This week we introduce “Cult Corner,” a new column by Lewiston’s Will Thompson devoted to reevaluating or rediscovering cult media phenomena that have been written off, panned or forgotten.Thompson is a teacher at Jenifer Junior High School and is founder of the spring LC-Valley Comic Book and Record Swap, which has been cancelled in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
By Will Thompson
Early reviews of the “Hellboy” cinematic reboot of 2019 seemed to peg it as a failed “Deadpool” clone. The film doesn’t seem to have found its audience in the generally more forgiving home video market, either and was nominated for a Razzie award, to boot.
Perhaps we haven’t moved past seeing its star, David Harbour, as Jim Hopper, the chain smoking, Midwest cop with a heart of gold and a protective streak in “Stranger Things.” It would seem no stretch, then, that Harbour would be tapped to play a cigar-chomping, paranormal law enforcer with a gruff exterior that covers up a penchant for looking out for humanity. In fact, I’d call it casting genius — such a simple, logical stroke that it seemed to baffle prospective audiences upon its announcement. Harbour isn’t muscle-bound, Chris Hemsworth-handsome, or even a household name, which, for Hellboy, is frankly ideal.
It is Harbour’s performance that ultimately grounds “Hellboy,” a movie that threatens to go off the rails at any moment under the strain and ambition of its scope and source material. The Hellboy mythos is more than a clever premise: A demon conjured by Nazi occultists during World War II is rescued and raised by the leader of a secret American paranormal task force called the BPRD, or Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense. If that’s too outlandish for high-brow tastes, it’s this emotional core that anchors this mythology: Hellboy, via his stone gauntlet of a right hand, is the physical key to literal Armageddon. As Hellboy globetrots and fights monsters, he is constantly reminded of his true nature and is called upon by said monsters to fulfill his destiny. He is so appalled by this that he regularly files down his massive horns, leaving circular stumps on his forehead. Oh, and given his supernatural nature, he ages slowly, so, despite his size, he’s basically in his late teens or early 20s. It’s a lot to shoulder for a young man with a red right hand.
This is where reviewers missed the core of the movie and made the “Deadpool” comparison — Hellboy is an exasperated, conflicted young man with the fate of the world on his shoulders and hardly a friend in sight. Harbour absolutely nails the beaten, dogged resolve of Hellboy’s heart. Hellboy is moody, angry at his adoptive father, and just wants to be left alone. When sent on yet another mission, Hellboy presents an air of “Uuuuuuugh,” which is teenager for “Seriously? Again?” Here, the one-liners that fall flat in a comedic sense aren’t attempting to capitalize on Deadpool’s hammy, Ace-Ventura-knock-off camera winks. They’re intentionally bad because they’re all Hellboy has to distract himself in another moment of intense violence where the most he has to look forward to when it’s over is more self-medication and futile distraction from loneliness.
Let’s not forget that these moments of violence on screen are spectacular. Sure, some of the computer generated imagery misses the mark, but it isn’t all terrible. Director Neil Marshall, who is perhaps best known for some major episodes of “Game of Thrones,” like “Blackwater,” also has two top-notch horror flicks under his belt — the Scottish werewolf military flick “Dog Soldiers” and the expertly crafted lady spelunker show, “The Descent,” which regularly tops best-of horror lists for the 2000s. Reportedly, Marshall wanted to use primarily practical effects throughout the movie and was in constant conflict with the producers. While CGI was likely a budgetary decision, Marshall’s chops are more than adequate to deliver top-notch visceral thrills. A massive fight against a pack of trolls is particularly memorable.
Oh, there’s plenty of gore, too. And the best talking-pig humanoid since Bebop in “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” The “Hellboy” reboot is a worthy watch for fans of action, horror and mythology. It is streaming on HBO Now/HBOGO and, if you’re feeling particularly scholarly, the initial “Hellboy” from 2004 is streaming on Netflix.
Thompson enjoys putting somewhat carefully chosen words in relatively meaningful order. He has been to college. He lives in Lewiston and can be reached at email@example.com.