Science fiction and fantasy                                            


directed by Guillermo del Toro

Hellboy poster  
The Nazis had an interest in the occult which they hoped would give them the upper hand in the Second World War. There's something about the Nazi uniform and its symbolism that seems to fit well with conjuring demons and opening the gates of Hell. Hellboy begins with them attempting to do just that, under the watchful eye of Kroenen and his master. As if the Nazis opening portals into demon dimensions that could destroy the world wasn't enough, Kroenen is also an undead with a fondness for knives, who hides his face beneath a gas mask.

Watching the proceedings is the young Broom, a paranormal expert working with the British army. They manage to avert complete Armageddon, but a rift was opened long enough for a creature to come through. That someone is a small, bright red demon who looks a little like a pixie. Broom befriends him and takes him in, naming him Hellboy.

Cut to the present day, and John Myers (Rupert Evans) is the new FBI recruit to the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense. It's the sort of Bureau that doesn't officially exist and is hidden underground in a state-of-the-art complex. Housing all manner of oddities, it's dedicated to fighting "things that go bump in the night" and keeping them from the sight of the general public, who are so easily panicked. Myers is astonished to meet Abe Sapien, the smart alec fish man with a taste for green eggs. And Hellboy, a big stogie-smoking red guy with a tail and a stone hand. Sixty years on and just in his prime, he's calling Broom "father" now.

Hellboy prefers to work on his own, bashing monsters with his stone hand without letting other agents get in his way or get hurt. But in spite of his hard-as-nails fighting and dodgy sideburns, Hellboy is a sensitive soul. He files his horns down in order to fit in better, falls out with people, and writes letters to Liz that he never sends.

Liz is the firestarter who has left the group in order to go and live in an asylum. Hellboy wants her to come back, but she keeps having episodes where she loses control of her powers. He thinks that his appearance puts her off, that if she associates with him it's yet another sign that she's a freak who will never fit in. Some of the best scenes in the film take place when John Myers is trying to talk her into returning, and Hellboy gets jealous of his close relationship with her.

There are plenty of hair-raising fights with big splatty monsters amongst subways, tunnels and ruined cathedrals. The look is dark, a sort of baroque gothic peopled with nightmarish creatures on both sides of the conflict. This is a fun, fast fantasy set in the modern day with just enough wit and tension to give it mass appeal. Doug Jones sounds a little too much like Niles Crane from Frasier when he's playing Abe Sapien, giving the creature plenty of haughty sarcasm. Ron Perlman is unrecognisable under all the Hellboy makeup, but he manages to convey a likeable and sympathetic character. The kittens help, of course.

Hellboy isn't a particularly intellectual film, it's shallow and feelgood, fast moving and a great spectacle. This is a often a frenzied, violent film, yet it's sweet enough to appeal to those who like romance as well as horror fans.

Film Details

Year: 2004

Categories: Films


Classification: 12

If you like this, try:

Constantine cover    

Constantine by Francis Lawrence
John Constantine struggles to avoid the clutches of Hell and solve a supernatural mystery.

4 star rating

Review © Ros Jackson
Read more about Guillermo del Toro