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. 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, Íñigo Garcés, and Eduardo Noriega. del Toro has stated on the DVD that, along with ''{{Film/Hellboy}}'', this was his most personal project. Has a [[SpiritualSequel "sister film"]] in ''Film/PansLabyrinth'', and supposedly one day will have a [[ThematicSeries third installment]] called ''36/63'', if Del Toro [[AttentionDeficitCreatorDisorder ever gets around to it.]]

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

!! ''The Devil's Backbone'' contains examples of:

* AndThenJohnWasAZombie: [[spoiler: It's unclear whether or not this actually counts, since the ghost ultimately turned out not to be the villain, but still...]]
* BittersweetEnding: [[spoiler:Both Carlos and Jaime have cameos in the film ''Film/PansLabyrinth'' as guerrilla soldiers, revealing that they survived this film. Unfortunately, they don't survive that one.]]
* BlackEyesOfCrazy[=/=]CreepyChild[=/=]LooksLikeCesare[=/=]UndeadChild: Santi.
* BoardingSchoolOfHorrors
* BookEnds: [[spoiler: The film begins and ends with the dead Casares' musing on the nature of ghosts.]]
* TheBully: Jaime is a mild example.
* 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.]]
* DefiantToTheEnd: [[spoiler:After running into him in the desert, Conchita refuses to apologize to Jacinto and lets him kill her instead.]]
* DownerEnding: [[spoiler: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. More sad when Jaimee and Carlos are both seen in ''Film/PansLabyrinth''... where they both die. Del Toro confirmed it ''is'' them at that.]]
* {{Foreshadowing}}:
** Near the beginning, the headmistress shows the children a picture of a bunch of Ice age hunters killing a mammoth with spears, and comments that, back in the day, people had to cooperate and work in groups in order to survive. Later, [[spoiler:the kids manage to overpower physically superior Jacinto by outnumbering him and attacking him with improvised spears.]]
** When the characters are preparing to leave the orphanage, Carmen remarks that her artificial leg feels heavier than usual. [[spoiler:It is because she hid the gold in it.]]
* 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]].
* IronicEcho: Casares tells the children near the end that he'll keep watch and never leave this place. [[spoiler: Then he dies and becomes a ghost, forever haunting the orphanage]].
* MeaningfulName: ''Jacinto'' is the Spanish form of Hyacinth. In Greek mythology, Hyacinth was a youth loved by the god Apollo. [[spoiler:This reflects Jacinto's relationship with Principal Carmen.]]
* NumberOfTheBeast: A meta example: When this film was released by Creator/TheCriterionCollection, it was Spine #666.
* OrphanageOfFear: Not intentionally, at least. Mostly it's due to the haunting.
* 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: Jaime has a wholesome crush on Conchita. However, there is a less-than-wholesome example as well: [[spoiler:Jacinto had a less-than-wholesome crush on his own teacher, Carmen, when he was a student.]]
* SavingTheOrphanage
* UsefulNotes/SpanishCivilWar
* UndeathAlwaysEnds: Averted. This is one of the film's great tragedies.