Just when you thought you had seen the last of the superheroes for 2004, along comes Hellboy, the latest instalment in the war against evil, from Mexican director Guillermo del Toro (Blade II). Del Toro, who won many awards for Cronos and The Devil’s Backbone, has a metaphysical relationship with stories that blend sci-fi, horror and history. He started his career in Mexican television as a special-effects make-up artist and this early experience shows in his latest film, which is about a boy conjured from hell with horns, superhuman strength, paranormal gifts. Hellboy was hatched by the Nazis during WWII but is used by a special branch of the FBI to fight evil.

Hellboy is pure comic book pulp fiction and is based on the Dark Horse series created by former Marvel artist Mike Mignola in 1994. The first Hellboy miniseries, Seeds Of Destruction, became a cult hit and forms the core of the film version adapted for the screen by del Toro in conjunction with Mignola. Hellboy is built around Mignola’s lifelong fascination with folklore, legends, ghost stories, monster comics and occult detective stories. This has resulted in a superhero who has a more laidback, poetic, gentle side -“ a monster who files his horns to look more normal in order to get his girl. Hellboy also loves cats, smoking cigars, eating pancakes and kicking back to Al Green. Del Toro was such a fan of the comic series he turned down directing Blade: Trinity and the latest Harry Potter film to indulge his passion.

Ron Perlman, who is 6’3 and has kooky looks that have seen him cast as a freak in films such as The Name Of The Rose, City Of Lost Children and Alien Resurrection, is perfectly cast as Hellboy, the monster with relationship issues. Veteran John Hurt plays the scientist father figure in a style straight out of Raiders Of The Lost Ark; Selma Blair (The Sweetest Thing) plays the pyro girl love interest who bursts into flames when excited, and Czech actor Karl Roden (Blade II) is Rasputin, the force of evil.

The best thing about Hellboy is that it is a welcome alternative to the superheroes regularly hitting the multiplexes. Del Toro has successfully transferred Mignola’s highly imaginative comic book world from the page to the screen in a way that is funny and faithful to its roots. The character development is largely solid, with the glaring exception of Rasputin, and the special effects are inventive and entertaining. Long-time collaborator Guillermo Navarro’s cinematography creates a mood well supported by a Marco Beltrami score that has Morricone overtones. It is too long at two hours and even then you feel as though you’ve only touched the surface of this dark, alternative world. Perhaps this is why del Toro is already in pre-production for the sequel, Hellboy 2, due in 2006.

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