- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 6, 2002

Mexican auteur Guillermo Del Toro, late of the vampire meditation "Cronos," the insect-fear fest "Mimic" and the action/horror sequel "Blade 2," continues to hone his craft with The Devil's Backbone. It's our

Video pick of the week
A complex combo of Gothic horror, Dickensian drama, war film, mystery and moral fable, "The Devil's Backbone" is due later this month from Columbia/TriStar (priced for rental VHS, also available on DVD).
In a small circle of hell (a remote rural orphanage) within a larger one (the Spanish Civil War) within an even larger one (Earth), young Carlos (Fernando Tielve) seeks to get by despite the presence of, in escalating order, a juvenile ghost (Junio Valverde), resident bully Jaime (Inigo Garces), an unexploded bomb half-buried in the courtyard and brutal handyman Jacinto (Eduardo Noriega).
After a somewhat deliberate opening, Mr. Del Toro picks up the pace once Carlos has his first encounter with a sad, roughly 11-year-old specter with a gaping head gash from which ethereal blood perennially gushes. That genuinely spooky meeting sets in motion a quest that will ultimately unite all of Mr. Del Toro's and co-scripter Antonio Trashorras' disparate themes.
These include the chronic impotence of the kind, elderly orphanage head Dr. Casares (Federico Luppi), the troublesome wooden leg of the principal, Carmen (Marisa Paredes), the hard-case Jaime's adolescent crush on Jacinto's betrothed Conchita (Irene Visedo) and Jacinto's hunt for the gold bars rumored to be hidden within the orphanage's walls.
In "The Devil's Backbone," Mr. Del Toro artfully explores human nature at its best (exemplified by Dr. Casares, Conchita and the children) and its worst (Jacinto and a briefly glimpsed Franco death squad casually carrying out its chores) in an unremittingly harsh environment where, even for the naturally whimsical children, hope for salvation, justice or even survival is a hard commodity to come by.
Mr. Del Toro gleans convincing performances from his entire cast but works especially impressive magic with his child actors, perhaps the most unforced juvenile ensemble onscreen since "Lord of the Flies" in 1963. "The Devil's Backbone" the handle hails from a fetal spinal deformity prevalent among the poor that superstitious locals view as a satanic sign is an excellent, profoundly disturbing addition to the relatively rarefied ranks of art-house horror films.

The 'A' list
Three recent theatrical comedies surface on home video early next month. Wes ("Rushmore") Anderson's offbeat, all-star, dysfunctional-family piece The Royal Tenenbaums (Touchstone Home Entertainment) headlines Danny Glover, Gene Hackman, Anjelica Houston, Bill Murray, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson (who co-wrote the script). Miss Paltrow returns as Jack Black's ultimate fantasy gal in Shallow Hal (20th Century Fox).
Robert Altman puts a stellar ensemble cast through its talented paces in the elaborate and grandly entertaining Gosford Park (Universal), a 1930s class-clash comedy-mystery set in an English manor. All three titles will be priced for rental VHS and also available on DVD, with "Gosford Park" boasting an especially lavish edition featuring over six hours of bonus material.

Edwardsian comedy
This week, Warner Home Video introduces four classic Blake Edwards comedies, available for the first time on DVD in digitally remastered, widescreen editions.
The gender-bending farce Victor/Victoria comes with audio commentary by star Julie Andrews and director Edwards. In the madcap Skin Deep, Mr. Edwards is joined by lead John Ritter. The Great Race, made in 1965 with Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis and Natalie Wood, includes a "Behind the Scenes with Blake Edwards" feature. S.O.B, starring Julie Andrews and William Holden, arrives with fewer frills but with the same fresh digital transfer. The DVDs are tagged at $19.98 each.

Tele-video
HBO Video continues the adventures of Sarah Jessica Parker and her frisky gal pals with Sex and the City: The Complete Third Season ($49.95), containing all 18 episodes of the racy cable TV series in a three-disc set.
In a very different vein, New Video issues the History Channel documentary Elizabeth ($39.98), a detailed exploration of "Virgin Queen" Elizabeth I's tumultuous life, with historian David Starkey as host.

Phan mail
Dear Phantom: I am very interested in finding a copy of Eye of the Needle, made in 1981. It starred Donald Sutherland and Kate Nelligan. I have never seen it for sale or scheduled on TV and wonder if it has ever reached tape.
Al McMullan, via e-mail

"Eye of the Needle" is available on both VHS ($13.49) and DVD ($19.99) from Movies Unlimited (800/4-MOVIES, www.moviesunlimited.com).

Send your video comments and queries to Phantom of the Movies, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002 or e-mail us at: [email protected] Check out our Web site at www.videoscopemag.com.


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