In the final days of World War II, the Nazis attempt to use black magic to aid their dying cause. The Allies raid the camp where the ceremony is taking place, but not before a demon - Hellboy - has already been conjured. Joining the Allied forces, Hellboy eventually grows to adulthood, serving the cause of good rather than evil.
Mike Mignola's "Hellboy" comics have a drizzly, musty gothic ambience. Guillermo del Toro has brought a similar woozy, disconcerting melancholy to his film adaptation, and his obvious affection and affinity for that dankness alone would make "Hellboy" worth seeing. But Mr. del Toro lets loose with an all-American, vaudevillian rambunctiousness that makes the movie daffy, loose and lovable. The story is pretty complicated stuff: during World War II, Hitler sends a special squad, led by Rasputin (Karel Roden), to rend the dimensional bonds and obtain a creature that will give the edge to the Nazis. His conjuring leads to the emergence of an infant creature, red as sin, with a long tail, who falls into the hands of the Allies. The kindly British scientist Dr. Broom (John Hurt) tames the tiny scarlet devil with a Baby Ruth the size of a Bazooka. Adopted by Dr. Broom, Hellboy, with his huge stone-like left arm, grows up to be the go-to guy for the good doctor and the anti-apparition league known as the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense. What gives "Hellboy" squirmy, ferocious life is the environment that Mr. del Toro creates onscreen. It's this texture that he avidly lavishes on "Hellboy" that offers the kiss of distinction. It's an elegant haunted house of a picture, with dread and yearning part of the eeriness. Ron Perlman's performance as Hellboy, and his mastery of bad-tempered volubility, makes the film a kind of screwball comedy version of the Thing from the Fantastic Four comics. Like any American comedy protagonist, he's always trying to explain himself and do what's right. That ambition is what gets him into trouble and is the truest definition of Hell. — Elvis Mitchell
2004-04-02 | Elvis Mitchell | Read the New York Times Review of Hellboy