Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Hellboy Animated – Blood and Iron – review


Directed by: Victor Cook & Tad Stones

Release Date: 2007

Contains spoilers

This is the second Hellboy animated to be released and, as you can guess by it being here, it contains vampires. The film is feature length and has the stars of the Hellboy live action movie performing voice acting duties. The DVD itself comes with a plethora of extras – two of which I’ll get to at the end of the review and a 32 page comic. Now, I was a little excited about the comic as it is a story called the Yearning and has skeletal creatures lusting for blood at the beginning. However these are bone ghouls and not vampires.

free toy!The other thing to note is that the edition I received from Play.com is an exclusive boxed set that comes with a Hellboy bust-up toy. A little diorama of Hellboy Vs. The Bat God, the toy has nothing to do with this actual film but, well hey… I’m a sucker for a toy in a DVD set!

HellboyAt the head of the feature, the credits come over some marvellous 3D animation of a graveyard, though the film itself is in standard 2D. The story proper begins with Hellboy (Ron Perlman) stalking through sewers. He ends up in battle with a minotaur type creature, with a metal arm, and aided in his fight by Abe Sapien (Doug Jones). A fight scene later and Hellboy is victorious – though his efforts have been observed and a woman’s voice questions why he opposes his own kind.

Young BroomNow the film does something interesting. We get a back story regarding Professor Bruttenholm, or ‘Broom’ – voiced in modern times by John Hurt and as a younger man by James Arnold Taylor – the story focusing on his first real field trip and his battles with the vampire Erzsebet Ondrushko (Kath Soucie). What the film does is run the sequences in flashback in reverse chronology, according to the extras an almost accidental format born of the feature being under length.

One should note that Erzsebet is obviously based on Erzsébet Báthory, and so why they did not use that name is beyond me.

The first flash back we see is Broom with members of the Transylvanian constabulary, the fiancée of a young missing woman and a priest, as they make their way into Erzsebet’s lair. In the main room skeletons hang from the walls, or are in situ on the rack and the priest seems to have visions of the girls alive and tortured.

staking AnnaBroom notices fresh blood on the floor and it leads to a wall. They break through the wall and enter a secret room. The missing young lady, Anna (Grey DeLisle), is on the floor, by a bath of blood, with punctures in her neck. On seeing this and Broom's intentions, the priest backs away and runs. Broom has the fiancée stake his love to save her soul.

Erzsebet feedsThe remaining men then open Erzsebet’s coffin, but it is empty. Blood drips onto Broom’s hand and they sweep their flashlights upwards. One of the constables is being held on the ceiling, his neck bitten by Erzsebet. Panicking the men run, with Broom telling them to hold. They manage to escape but, off screen, are ripped apart by wolves with glowing blue eyes.

effects of holy waterBroom is alone and the room comes alive with blue flamed candles. Erzsebet appears before him and he takes a hip flask from his pocket. She mocks his need to fortify himself with a drink but he flings the contents towards her, the flask is filled with holy water that burns at her face, stripping her of her beauty.

burning in the sunlightEnraged she leaps at Broom, the momentum carrying them both through a curtain and a window into the dawn. Broom catches the balcony ledge as Erzsebet plummets through the sky, her body consumed by flames. It has all been a dreamed memory and Broom awakens. However, looking in the mirror he feels the back of his neck and has blood on his hand, he sees Erzsebet in the mirror. Hellboy enters and banters, once the demon has left the room Broom realises that his hand is clean but he knows something is afoot.

The genius of this is that, after this and scattered through the remaining film, we move back in time in flashback, rounding out the story and discovering the motivation of the characters. This adds a depth of dimension to them which is fantastically detailed.

In the modern day the BPRD (Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense) agents are being sent on various missions. The final one is to a haunted house (the Hampton House) as a favour to billionaire Oliver Trombolt (J Grant Albrecht), a friend of a Senator. Knowing this is a publicity stunt they intend to only send new agent Sydney Leach (Rob Paulsen) but Broom intervenes and has Leach, himself, Hellboy, Abe and Liz Sherman (Selma Blair) all sent to the house, rather than their originally planned missions. Though he doesn’t share his reasons he carries garlic. Incidentally the comic I mentioned shows the mission Hellboy was meant to go on, which he does after the Hampton House

ErzsebetInvestigation of the house shows it is teeming with ghosts, but they all seem to be female, of Eastern European origin and asking for help. Broom reveals that they are all victims of Erzsebet, and realises that someone is trying to bring her back via the artefacts from her castle that Trombolt has bought.

We get more background on Erzsebet. Whilst alive she was obsessed with beauty and killed some 613 maidens to bathe in their blood, but her atrocities only became worse after she died and was raised as a vampire. We discover that she was a priestess of the Goddess Hecate (Cree Summer).

newly resurrectedNow, to a degree, this is where things do fall slightly flat. Erzsebet is indeed brought back but her return is for Broom to deal with. Thus something must be done by the filmmakers to distract Hellboy and that something is a fight against a manifestation of Hecate. This, in itself, is not a bad concept – it was Hecate observing him at the beginning – but there is no depth to it. I would say that, compared to the rich back story of the Erzsebet story it seems tagged on. However the bizarre part is the back story is the tagged on bit. This almost makes the film an accidental success.

Vampire lore is pretty standard. No reflection (the reflection at the beginning is part of a dream/vision remember), control of wolves, blood drinking, aversion to garlic, holy water and crosses (which are dependant on the bearer’s faith). They can be killed by stake or sunlight.

The voice acting works well, though perhaps the character Leach distracted from what is a fairly dark story as a newcomer and thus fairly wide eyed and innocent. The soundtrack is fitting to the piece. The actual animation works well, though I wouldn’t say it is the most attractive or stylistic I’ve ever come across.

detail from PenanggalanI mentioned extras on the DVD and there are two that deserve highlighting. You can access Professor Broom’s story, which is the back story from the film but in correct chronological order. There is also an e-comic called Penanggalan. Whilst it is somewhat short, and without a huge amount of depth, its nice to see this rare Malaysian vampire being highlighted.

All in all an entertaining animated feature with good depth – albeit accidentally. 7 out of 10.

A homepage for the animations is here.

The imdb page is here.

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