devil's backbone bomb

Red Eats Every Color Around It

Guillermo del Toro has made use of several red-colored characters in his films, most notably Hellboy, but also Crimson Peak. During a discussion about the use of color in both The Devil’s Backbone and his films in general, the filmmaker details the difficulties in filming a primarily red character:

“[O]ne of the hardest things to do is to use a red character, which I’ve done a few times, including Hellboy! Red eats everything. Red eats every color around it. And then reds needs to be exactly red…When people see Hellboy and think, Oh, he’s just painted red!, there are least twenty shades of red in that! It’s incredibly detailed because we need to do the shading, the liver spots. A face is not pink! There’s green on it, there’s blue on it, there’s yellow on it, there’s red.”

When Matt Zoller Seitz asks del Toro how to solve the problem, del Toro explains:

“You need to use exactly the shade of red, and find a cool color that contains it. Like, there’s a [filter] called steel blue. It’s a gel that I started to use on Mimic because of the paint job on the insects. We started using it in there and we discovered that it still looked greenish-blue, a very strong cyan, but it contained enough warmth that the red didn’t react badly to it. So we needed to use that on the night shoots in Hellboy and then have a very, very soft neutral light following him a little. Otherwise, you have a chocolate bar with an overcoat.”

Hitchcock and Buñuel

During the lengthy interview of The Devil’s Backbone book, Matt Zoller Seitz points out to del Toro that Alfred Hitchcock and Luis Buñuel seem to be the two primary influences on both The Devil’s Backbone and del Toro as a filmmaker.

Del Toro agrees, saying “They’re the two filmmakers I find most powerful, and they are both interested in cruelty, in the same obsessive, Catholic way. They are both very Catholic. They are both obsessed with sexual hunger, sexual power play, and sexual possession.”

But while Hitchcock was more repressed and coy about his obsession due to a more sheltered lifestyle, Buñuel was more open and expressive. “[T]he difference,” del Toro says, “is you can see that Buñuel lived a lot, and therefore he understood that there was an immense primal force in women. That realization is an elemental force in Buñuel. His men are almost either airheaded Puritans or bumbling sinners. In Hitchcock there is a contemplation of that. I would argue that in Notorious, Hitchcock is as in love with Ingrid Bergman as he is with Cary Grant. He has an admiration for male and female energy that is a lot more sublimated and a lot more perverse, in a way, than Buñuel’s.”

Late-Period Spielberg

One of my personal favorite parts of the Devil’s Backbone book is a section where Guillermo del Toro sings the praises of the late-period films of Steven Spielberg. More often than not, people seem to complain that the later Spielberg films have lost the excitement of his earlier blockbusters, but I personally would argue that Spielberg has only grown better and bolder in the 21st century. So it was pretty refreshing to read that del Toro feels similarly.

“I have an enormous admiration for late-period Spielberg,” the filmmaker says “I love War of the Worlds. I love A.I. I think A.I. becomes more and more painful with every viewing. I find it deeper each time…But I’m obsessively in favor of Catch Me If You Can. That is a complete musical masterpiece. It is symphonic, always iun motion, always elegant. It’s sort of a Stanley-Donen-on-steroids type of movie.”

Del Toro says that part of Spielberg’s talent as a filmmaker lies within his humanistic personality: “If you are a humanistic filmmaker–if you are ultimately in favor of individuals–it comes across in your films…I feel Spielberg…is a humanist. He really believes profoundly in American values…”


The Devil’s Backbone won acclaim when it was released in 2001, and del Toro’s career would go on to win even more acclaim with Pan’s Labyrinth. But even if these films, and others hadn’t been met with a positive critical response, it wouldn’t have mattered to del Toro as much as the therapeutic experience of making them.

“The three movies of mine that are completely therapy for me are Pan’s Labyrinth, Devil’s Backbone, and Crimson Peak,” del Toro says. “And now a fourth, The Shape of Water. Completely, fully, one hundred percent therapy for me. How they played for other people, or whether they played and are seen as beautiful fantasy or this or that. I have no control over. But to me the four movies are parts of my brain interacting within my head.”

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