Sense of Wonder: Hellboy 2 – The Critical Divide

Ron Perlman in HELLBOY 2: THE GOLDEN ARMYIn a summer that saw critics and audiences often in agreement, the much-praised sequel fizzled at the box office

This summer, the critical divide is not so wide.
There is a common perception that a sharp division in taste separates people who pay to see movies and people who get paid to review them. Perhaps there is some truth to this, manifesting itself at year’s end, when  critics use their Top Ten lists to champion deserving little films that failed to find big audiences, but so far this season viewers and reviewers seem to be sitting on the same side of the aisle. Blockbuster hits like IRON MAN and THE DARK KNIGHT have won audience accolades and critical kudos in equal measure (even when, as in the case of INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULLS, the film was a tired retread); meanwhile, bombs like MEET DAVE were loathed equally by press and public.  Read More

Box Office: Hellboy rising

 It was a good weekend for cinefantastique at the box office. If you are only a bit liberal with the definitions of fantasy and science fiction, nine of the Top Ten films fell into the genres. If not for KIT KITTREDGE: AN AMERICAN GIRL at #8 (which pushed INCREDIBLE HULK down to #11), genre films could have gone ten for ten.

HELLBOY 2: THE GOLDEN ARMY climbed out of the pit and scaled its way to box office paradise. The superhero fantasy from writer-director Guillermo Del Toro opened in 3,204 North American theatres, wehre it earned an estimated$35.89-million. That was considerably higher than the first HELLBOY managed on its opening weekend in April of 2004 ($23.17-million), indicating that the franchise has expanded its appeal, thanks to people who saw the first film on television and/or home video. Read More

Confirmed: Del Toro to Direct Hobbits

The Los Angeles Times confirms what has been expected for months: Guillermo Del Toro will direct two films inspired by Tolkien’s The Hobbit. The first will portray the events of the book; the second will cover the gap between the book and LORD OF THE RINGS. Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh will executive produce the films.

“We have long admired Guillermo’s work and cannot think of a more inspired filmmaker to take the journey back to Middle-earth,” Walsh and Jackson said in a statement. “We are delighted ‘The Hobbit’ is in such trustworthy hands.”

Del Toro will relocate to New Zealand for four years to work on the movies, which means fans will have to wait a long time for his recently announced project, SATURN AND THE END OF DAYS.
Del Toro’s latest film, HELLBOY 2: THE GOLDEN ARMY, is scheduled for release in July.

Horror Filmmakers & Authors Pick Their Favorite Horror Movies

Last month, we ran a list of the American Film Institute’s nominees for the best Fantasy and Science-Fiction Films of all time. Many readers were angry over the exclusion of horror from the genres under consideration; some were unhappy about certain titles that made or did not make it onto the A.F.I.’s lists; a few were offended by our caustic comments about the more dubious inclusions.  Well, we all have our favorites. Neither the A.F.I. nor Cinefantastique Online is the sole arbiter of what constitutes the best of the best in movie magic. Therefore, we thought it would be a good idea to present a gallery of expert opinions from people working behind the scenes. What films rank as favorites among industry insiders who made your favorite films? What films frightened or amazed the directors, writers, actors, and authors who make a living in the genres of science-fiction, fantasy, and horror? What films stirred their sense of wonder or made them want to make movies? You’ll find a sample of their answers below
WILLIAM FRIEDKIN (Director of THE EXORCIST)
The horror films that I admire are ROSEMARY’S BABY, ALIEN, DIABOLIQUE, PSYCHO – that’s about it. I would say those are horror films, but they totally transcend the genre. They’re every bit as good as stories as horror films: the stories are believable; the characters are believable; the situations they’re put in, the style of performance, is believable. There’s also a Japanese film that I love called Onibaba, another wonderful film of fantasy and imagination, worked very carefully into a fairly realistic story. Whereas in something like Nightmare on Elm Street or Jason, it isn’t believable. There’s an automatic distance there—between what’s on the screen and the audience’s perception of real people in real situations.
I like THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. I applaud its ingenuity. It was something different, and it was pure to what it was—it did not break the focus. It was a documentary. When people set the camera down, all it showed you was shoes or sometimes nothing. I have to tell you, I sat there with my then fourteen-year-old son, and it scared the hell out of us. That picture scared me. I thought it was really good, because I love documentaries. I love that somebody took the horror genre, and did almost a pure documentary with it. I think Blair Witch is a helluva a film, a good film.
RIDLEY SCOTT (Director of ALIEN)
Creature from the Black LagoonThe thing I always worried about doing a monster movie—I was frightened that the monster wouldn’t be good, because they very rarely are. Probably the last great monster before that was the little girl in the bed in The Exorcist. But all you had to put on her was the voice—of Mercedes McCambridge—and that one trick was chilling. I decided to see THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, THEM and IT [THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE]—which actually were good fun at the time, used to scare the living daylights out of me as a kid, and now are kind of collector’s items. Funnily enough, as a child, I was always brought up not to see horror movies, because my parents classified them along with sex movies, so I wasn’t allowed to see them. I saw this poster in Piccadilly of this guy standing there with the face-mask on and the buzz saw, and I just decided not to see the film—that [The Texas Chainsaw Massacre ] was pretty tough stuff.
DIRECTOR GEORGE A ROMERO (Director of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and MARTIN)
Martin is my all-time favorite. When you make films, it’s hard to decide which among them is your favorite. When and if you make a choice, there are many factors that go into it—the experience, memories of the people working with you. On that film I had my first chance to work with Tom Savini, John Amplas. The crew numbered fifteen, including the cast. We had no money. A handful of people made it possible for me to make the movie. We made it on spit and a prayer. I think it’s my most successful effort, in that it comes closer than anything I’ve done to what I intended when I wrote the script. It turned out almost exactly the way I originally envisioned it.
I read my share of Poe. I collected EC Comics, and I’m old enough to have seen FRANKENSTEIN and DRACULA on the big screen—when they were re-released. I’m not that old! I saw THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD in its first run, also on the big screen The movie that made me want to make movies is—you’ll probably be surprised by this—is The Tales of Hoffman, an adaptation of Orfenbach’s opera. It’s sung in English, but the words don’t matter much; it’s the imagery that grabs you, and it never lets go. I was one of the few who saw this particular film when it played in a theatre on a big screen and in color. The film has action and adventure, and it was way serious to an eleven year old. It was released in the same year as The Thing from Another World—big competition—but this film made more of an impression than James Arness ever could. I love some of Dario Argento’s early ones, Deep Red and The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. Those were probably my favorites, and Suspiria—it’s operatic and beautiful—like The Tales of Hoffman. Repulsion is the most frightening film that I’ve ever seen. Lapsed Catholics—not practicing Catholics, but those who have strayed—like me—stained our jockeys when we first saw The Exorcist. As far as I’m concerned, that is the only film that dealt with Pure Evil and managed to pull it off.
GUILLERMO DEL TORO (Director of PAN’S LABYRINTH)
My favorites of my own films are PAN’S LABYRINTH, THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE, and HELLBOY.
I started watching horror films without caring much about their origin. We got some Mario Bava films. Of course, we have the Mexican wrestler/masked avengers type of horror film. Then every Sunday there was a local channel that showed all the Universal monster movies: everything from the classics Frankenstein to Bride of Frankenstein and so forth. Then at the matinee, my mother took me to see the Hammer films: DRACULA, HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN, all of them. So I really got every single thing on the spectrum fed into my brain at this very tender age.
TAKASHI SHIMIZU (Director of THE GRUDGE)
I am influenced by lots of filmmakers and movies, so it’s hard to name everything. I like art films like Decalogue and big-budget Hollywood movies like SPIDER-MAN 2, but I fell asleep in SPIDER-MAN. Sorry, Sam! (referring to SPIDER-MAN director Sam Raimi, who produced THE GRUDGE)
SCOTT DERRICKSON (Director of THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE)
In cinema, you have to be crazy [to make an exorcism film] after THE EXORCIST. It’s my favorite horror film; I think it’s the best horror film ever made. You’re not going to make a better movie than that. People who tried to imitate that movie have pretty notoriously failed. It’s daunting.
ADAM GREEN (Writer-director of HATCHET, whose festival tag-line was: “It’s not a remake; it’s not a sequel; and it’s not based on a Japanese one.’)
In fact I like Japanese horror films, and some of my favorite films are remakes. John Carpenter’s THE THING is my Top Five of all time, and I love THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE [remake] –  as much as a lot of people would want to kill me for saying that. I wanted to hate that when I saw it, and I really liked it. Even the second time – because I thought, ‘Maybe it’s just Jessica Biel’s boobs,’ but it wasn’t; it was really that good.
HALLOWEEN to me is still [great] – nothing will ever touch that one. [Slasher films] created villains with great mythologies behind them that were very simple stories that you could easily explain to your friend while you’re lying on the floor in sleeping bags at night, having a sleepover. That was the real joy of these films for me. The villains were these anti-superheroes; they were just these total bad-asses. As much as you were afraid of them, you were kind of rooting for them because they were so cool.
WILLIAM MALONE (Director of THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL)
The confrontation between Belau Lugosi (left) and Boris Karloff (right) is interrupted by the shadow of the titular BLACK CATOf recent ilk, one of my favorites was ALIEN, which is just a brilliant movie. I still love CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON: there’s something evocative about it that really works. I love things like THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI and FRANKENSTEIN, which is a wonderful picture; the original still really holds up. MAD LOVE is a really cool movie, with Peter Lorre. And some other stuff has been overlooked like PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES, the Mario Bava picture, which I think is a wonderful film. I was heavily influenced by THE BLACK CAT [1934], which is one of my favorite films. I love that movie. When I first met Geoffrey [Rush, whom Malone directed in House], he’d just gone to see THE BLACK CAT, and he talked about how much he loved it. It’s got this perversity, this weird, dark undertone. What’s great about it is that you can’t put your finger on it, except if you actually look at the plot of that movie, you could never do that today. It’s too twisted: the fact that Karloff kills Lugosi’s wife and then keeps her body preserved in the basement, and then marries her daughter! I’m a big fan of [director Edgar G.] Ulmer’s work.
JEAN-PIERRE JEUNET (Director of ALIEN: RESURRECTION and AMALIE)
I love American Beauty, Memento, Happiness. I have two films in my life: A CLOCKWORK ORANGE from Stanley Kubrick and ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST. I saw it when I was a teen, and I couldn’t eat or sleep for three days. My parents were, “What? What? Are you sick?” “No no, you can’t understand!”
MAZAAKI TEZUKA (Director of GODZILLA: TOKYO S.O.S.)
The first GODZILLA (1954) … [is] a masterpiece, but KING KONG VS. GODZILLA is my favorite.
ROLFE KANEFSKY (Writer-director of NIGHTMARE MAN)
I saw Frankenstein and all the monster movies when I was four years old, but I became a huge horror fan when I was fourteen, when I really started watching horror films and seeing all the conventions and the clichés. All the really good horror films were – except when the studios decided to stay out of it, like THE EXORCSIT – they were not studio films. They were independent films: HALLOWEEN, FRIDAY THE 13TH, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET.
LEONARD WOLF (Author of Dracula: A Connoisseurs Guide)
I am very drawn, curiously enough, to the silent film, NOSFERATU (1922). When Count Orlock comes to—her name is either Nina or Ellen, depending on the subtitles—they exchange looks across the areaway. It is so charged with complex implications. Clearly, he is now going to be in the role of the demon lover, making love to a woman who sends her husband away—it’s got elements of French comedy in it. At the same time it’s a ghoulish moment, when this guy who’s not really living shows up in her bedroom and crouches at the side of her bed. You never know what they’re doing, but whatever they’re doing is so silent and so horrible and so Christian and so appalling—I’ve said somewhere in my book that the silence is intensified. We know we’re in a silent film, but somehow that scene takes on a terror because it’s so utterly still.
SUZY MCKEE CHARNAS (Author of The Vampire Tapestry)
I think that one thing that happens when you are raised as a reader rather than a visual consumer is that when you do go to films, they’re really pretty overwhelming. I remember being really impressed by silly things like ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN. It is wonderful, but it shouldn’t send you screaming! It did influence me, to put it mildly. For a very long time, the whole vampire thing was very tightly attached to the Hungarian actor whose name we all know. I still kind of balk when people get too far away from a basic sort of dignity. I don’t really go for BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER-type of vampires, and the punk rocker ones really turn me off.
BARBARA STEEL (Star of BLACK SUNDAY, a.k.a. Mask of the Demon)
Barbara Steele as the revived witch in BLACK SUNDAYBlack Sunday is the best of the genre films I made—the final result was most perfected in terms of the whole film, but I don’t feel it was best for me as an actress. I never saw a completed script for BLACK SUNDAY. We were given the pages day to day. We had hardly any idea of what was ever going down on that film. We had no idea of the end or the beginning, either. I’m sure he [director Mario Bava] had, or maybe he hadn’t. He really geared it to play out all his cinematographic-visual fantasies, and I think that one of the strongest points of the movie is the look of it. It’s just fortuitous for an actress to find herself in something that well structured.
CHRISTINA RICCI (star of SLEEPY HOLLOW)
I’ve always loved [Tim Burton’s] movies. EDWARD SCISSORHANDS is one of my favorite movies of all time. His movies are so different. His movies are so beautiful and really elegant. They’re also told with such an innocence and a goodness. People say his movies are dark, but they’re really about Good and Evil, and the Good is always so good and so strong—they’re actually really sweet stories.

PATRICK MACNEE (Star of THE HOWLING)
You just can’t get a more stunning film. My darling wife and my friends sat there watching it like that [grips the armrest of his chair and forms his mouth into a silent scream to demonstrate]. It’s a wonderful, wonderful film. Now all my other films— THE CREATURE WASN’T NICE, LOBSTER MAN FROM MARS —I have been in more movies of that type. I’m not saying we weren’t good in them, but they were movies you never see again, hopefully. When Dennis Bartok [of American Cinematheque] said, ‘We’re going to do a retrospective of your movies,’ I said, ‘Which one? There’s only one worth seeing, and this is it!’
JOE DANTE (Director of THE HOWLING)
There are too many monster movies for me to pick. I spent a misspent youth watching monster movies, and then I spent a misspent adulthood making them. So I would refer you to any list of decent monster movies, and I’m sure my favorites will be on there.

Del Toro's Lovecraftian Madness

MTV’s Movie Blog has a brief interview with writer-director Guillermo Del Toro, in which he expresses his enthusiasm for a film adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s novel At the Mountains of Madness:

“I remember when I was a kid out of the studios came the big event horror movies, ‘The Exorcist,’ ‘Alien,’ ‘Jaws,’ ‘The Shining,’” del Toro recalled. “It is my hope that this movie will be a tentpole movie [of that sort]. It has the scope of a Shackleton epic exploration movie but it’s full of tentacled things.”

Madness is one of the few novels Lovecraft ever wrote, and it is one of his best tales. Written later in his brief career, when he was moving away from horror toward science-fiction, it tells of an expedition to the Arctic that uncovers evidence of a lost civilization of aliens. Some of the aliens thaw out and slaughter members of the expedition, but there is a twist regarding the creatures that predates later STAR TREK episodes like DEVIL IN THE DARK. The novel also provides a sort of history of the alien invasion, depicted in hieroglyphics inside an ancient building, that clearly influenced some ideas in Dan O’Bannon’s screenplay for ALIEN (which were omitted from the final film).
Del Toro says the novel is perfect for a film adaptation, because it leaves room for the screenplay to develop drama and characterization:

“It’s not hard to be faithful to Lovecraft because what is great about the novel is that it’s a compilation of really dry scientific annotations that happen to be annotating something really scary. There is no character or dramatic thread,” he insisted. “You take those document and you then create a story. If you were [just rigidly faithful] you would be doing a National Geographic special on a crew that disappeared in an exploration mission.
“I’m happy with [my script],” he continued. “I know some people would like a happier ending but I’m happy with the ending there is.”

The Devil's Backbone – Horror Film Review

devils-backbone-poster.jpgEDITOR’S NOTE: Because of their similar settings and genre tropes, some viewers have been drawing parallels between the current release THE ORPHANAGE, which was executive produced by Guillermo Del Toro and THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE , which was directed and co-written by Del Toro. Personally, we think the similarities are mostly generic, and the details are quite different; nevertheless, we offer up this retrospective review of BACKBONE, which is one of the greatest ghost stories ever committed to celluloid.
There’s a moment in the fourth HELLRAISER movie that illuminates much of what is wrong with the horror genre. One of the lead characters is decapitated in a series of slow-motion cuts meant to be a highlight of the film, but the impact is negligible, because nothing about the scene is truly crafted to terrify an audience; it’s all about providing a show-stopping special effects tour-de-force, and that’s exactly how the audiences “reads” the scene—as something unreal and unaffecting, a series of almost abstract images totally divorced from any kind of emotional impact. Put bluntly, what’s happening on screen doesn’t matter; the scene could be lifted out of context and it would make little difference, because you just don’t care. Now, as a kind of antidote to that approach, we have THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE, a film that strives as mightily and successfully as any in the genre to make you care, to make the events on screen affect you as if they really do matter. To watch this film is to enter its world, as completely as you ever entered any mainstream drama, and the range of emotions evoked is impressive without every being manipulative. This is a film rich in texture, characterization and themes. Besides being genuinely creepy, it is also surprisingly moving. It is, quite probably (and this is not a back-handed compliment) the saddest horror movie ever made.
Set during the Spanish Civil War, the story of THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE follows Carlos (Fernando Tielve) who is brought to an orphanage run by sympathizers with the Republican army. This supposedly safe haven turns out to be a microcosm for the conflict going on in the outside world; the point is driven home by the presence of an unexploded (and supposedly diffused) bomb that landed in the courtyard. Soon, Carlos learns that Santi (Junio Valverde) disappeared on the night the bomb dropped; everyone assumes he ran away in a blind panic, but if so, then who is the ghost haunting the building’s basement?
While Carlos tries to win the respect and friendship of the other boys and find out what really happened to Santi, complications set in when it turns out that Jacinto (Eduardo Noriega), a former orphan who now works there, plans to steal the gold being held in secret to support the Republican cause. Things come to a head when the men who brought Carlos to the orphanage are caught and executed. Fearful that they may have revealed the truth about their political sympathies, proprietors Carmen (Marisa Paredes) and Dr. Casares (Federico Luppi) try to pack up the children and make their escape, but Jacinto sets fire to their car, causing a fatal explosion. The survivors are left to face the dual threat from Jacinto and his pair of thugs and from the vengeful ghost still lurking on the premises.
This brief synopsis of THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE may make the ghost sound like almost an irrelevant afterthought, but that is far from the truth. Santi is actually a haunting memory of the casualties of war, a sort of ghostly embodiment reminding us that the violence of the outside world has already claimed one victim within this supposed refuge, and others may follow. Much of the effectiveness of his appearances comes from the fact that the story overturns the conventional horror movie plot, in which normal life is threatened by a monster but ultimately restored at the ending. In this case, with war raging in the world at large, there is no chance for a return to normality, and the young boys must learn to cope in a world where adult violence destroys youthful innocence, of which Santi is merely the most obvious example.
In a highly significant scene, Dr. Casares explains the meaning of the titular phrase to Carlos, pointing to a stillborn baby floating in a bottle of yellow fluid, its spine exposed through some sort of defect. Superstitious people call this “the devil’s backbone,” and consider the yellow fluid to be an almost magical tonic that will restore virility. If Carlos believes in ghost, the doctor insists, then he should believe in the healing power of the fluid as well—something that Casares, a man of science, dismisses. Carlos, for the time being at least, insists that he no longer believes a ghost is haunting the premises; however, after he leaves, we see Dr. Casares (who burns with unrequited love for Carmen) take a sip.


It’s as if the forces of civilization and intellect are withering away while the war rages on, strengthening the virility of violent, self-interested thugs like Jacinto. Male machismo overwhelmes the nuturing feminine principal as, one by one, characters representing sympathy, love, and intelligence are neutralized, until the remaining boys must revert to a sort of primitive tribalism in order to survive. (THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE systematically kills off the female characters who take care of the boys. Although the last of these victims, the doctor, is a man, he fills a feminine role as a sympathetic healer, and the film goes out of its way to emphasize his lack of masculine virility.)
The progress recalls William Golding’s THE LORD OF THE FLIES. Buzzing flies even make a notable appearance near the end, reminding us of the famous scene in the book wherein a young visionary imagines a conversation with the wild boar’s head mounted on a stick—a sort of prophecy of the violent nature emerging in the boys lost on the island.
However, THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE has an important difference: it embraces the camaraderie of the group as a necessary survival mechanism marked by loyalty and the courage to take action when necessary in a world without recourse to law and order. Thus, the supernatural forces at work cease to be symbols of blind superstition; instead, they take on a talismanic, almost religious significance, helping to protect the boys from the modern-day violence that threatens them. This transformation is most obviously seen in the undetonated bomb whose hull seems to thrum with hidden life. At one point, Carlos consults the ominous hulk, asking if it will reveal Santi’s presence to him. A shift in the wind whips ribbons dangling from its tail in the direction of the basement, and we see this high-tech weapon of war transformed into a sort of oracle—the first step toward revealing the truth of what happened to Santi, a truth that will ultimately lead the boys to take a stand and defend themselves.
While the thematic ambitions of THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE are laudable, one should quickly add that this is no more exercise in pretension. The script by Guillermo Del Toro, Antonio Trashorras, and David Munoz may be slow to build, but that’s a necessary element of the ghost story, which requires a careful laying of the foundation before introducing the supernatural elements. This sort of deliberate construction yields magnificent results, providing numerous identifiable characters instead of the usual shooting gallery of potential victims.
The cast is uniformly excellent. Luppi (seen in Del Toro’s CRONOS) brings quiet, moving dignity to Dr. Casares, and Noriega manages to invest some vestige of humanity into Jacinto—an element echoed in the performance of Inigo Garces as Jaime, the apparent bully who turns out to be not so bad after all. It’s as if the two were a doubled image of each other, each with the potential for good or bad, but ultimately choosing opposite paths.
The ghost that haunts the orphanage.The special effects are some of the best ever seen, easily matching work from the best US facilities; in fact, in at least one way they are even better. The conception of Santi’s ghostly appearances, seen as if underwater even when he is standing in the open air, results in some truly unsettling imagery, motes floating through ripples around him and blood oozing upward from a wound in his scalp. The ever so slightly unreal quality of most CGI effects (often apparent when trying to duplicate believable objects) is actually a plus here, increasing the surreal appearance of this water-drenched phantom.
As a director, this film represents Guillermo Del Toro’s best work. He broke onto the American scene in 1994 with his Mexican-filmed, Spanish-language import CRONOS. This led to his work on the US-made MIMIC in 1997, a compromised effort that saw him gifted with a larger budget but chafing under studio control. In some ways, THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE is a combination of those two films, mixing the thoughtful writing of CRONOS with the more sophisticated production values and effects of MIMIC. He is currently finishing up work on BLADE 2 and is scheduled to direct HELLBOY, a comic book adaptation.
Although he clearly welcomes the opportunity to work on big-budget Hollywood productions, one hopes that Del Toro will continue to return to his native Mexico and turnout magnificent gems like CRONOS and THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE from time to time—films that take the genre seriously to move the audience on a deeper level, instead of settling for the easy scream and shock effects.
Del Toro’s ambition is nowhere more evident than in the film’s ending, which (without giving away the plot details) is a curiously moving mixture of optimism and remorse. Rather like the conclusion of George Franju’s art house horror film EYES WITHOUT A FACE (1959), we see an escape to the world at large that seem liberating and uplifting, while leaving us with unanswered questions about what that world could possibly have in store for the characters. Whatever conclusions you wish to infer, it’s safe to say that your eyes will not be dry as you witness this scene. There are many horror films that mix fear with humor, but few in memory so effectively combined the supernatural with sadness.

Copyright 2001 by Steve Biodrowski.

THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE (“El Espinazo del Diablo,” 2001). Directed by Guillermo Del Toro. Written by Del Toro, Antonio Trashorras & David Munoz. Cast: Eduardo Noriega, Marisa paredes, Federico Luppi, Inigo Garces.

Pan's Labyrinth (2006) – Film Review

Guillermo Del Toro’s fantasy-horror-war film, set in the war-torn Spain of 1944, is an obvious attempt to follow-up his previous THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE, which also set supernatural elements in the context of the Spanish Civil War. The film is beautiful and frequently moving, but it cannot quite match the heights of its predecessor, due to a narrative that remains in the inchoate stages far too long, before finally narrowing its focus in the second half, at which point it lives up to all expectations and more.
The story follows Ofelia (Ivana Baquero), whose widowed mother Carmen (Ariadna Gil) has married Captain Vidal (Sergie Lopez). The film begins with Carmen and Ofelia driving to an isolated mountain location, where Vidal is busy routing out the remnants of the rebels in the aftermath of the Civil War. Along the way, Ofelia encounters a large gleaming insect, rather like a preying mantis, which she takes for a fairy, because of its fluttering wings. She is also enchanted by an ancient stone labyrinth near to her new home. It soon becomes apparent that Vidal is a professional sadist who ruthlessly kills guilty and innocent alike, and his only concern for Carmen is that she live long enough to give birth to the son she is carrying in her womb. While Vidal goes about searching for the partisans, Ofelia escapes into a fantasy world in the labyrinth, where she encounters a faun (Doug Jones), who sets her a series of tasks to prove that she is indeed the reincarnated princess of the underworld. Eventually, the two story threads collide when Vidal pursues Ofelia into the labyrinth (shades of THE SHINING), where she carries her newborn brother for an encounter with the faun. Read More