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Since the entirety of October is officially Halloween this year (shut up, you!), we at Psycho Drive-In have decided to attempt to fill the month with thirty-one recommendations for horror-related movies, comics, books, TV shows, toys, games, and everything in-between. It’s gonna be a grab-bag of goodies we feel you should be exposed to, whether you like it or not! But don’t expect your standard suggestions for Halloween fun, we’re digging into some stuff that we love in the hopes that you might make this October a little bit weirder than usual.

Weirder in a good way. Not like what’s going on outside in the hellscape of 2020.

Arising from nothing in the barren edges of the final days of Franco ruled Spain, in 1939, is the Santa Lucia orphanage. Miles away from the orphanage mountains seem to rise all around. There’s nothing, barely even vegetation. The inside of the orphanage isn’t much better which looks like it has been abandoned for years even as the ghostly visages of the now occupants roam the halls till they reach the courtyard of dust that has a dead bomb sticking out of the dirt. That’s the setting for Guillermo del Toro’s haunted 2001 film The Devil’s Backbone.

Carlos is dropped off by his tutor because he will be going to the frontlines of the Civil War. All the boys at the orphanage are the children of resistance fighters. Del Toro wastes no time in letting the audience know there is a ghost that roams the buildings. The opening scene establishes the loose parameters of a murder, the bomb, and the war. All these things are integral to Del Toro building a ghost story rooted in reality.

The ghost, who we quickly learn is a boy named Santi, lives beneath the school in the cistern room, in one of the film’s immaculately crafted locations. The room seems to sweat, and the water looks like it has been churned with mud so that Santi swims unknowingly in the pool.

The story revolves around the young boys at the orphanage and their navigation of the adults at the facility. As the adults are drawn into their own games with each other, Carlos slowly begins to map out Santi’s desires.

There is a true simplicity to the bare structure of the story, but the film weaves in elements of Nationalism, trauma, and the past infiltrating the present.

There are plenty of films that spring full of horror that feel so foreign and detached from our own. But Guillermo del Toro lets The Devil’s Backbone be painted with the most vivid details. Every inch of the orphanage, that we scarcely leave, is so specific. There is geography to the space that del Toro knows the viewer needs so that we understand how far someone might be from the presumed dread of the ghost.

The magic of the production design is the way vast, nearly empty locations, still hold a potent dose of danger. The characters are never free of the spatial unease of the orphanage. Del Toro understands that our comprehension of the space is also our comprehension of the implicit danger that could exist around every corner.

Even though the ghost of Santi is a remarkable effect that looks like a waterlogged young boy whose eyes have been hollowed and forgotten, it is reality that provides the most formidable terror. Del Toro, maybe more than anyone, understands that the spectral visitations don’t subside because of real world horrors. Del Toro finds ways to interweave the supernatural with the natural to craft a potent allegory.

In some ways this is Del Toro’s most accomplished piece while in others, it feels like he is simply configuring elements that he would perfect in Pan’s Labyrinth and, to a lesser extent, Crimson Peak. As a director, del Toro is obsessed with the macabre, but that’s his surface obsession, underneath he is a filmmaker that is drawn to the horrors countries experience collectively and how that plays out in the individuals lives of people while they live in the palm of history. Terror lives in every moment and ghosts never die, they merely exist outside the loop of linear time. Del Toro, like most of the great masters of horror, find sympathy in a monster’s eternal state. They are shackled to the earth in their unnatural form while human’s ruin and destroy around them. All must watch passively until they step out of their prescribed place and enact their own terror on the physical world.

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