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Directed by: Guillermo del Toro
Cast: Ron Perlman (Hellboy), John Hurt (Trevor “Broom” Bruttenholm), Selma Blair (Liz Sherman), Doug Jones (Abe Sapien)

Guillermo del Toro was clearly the right man to direct Hellboy. Usually when a director gushes on in prepublicity about how they’ve always been a fan of Boneless Boy, Captain Satsuma, Devil-Okapi or whatever, you tend to take their comments with a pinch of salt. But when del Toro professes to being a Hellboy fan, you have to take him seriously; he did, after all, write the foreword to the graphic novelHellboy: Conqueror Worm.

The titular hero is a big red demon who was dragged into our dimension by the Nazis as World War 2 raged in 1944. Fortunately, Hellboy was adopted by the US government and has now defected to the side of the angels, working for the highly secret Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defence (BPRD).

Del Toro directs with considerable flair, managing to reproduce the comics’ quirky atmosphere quite faithfully. There are some beautiful images, such as a rain-soaked funeral that’s a sea of black umbrellas. The well thought-out use of colour is gorgeous too. For example, at one point del Toro cuts from a pale blue subway tunnel to a villain’s lair bathed in golden fire light.

What really makes Hellboy stand out from the crowd is its curious mix of baroque grotesquery and sweet charm, though. It has an undercurrent of perversion, obscene violence and occultism. It’s bursting with outlandish delights: galumphing demons, a squirming behemoth that could have slithered out of the Cthulhu mythos and a resurrection straight out of Hellraiser. Its most memorable bad guy – Kroenen – resembles Darth Maul after a trip to an S&M dungeon. This blade-wielding Nazi assassin wears a mask, and has had his lips and eyelids surgically removed. It’s a sign of the times that mums can now take their six-year-olds to see such jet-black fare.

But del Toro also knows that a good comic book movie needs to have a heart, so all this writhing weirdery is sugar-coated with sentimentality. There’s a freakshow pathos about Hellboy. Beneath his gruff exterior and penchant for laconic one-liners lurks a desperate need for acceptance and love. It makes him a character you can easily warm to and care about.

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