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  Hellboy Like A Bat Out Of Hell
Year: 2004
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Stars: Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Rupert Evans, Jeffrey Tambor, John Hurt, Doug Jones, Karel Roden, Brian Steele, Ladislav Beran, Biddy Hodson, Corey Johnson, Kevin Trainor, David Hyde Pierce
Genre: Horror, Action, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 6 votes)
Review: During World War II the Nazis were conducting experiments into the occult, and planned to allow the Seven Gods of Chaos to cross over into our dimension. On a remote Scottish isle, the Americans sent a small band of troops to intervene where the Nazis, led by Rasputin (Karel Roden), opened a portal in reality to let the ancient evil through. The Americans stopped them just in time, but not before some Nazis were affected by the portal, and Rasputin was sucked in. The result was a small child, a half-human demon they named Hellboy (Ron Perlman), who grew up to be an ageless force for good in the world, but his true heritage was going to let itself be known...

Two strains of blockbusting hit formula combined for this horror epic: the comic book adaptation (this one based on the original by Mike Mignola) and the ever popular horror-action hybrid of the 2000s. Written by the director, Guillermo del Toro, from a story by him and Peter Briggs, it followed the comic book pattern pretty closely, with its lone hero standing between us and evil, and packing in as many special effects as the budget would allow. This being the first in a possible franchise, they had to include the origin story, where we discover who the hero is and what his powers are, and this is economically incorporated into the opening act, leaving the rest for the jumping about and explosions business.

Hellboy now works for The Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense, a government organisation that remains top secret to the public. However, there are those who have their suspicions - a nice title sequence sees Hellboy treated as some kind of mystery, Fortean phenomenon like Bigfoot or U.F.O.s, complete with grainy photographs purporting to show the creature in action. Mind you, considering the amount of damage Hellboy's adventures inflict, it's not surprising people get suspicious. The first action sequence he's in features the hero launching himself at an ungodly beast in a museum, and ends with a fight to the death in a subway. In full view of everyone, naturally.

He's not as alone as a lone figure might be, because he has a group of associates to back him up. There's the elderly professor (John Hurt) who discovered him all those years ago, now considered to be the father to Hellboy, by Hellboy at least. Then there's new boy Myers (Rupert Evans), who is handily introduced to the Bureau so we learn through his eyes what is what. Abe Sapien (Doug Jones, voiced by David Hyde Pierce) is a highly intelligent half-man, half-fish, who predictably gets his own underwater sequence. Liz (Selma Blair) is a young woman who has the psychic power to start fires, but when we initially see her she's in a mental institution; she is also the love of Hellboy's life, but the affection is not reciprocated - a bit more outsider loneliness for our main character, then.

The film looks magnificent, from its panelled rooms to its underground bases, its ruined abbey to its desolate Russian lair. The makeup couldn't be better, with Perlman, a reliably tough and wry presence, looking every inch the comic book incarnation. But the storyline is lacking inspiration, with a familiarity and reliance on the genre rules that is not to its best advantage. Hellboy wisecracks, but his lines are hackneyed (even that old cliché about not having been bought a drink first when he gets monster eggs laid in his arm), the cardboard villains don't make much of an impression (although the rubber fetishist is a nice creation), and it all feels strictly by the numbers. Hellboy even has a boss who doesn't get along with him, as if he were a maverick cop. The film pushes the right buttons, but mechanically pushing buttons is all it does; if you really wanted a Lovecraftian spectacular with jokes and an organisation of champions against evil, I'd be tempted to recommend Ghostbusters over this. Music by Marco Beltrami.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Guillermo del Toro  (1964 - )

Stylish Mexican horror director who moves between personal projects and Hollywood blockbusters. After a couple of short films, he earned international attention with unusual vampire chiller Cronos. Mimic was an artistically disappointing follow up, but he enjoyed success with vampire action sequel Blade II, spooky ghost story The Devil's Backbone, and another horror comic adaptation, Hellboy. Spanish Civil War fantasy Pan's Labyrinth was widely seen as a triumph and won three Oscars. After a long spell in production hell since Hellboy II, he returned with giant monster mash Pacific Rim and gothic chiller Crimson Peak. The Shape of Water, an unconventional horror romance, garnered him Oscars.

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