular deformity[[note]]The condition is actually called spina bifida. It wasn't properly understood in the medical world until the mid- to late '30s. Despite it having a real, physical cause, in small Spanish towns it was still considered a sign from God that the children were not meant to live or that their parents had some grave sin on their souls. Hence the name, ''devil's backbone''[[/note]].
* PrecociousCrush: One of the students has a wholesome crush on his teacher, but the villain had a less-than-wholesome crush on his own teacher when he was a student.
* SavingTheOrphanage
* UsefulNotes/SpanishCivilWar
* UndeathAlwaysEnds: Averted. This is one of the film's great tragedies.
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