Thursday, August 16, 2012


Truly Great Films #7
Loopy, romantic good fun with 
heart. Hellboy is just a plain 
old demon trying to fit in

Over the past decade there are perhaps 20 films or so that I really like...flicks that just hit the mark with me. And I'm more discerning than most, I think.

Hellboy, like The Bank Job in my previous post, is one of those movies. 

Unlike Jason Statham's period film, though, Hellboy had lots of studio backing in the area of advertising, even if both flicks were intended for an international market.

Hellboy, released in 2004, received terrific reviews, loads of praise from audiences like me, and sold a shit-ton of DVDs. 

In the box office, however, this film didn't do so well. 

I think, more than anything, this is because Hellboy is an acquired taste....a taste that audiences warmed up to, but slowly. 

And if you stop and think about, Hellboy himself is no superhero and doesn't have that built-in following of hard-core fans. 

Director Guillero del Toro had a lot to overcome, and that's saying quite a bit about his skill as a filmmaker.

Ron Perlman is, in my opinion, a legendary actor. This movie was written with him specifically in the lead part - no other actor was asked or considered. I can certainly appreciate this, it's hard to imagine anyone else playing Hellboy.

Mike Mignola created Hellboy for Dark Horse Comics in 1993, and the film sticks to the basics of Mignola's origin story very well. 

A few years back, Alan Moore's awesome League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was turned into an absolutely awful film. I'm not really a comic book reader, but I do know that movie is overstuffed with characters....and this leads to a lack of character development. 

The same did not happen with Hellboy. Yes, you are thrust into the meat of the story, but a combination of good writing and excellent acting put you right into Hellboy's private little world very smoothly.

How it all began....

The opening is utterly mesmerizing. American forces close in on Nazi bad guys off the coast of Scotland. It's 1944, and Hitler has sent his best evil dudes, led by Grigori Rasputin, to summon help from Hell to win the war. 

The good guys are led by a young paranormal scientist name Trevor Bruttenholm. They succeed in stopping the Nazis from opening a portal to Hell, but not before letting something through. 

That something is a toddler they good guys name Hellboy.

Sixty years later we are introduced to the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense through the eyes of its newest agent...John Myers. (played by Rupert Evans)

The much older Dr. Bruttenholm is played by John Hurt, and we meet the immortal fishman and best buddy to Hellboy, Abe Sapien - Doug Jones in an airbrushed wetsuit.

Special note here: Doug Jones is in all of del Toro's movies - in one form or another. For Hellboy, his voice was dubbed by David Hyde Pierce. It was not dubbed for Hellboy 2, and I heard that he locked himself away for the duration of the shoot, staying in costume and perfecting an imitation of Pierce's voice.

The terrific Jeffrey Tambor is Hellboy's boss

We meet Hellboy, then follow along on a call to the Musuem of Natural History, where followers of Rasputin are trying to resurrect him - and unleash hounds from Hell. We meet Haupstein and Kroenen again, last seen in Scotland. 

Ilsa Haupstein is played by the lovely Bridget Hodson, and the uber-scary Karl Kroenen wears a form-fitting mask, the reason why becomes apparent later on. 

But let's move forward. Hellboy, at its heart, is a buddy story with a good amount of unrequited love thrown in. Hellboy is desperately infatuated with a locked away team member played by Selma Blair - Liz Sherman.

Why is Liz locked away? 

Because she is a very powerful firestarter, and you don't want to be around when she gets angry. I think this is a clever piece of writing. 

The only man that can possibly handle her would need to be completely fireproof, and Hellboy is just that.

Now, Hellboy already has a best buddy - Abe Sapien. But he needs and wants regular friends like Agent Myers. 

This all goes to shit for a while, when Myers briefly falls for Selma Blair.

No matter. What is important is that Rasputin - played by the awesome Czech actor Karel Roden - needs Hellboy to complete a prophecy. 

Hellboy's mentor and father figure - Bruttenholm - is murdered by Kroenen, at the instigation of Rasputin. Hellboy is heartbroken, but he still has a job to do.

The team heads to Russia, following a trail of breadcrumbs left by Rasputin. 

I am not going to go any farther, just in case you haven't seen this movie - or if it's been a few years and you want to rediscover it.

I also need to make it clear that Hellboy is not perfect, and by no means is it for everyone. 

It struck a chord with me because I like Ron Perlman a lot, the camera work and action are superb, and the story, as well as the pacing are pretty good. 

Notice I said pretty good. 

Director del Toro on set

The origins of the  plot are straight forward, but sometimes you kinda got to be an insider to understand all of the mythology. There are a lot of crazy terms like 'Sammael the Desolate One' and the terrible 'Ogdru Jahad'.

This film, however, is one that I can enjoy again and again - and not get bored. 

If I'm feeling a little down or lonely, I pop in the Hellboy DVD and it makes me smile for a couple of hours. 

Give it a shot if you haven't already.

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