Hellboy: Blood and Iron (2007) — Big Red takes on the big bite

“Lady, I was gonna cut you some slack ‘cuz you’re a major mythological figure, but that? That’s crazy talk.”

Drew’s rating: If I were dating the last Hellboy animated movie, I would cheat on that one with this movie, marry it, and raise a whole bunch of little movies.

Drew’s review: When you get right down to it, Hellboy’s got things pretty good. I’ll grant you, there’s the whole “son of a demon, holds the key to Armageddon” thing, which… sure, kind of a drag. But look on the bright side: the guy has the greatest gun in the world, hangs out with cooler freaks than you’ll find this side of a goth convention, and gets paid to beat the crap out of monsters for a living. If you can honestly say that’s not something you want to see on your resume, it’s possible you and I are very different people.

Which leads us to Blood and Iron, the second Hellboy animated offering. This time the filmmakers chose to go a different route, both by adapting an existing comic storyline and getting more experimental with the format, and it’s a welcome change of pace. In a series of flashbacks from 1939, we follow Professor Bruttenholm (Broom) as he confronts and slays the vampire countess Erzsebet Ondrushko. Back in present day, the elderly professor is plagued by nightmares, leading him to bring a B.P.R.D. team to a supposedly haunted mansion. The new owner has acquired many of Erzsebet’s belongings, hoping to create a tourist attraction; but when the professor’s hunch proves correct, can even Hellboy and friends handle a vampire countess, her priestesses, a pack of werewolves, and an ancient, extremely powerful goddess? Smart money says… it’s possible, but don’t bet on anyone getting out unscathed.

As I mentioned earlier, this movie feels a lot less restrained than its predecessor, as if the filmmakers had gotten comfortable flexing their creative muscles. One of my favorite aspects is the visible bond between Hellboy and Professor Broom. As the man who raised him, you figure Hellboy has to feel pretty close to the Prof, but Broom’s death in the live action movie and the first comic kept that element from being explored much, so it’s nice to see some quiet scenes between the two here. Another thing that surprised but pleased me is how adult the film is in places. Sword of Storms had monsters, but nothing scarier than you’d see on your average Saturday morning cartoon. By comparison, Blood and Iron is almost horrific, with gruesome images including a cradle dripping with blood and numerous (brief) scenes of torture. Nothing that’ll turn your stomach, but it might be a bit disturbing for young kids, so bear that in mind.

Which leads me to one of the biggest ways I think Blood improves upon its predecessor: selling the direness of the situation. “Wake the Devil,” the miniseries upon which Blood is based, was the B.P.R.D.’s first real defeat, and that comes through clearly in the movie — by the end, everyone has sustained some injuries, and you can almost see not only the physical but the emotional scars. Of course, a lot of that is due to the voice actors, all of whom remain in top form throughout. The one exception to that rule is Hecate, whose voice sounds much warmer and less threatening that I’d have imagined… almost sultry at times. I realize she’s trying to seduce Hellboy (in a sick, twisted way), but I’d always imagined it sounding creepier to match her appearance. On the other hand, the animation is possibly even stronger this time around, with a particularly impressive sequence involving Hellboy fighting a werewolf in a room lit only by firelight… the orange glow and shadows are amazing.

My biggest complaint centers around the flashbacks… or rather, how they’re presented. Clearly they’re a necessary part of the tale, and that’s fine, but these occur Memento-style in reverse chronological order; it’s an interesting directorial choice, but it only partially works. Compounding that is the fact that it’s not always clear when we shift from present day to the past — I knew the basic story coming in and even I was a bit confused, so I can imagine some Hellboy newcomers having difficulty following along. Also, it’s a minor thing, but the movie keeps implying you can fill a bathtub with the contents of one person’s veins, which is nonsense… I’ve always found it to take 3 or 4, bare minimum.

The only other noteworthy aspect of the film is that Erzsebet is essentially naked a couple of times. Nothing naughty is shown, but it’s still a bit titillating. Nobody wants little Johnny’s first stirrings of manhood to occur over a pair of blood-soaked, animated boobs — that’s the sort of thing that can lead to some problems down the line — so parents, take heed. But putting that aside, I found Blood and Iron to be not simply as enjoyable as Sword of Storms, but significantly more so. Take the same strong animation and excellent vocal talent and throw in some more gothic horror and folklore, and you’ve got a winner on your hands. Give ’em hell, boy.

Didja notice?

  • Erzebet’s vampiric activities took place in a castle in Europe, so how did the ghosts of her victims relocate to a mansion in America? I guess they piggybacked on the torture devices?
  • Ew, saggy vampire boobies!
  • Soooo… superheating the giant metal thing = not such a hot idea.
  • When even the Samaritan won’t kill something, you’ve got problems.

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