The episode of Revisited covering the 2004 version of Hellboy was Written by Emilie Black, Narrated by Niki Minter, Edited by Juan Jimenez, Produced by Tyler Nichols and John Fallon, and Executive Produced by Berge Garabedian.
Comic book adaptations are everywhere these days, but in the early 2000s, they were a bit more of a rarity. There were some, but not a ton. 2004 saw a group of comic book adaptations come out including Immortal and Renegade and movies like Constantine, Aeon Flux, and Sin City were announced for 2005. One movie that came out in 2004 and made an impression, positioning the director, Guillermo del Toro, for much bigger things was Hellboy (watch it HERE). This was his follow-up to the fantastic Blade II and, thus, not his first foray into comic book movies.
Now, let’s get this clear from the start, Mr. Del Toro is a monster cinema God to me, so this is clearly going to be a love letter. However, I see this one as a 9 out 10, actually preferring the sequel to the first one. Why, well, it’s complicated and very much a question of story and villains. But here I am to discuss the first Hellboy film made by Del Toro, so it will be given tons of love.
Let’s start with a little history. My knowledge of comic books is not where some would think it should be. It’s not the best as I admittedly do not read them. I did read some as a kid like Asterix, Tintin, Lucky Luke, The Smurfs, Leonard, Archie, The Crow, and a few more, but since becoming an adult, the only few comics I’ve read have been The Crow and Video Nasty. I’m not much of a comic book girl, but I enjoy the movies made from them usually, but I love horror, monsters, and practical effects. This means that when the first images started coming out for Hellboy, it had my attention. A big red dude with sawed-off horns, a fishman, and a fire girl? I was in. I had no idea what the story was going to be about, but I was in! Add Guillermo Del Toro at the helm, the man who had just given us the fantastic Blade II as well as Cronos and The Devil’s Backbone; I was more than in.
Soon came news that the director and stars would be at Fangoria’s Weekend of Horrors in New Jersey. Actually, it was a cross-over event between Fangoria and Chiller, and I was already a fan of the Fango Weekends, so I figured I’d go. Convinced the bestie we needed to go, and we got tickets, a room, and just headed there where not only was there going to be a fantastic convention, but friends were getting married on stage that weekend, so it was one of those cannot miss things. I went to the show, saw some of the Hellboy stuff, met them kind of in the autograph area, and just didn’t make a fuss. I wanted to see the movie for sure though, do not get me wrong, I just get awkward with people sometimes, and I was new to the convention world, so there are no photos of me with them or any photos really. At least not in my photos; I do think the former best might have some…
My knowledge of the comic book was still pretty much nil when I met up with a convention friend a couple of months later, and while hanging out in New York City, he told me all I needed to know about Hellboy, the BPRD, and Mike Mignola. Thanks, Mario! With his info and multiple magazine articles about the film, I was pretty sure this movie was for me. Come April, I was right there to see it. I think we might have even seen a preview screening of it, but memory is a faculty that forgets (especially with ADHD), so I am unsure. I do know I loved it right away and knew I wanted more. Now, these days, I can look at it with the brain of a 22-year experience film reviewer as opposed to a 3-year film reviewer at the time, so my thoughts on it have changed a bit or rather matured. I can look at the film through the lens of “it is actually good” and not just “I LOVE THIS.” How does the film maintain a 9 out of 10 these days? Well, multiple ways.
First, the story: This is a film that serves as the introduction to the characters. Those who had read Hellboy’s source material didn’t need this, but most of the film-going audience did. I know I did back in the day. Now, it still works; we get a bit of an intro to the characters in a way that works, using a new agent assigned to the BPRD who needs to be explained who they are, what they do, and why he’s there. Easy, simple, and done correctly here. The characters are given enough time to be fully fleshed-out beings, some human, some not so much. They take the time to also establish who they are to each other, but the film does not put too much exposure here; it manages the difficult balancing task of giving exposure and not boring the viewer. The action here is fun, we get an adventure, some excitement, and a good number of monsters. This is a monster film, after all. And this is what works here, the story is simple enough to get into easily, the characters are introduced but not over-simplified, and the way the film moves along gives the story and characters time to develop while keeping a good pace. Yes, a good pace. I am looking at your recent comic book adaptations like Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, and adventure films like Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. Brevity and pacing are often forgotten in an effort to give a bigger show. Hellboy knows that we can get plenty shown in a decent run time with good pacing, keeping the viewer involved and entertained throughout.
The writing here is credited to Mike Mignola, of course, Peter Briggs, and Guillermo Del Toro, with Del Toro also directing. The work here is solid. The writing, as explained above, flows just right. The direction shows that Del Toro knew what he wanted and made the most of his budget, bringing all these monsters, good and bad, to life. He clearly had a vision and worked to get it done, get it on the screen, and give monster kids everywhere exactly what they wanted. Del Toro is one of those directors with that very rare, almost-perfect career course. The man makes amazing movies with his incredible passion and imagination. He loves monsters, it’s clear, and it very much applies here. His style is like an adult horror dream world, influenced by Hammer films, Universal Monsters, and all the best of practical effects artists. The man is one of us, a fan first, then a filmmaker, and he creates what he would like to see, something that brings him to another level entirely.
The cast of anti-heroes and monsters here is just right. Hellboy is played by Ron Perlman, who does fantastic work with the part. He’s the attitude down, and gives him a bit of depth. Doug Jones as Abe Sapien steals the show. That man is amazing and basically can do no wrong, but his work here is particularly stellar, giving Abe some odd shade of humanity while setting him in complete otherness. He’s odd, he’s charming, he’s the logic to Hellboy’s brawn. Then we get Selma Blair as Liz Sherman, one of the very few ladies in this film and the only lady on the BPRD team. She’s conflicted and doing so just right. Playing the head of the BPRD is John Hurt as Trevor “Broom” Bruttenholm, a scientist who has seen war and raised Hellboy. His work is, as is usual for Hurt, perfect. Then you add Rupert Evans as the newbie, Jeffrey Tambor as the bureaucrat handling the BPRD, and a few others, and you have a well-rounded team on the good guys’ side. On the bad guys’ side, we have Karel Rodin as Rasputin, who does decent work, but something feels like it’s missing here, and it may be in the writing or something like that. He’s the bad guy, it would be great for him to steal a few scenes and run with them, but he doesn’t. This may have been planned, but it creates an imbalance between the good and the bad here. Biddy Hodson and Ladislav Beran round out the human, or humanoid, bad guys. Beran steals a few scenes here. His screen presence is so good and his physicality in the part is just on point. Of course, we also get a few monsters here that are man-in-suits, something Del Toro seems to adore.
Those monsters here are fun to watch and have aged well. The secret for this? Practical effects. The fact that Rick Baker, yes, THE Rick Baker, was a makeup consultant on the film shows that the effects were taken seriously. His body of work is epic, from It’s Alive to King Kong, Star Wars, The Howling, Thriller, Wolf, The Frighteners, Men in Black, The Wolfman, Maleficent, and so many more; the man is incredibly talented and creative, definitely the right man to be a consultant here. The practical effects themselves were done by Spectral Motion and Cinovation. One of the best designs in the film can be seen in Hellboy and Abe Sabien, but also on Sammael played by monster actor Brian Steele. The character and interpretation of it are both impressive here.
To work with all the amazing visuals created here in special effects, décor, performances, etc, the cinematography by Guillermo Navarro perfectly pairs with Del Toro’s direction. The two of them have worked together more than once, and Navarro has worked on quite a few memorable films such as Cronos, Desperado, Four Rooms, From Dusk Till Dawn, Spawn, before Hellboy, and a bunch more since. His images work just right when there is a lot going on, when the world is not quite as it normally is, and when the film requires attention to details. To work with the images, Marco Beltrami was hired to write the score. Horror fans know his name as he seems to be the go-to guy for many horror films with titles like Scream, Mimic, The Faculty, The Crow: Salvation, Dracula 2000, Resident Evil, and Blade II to name a few of his pre-Hellboy credits. Since then, the man’s career has only gone up and up. He’s a solid choice here, and his work is what the film needed; it’s hard to explain, but it’s perfect for a comic book adaptation with some epic bits here and there.
As a horror fan and a fan of well-made, thought-out entertainment, Guillermo Del Toro is at the top of the best film directors out there. Not knowing much about Hellboy at first, his vision and the images shown sold me the film. Then I learned about the source material, saw some of the books, and was just excited to see it on the big screen. The film itself is fantastic and so easy to fangirl all over; with an amazing cast and so much talent involved, it could not possibly fail, and it didn’t disappoint. These days, it’s still a great watch and one I pull from the collection semi-regularly for a rewatch as a sort of Saturday Morning cartoon for grown-ups done by a big kid with his heart in the right place. It’s not surprising the film got a sequel, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, 4 years later, which I might prefer these days. Of course, the character begged for more screen time, and he got some in animated form and in that 2019 attempt at a series reboot. There was good talent there, too, but something wasn’t quite right. it’s like they knew fans wanted a 3rd live-action Hellboy from Del Toro, and the universe blocked the perfection from repeating itself. That being said, the first cinematic adaptation of the BPRD’s adventures was just right and exactly what most fans wanted, so going in a different direction again would be doomed. Fans have their discs of the first two films, and they can easily go back to them and share them with new, future fans. I know that’s what I do when someone says they’ve never seen Del Toro’s Hellboy. As a fan, it’s still a great film; as a film reviewer, I still see it as a great film as well and one that has become a classic for many reasons.
Two previous episodes of Revisited can be seen below. To see more of our shows, head over to the JoBlo Horror Originals channel – and subscribe while you’re at it!