Even the Academy has figured out that Pan’s Labyrinth is destined to be a classic (it’s exceedingly rare that anything with subtitles plays at Kaufman Astoria), and so we’ve been digging back through Guillermo Del Toro’s filmography. Hellboy and Blade 2 aren’t as good as the fanboys would have you believe, and my memories of Cronos are pretty hazy–but this film is very, very good on its own terms and obviously a stepping stone to the grander, more archetypal Pan’s Labyrinth.

Part Pan’s, part Empire of the Sun, part Lord of the Flies, The Devil’s Backbone is set in a boy’s orphanage during the Spanish Civil war. There’s anti-fascist gold, budding artists, tragic love, a Dumbledore who can’t get it up, and a ghost that spills clouds of blood from his fractured skull. Del Toro’s fertile imagination creates scene after haunting scene, and the film is full of proto-Pan images that are still worth absorbing in retrospect, such as the unexploded bomb that sits in the center of the schoolyard like a freeze-frame from the last page of Gravity’s Rainbow.

El Espinazo del diablo. Guillermo del Toro, 2001. ****

[tags]guillermo del toro, 4 stars, film, spain, war, children, orphans, ghosts, bombs, gravitys rainbow[/tags]