Neil Young’s Film Lounge – Hellboy

Published on: March 23rd, 2004

CRAWLING CHAOS

Sheila Seacroft on Hellboy

Take a pinch of Men in Black, a dash of Hulk, a touch of Raiders of the Lost Ark, a hint of Ghostbusters, a drizzle of Monkey, a soupon of Beauty and the Beast, and stir in a handful of ra-ra-Rasputin and writhing misto del mare from the Venice fish market, and you’ve got an idea of the overseasoned and indigestible boullabaisse that is this film.

Hellboy, some sort of imp conjured through a supernatural portal by the Nazis during the war in a crumbling church in, erm, yes, Scotland, is won over from the dark side with Baby Ruth Chocolate Bars and cuddles by a paranormal specialist later to become John Hurt. Well it worked for the GIs with our women, after all.

Now a strapping scarlet hulk with horns which he files down every morning because he doesn’t much care for them, Hellboy (Ron 4-hours-in-makeup-every-morning Perlman) lives with Prof Broom, aka Dad (Hurt) in quarters specially provided for parahumans like him, where a fellow oddity is the fishlike Abe Sapien (Doug Jones) who lives in a water tank reading 4 books at a time through the glass.

He is a quivering-wristed, cerebral, sensitive but tough being, not unrelated, I suspect, to Red Dwarfs Kryten, with a strangely familiar voice. (It was no surprise when I discovered later that his voice was actually supplied by David Hyde-Pierce, Niles Crane from Frasier.) The word is getting out about Hellboy, however, as he makes the occasional sortie into the city to Fight Evil. For, like all massive creatures of his ilk, he is a big softy at heart, never more so than when thinking of his lost love, the mournfully beautiful firestarter (Selma Blair), who also has eyes for Hellboys bland minder John Myers (Rupert Evans)

But what a load of baddies. Theres Rasputin (Karel Roden), whom even stabbing drowning castrating shooting poisoning and generally whupping couldnt get rid of, recreated from blood welling up from an ancient maze in Moldova; the statutory evil Aryan Nazi blonde, (Bridget Hodson in a rather thankless role with little to do other than curl her lip); there’s Kroenen, a diabolical black-clad-bloke who has cut off his eyelids and lips, though the effect is rather lost as his face is always covered. With one twist of his metallic nipple he sprouts flashing blades, spelling doom for all around.

And there are lots, and lots, and lots, of decidedly nasty oozy many-tentacled cuttle fish type creatures, recreated from seeds in the burial urn of St Dionysius, I kid you not. The first one we see is all fine and scary-ish, but when you’ve seen one, you’ve seen em all. Impervious to every kind of injury except being torn apart or burned, they prove a bit of a pain to Hellboy, and to this viewer too, and Im not sure whose heart sank the lower every time a few dozen more were spawned and did their Here I Come! dribbly roar.

Theres unremitting clanging and roaring and screaming and falling down and whooshing around and slamming into hard surfaces, and precious little else, no real suspense, no shocks, and a script as clunking as the various metallic doors which slam shut with depressing regularity just missing our heroes. And though I am clearly not the target audience for this kind of movie, it really felt like overkill on the special effects front.

How I longed for those days of innocence when seeing Ronald Laceys face melt in Raiders of the Lost Ark was the height of grisly horror, and we actually cared a bit about the characters. Despite overdone attempts at making Hellboy lovable and folksy, even to the stock scene where our ugly hero sits down and shares his heartache with a cute child on a rooftop who exhorts him to Tell her how you feel!, my heart was as stone. So, will Rasputins evil plans to destroy the earth succeed? Will Hellboy win the girl of his heart? What do you think?

August 31st, 2004