Son of a….!
What’s the Story?
In 1939, a young Professor Broom (Bruttenholm) confronted and defeated Erzesbet Ondrushko, a vampire rumoured to bathe in the blood of young women to retain her beauty. Now, all signs point towards someone trying to bring her back. When the agents of the B.P.R.D. (Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defence) are invited to inspect a haunted house, Professor Broom brings along Hellboy, Liz Sherman and Abe Sapien just to be sure. The resurrection of a vengeful vampire is the least of their worries though, as dark forces have been watching the titular Hellboy and they are very disappointed by what they see. Having to contend with ghosts, werewolves, harpies and an ancient Goddess inhabiting an iron maiden, the agents are in for one rough night, and not everyone will live to see the dawn.
You know, each and every year I’m surprised to reach another anniversary post and yet I keep coming up with things I want to talk about, much like the subject of today’s review. It’s the 7th anniversary of this little blog of mine and, as is tradition around here, I’m going to spend it talking about a franchise/film that I have strong feelings for. Honestly I’ve been meaning to talk about this particular franchise for a while now, ever since I started this blog in fact, and since I spent the first half of this year rereading my collection of the graphic novels, now feels like the right time. I don’t know why I’m trying to treat this like a big reveal, you’ve all read the title and seen the artwork, today we’re talking about the world-renowned paranormal investigator, Hellboy.
I have vague recollections of seeing Hellboy comics and merchandise in different places when I was a kid, but it wasn’t until the first Guillermo Del Toro film that I properly took notice. I’ve been buying said comics on and off ever since and, if you have even the slightest interest in this franchise, I thoroughly recommend them. Not only is Mike Mignola’s art a masterclass in colour, shadows and composition, but the titular hero is just such a likeable and compelling character. Throw in all the legends, myths and folklore that Hellboy often finds himself combating and its almost as if this series was made for me. There is such a deep lore to the series and a starkly different feel than you get from the Del Toro films (though I do enjoy both of those films quite a lot).
On to the subject though, what is Hellboy Animated? The idea for an animated Hellboy series has been floating around for a long time, and really if Invinicible can get its own cartoon, why not Hellboy? Sadly such a series has yet to materialise, but with the relative success of the first Hellboy film there was enough interest to green light two animated features (A third film was in development, but much like the Del Toro films this franchise doesn’t seem to be able to reach that far). As such we got Sword of Storms and Blood and Iron, both with Ron Perlman, Selma Blair and Doug Jones returning to voice their respective characters. Blood and Iron even has the late great John Hurt returning to play Professor Broom. Sword of Storms is a decent film, it’s really just a collection of things that happen with Hellboy interacting with various yokai and creatures of Japanese mythology. Check it out if the mood takes you.
That brings me, finally, to today’s review. Blood and Iron is my favourite of the animated films and, in some respects, it’s my favourite Hellboy film. It is a direct-to-DVD film so it’s resources are limited, but you can feel there’s a great deal of passion behind this project. Not only from the voice talent, because, come on, Ron Perlman was born to play Hellboy, but the direction, even the use of colour, they’re pulling out all the stops they can. Add on to that the fact that, to me, this is the film that feels the most like the comics and is it any wonder I love it so much? This film is loosely based on the second Hellboy mini-series, ‘Wake the Devil’, it even climaxes with Hellboy squaring off against Hecate, Greek Goddess of Magic and Queen of the Witches. Some of Hecate’s dialogue is even pulled directly from the comic. The only things really missing are the revived Nazis, Rasputin’s ghost floating about the place and we’re facing off against a different vampire, but this is meant to be a stand alone film and that stuff would require some context so I can see why they cut it.
Direct pulls from the comics aside, what makes this film feel so much like the series is the way the characters interact. Hellboy is a much more subdued and mature character, he’s a working class joe who does his job with a sarcastic, dry wit. He has a lot of care and respect for his father, Professor Broom and Liz is back in the little sister role as opposed to being the love interest. One of my favourite scenes has to be the first briefing, where they’re all just sat around in armchairs bantering. Liz is trying to remember where they found this pastry place while on a mission, Hellboy is complaining about the quality of the donuts and the boss is wondering whether they should spring for a conference table. None of this Men-in-Black super secret organisation stuff, they’re government employees, working with hardly any budget and just trying to do the best they can.
If you’re looking for Gothic Horror, then look no further than this film. Erzsebet is a great antagonist, and while we don’t get to see much of her in the present day, outside of her horrific resurrected appearance, she more than makes up for it in the flashbacks. Peppered throughout this film are flashbacks to the first time that Professor Broom encountered Erzsebet and it really plays up that Hammer Horror vibe. Interestingly enough the flashbacks are played in reverse order, we start with Broom confronting and defeating Erzsebet and then back track to get to know the players in this tragedy a little better. Each one is perfectly placed to give us a new kernel of information and I do have to admire the writing and direction of them. It’s not a gory film, but there is plenty of death, blood and even a little torture so maybe keep the little kids away from this one.
Lastly, I want to talk about the use of colour in this film. Most of this film is saturated in different shades of blue, since the story plays out mostly at night and it adds to the mood of the film. It also helps our big red hero stand out even more. Green, however, is mostly used for anything that the film depicts as evil, Erzsebet wears a green dress, magic, Hecate and her servants are all coloured or surrounded by green. It helps to keep the film visually interesting. There’s even a scene where, as Hellboy’s fight with a werewolf is reaching its peak, the whole room suddenly becomes coloured red to show that intensity, before dying back down to blue once the fight is over. As I said before, the people working on this film really pulled out all the stops they could and they weren’t afraid to experiment or try things out, for which I can only commend this film. I do wish there were more Hellboy animated films, I have no doubt that I would have loved Shadow of the Claw as much as I did this one, but that will just have to be relegated to whatever dimension is lucky enough to hold all of the unmade Hellboy films. Maybe someday we’ll get that Hellboy animated series.
In the end, Hellboy Animated: Blood & Iron is exactly the kind of Hellboy film I want. It’s dark, gothic and has a clear understanding of the world and characters. You can feel the passion that all involved put into this film and it’s a crime that they weren’t allowed to make more. It is only a Direct-to-DVD film, so it’s budget does show in places, but the skill in the writing, direction and inventive use of colour more than make up for any weaknesses. If you like Hellboy, or even think you might like Hellboy, then check this out. There was a Blu ray release a little while ago. Oh, and read the comics too!
On a final note, I just want to thank everyone who’s managed to make it this far and for putting up with my long-winded, rambling reviews. I hope you enjoyed this as much as I did putting it together. And thank you to everyone who’s viewed, liked and commented on one of my posts in these past seven years, here’s to the next few!
Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday or you can follow me on Twitter @ChrisGJoynson.