Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Hellboy Animated: Blood & Iron

Vampires and Woofers and Sneks! Oh my!

What's it about?

Tonight's Spooky Movie Tuesday pic is "Hellboy Animated: Blood & Iron" (Film Roman, 2007).

Starts out as a bit of a downer, actually.

Professor Trevor Bruttenholm (John Hurt) has been having nightmares; flashbacks to a case that he solved in 1939 involving a vampire named Erzebet Ondrushko (voiced by Kath Soucie but based on Hungarian real-life alleged serial killer Elizabeth Bathory), who went on a killing spree, murdering young women in her home country of Transylvania to use their blood to retain her beauty and youth.
He imagines that he sees her in the mirror, which makes no sense (she's a vampire).

During a mission assignment at the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD) the Professor insists on full team to help him investigate what appears to be a publicity stunt: A rich landowner named Jack Trombolt (J. Grant Albrecht) is using his political connections to get the BPRD to verify that his new mansion is haunted to make it a tourist attraction.
"My mansion is worth a billion dollars! Unless you're the tax assessor, then it's only eighteen million."

Bruttenholm suspects that there's more to the story and enlists the BPRD's heavy hitters: His adopted son, the demon Hellboy (Ron Perlman),
Any excuse to take his shirt off. Typical.

Amphibious humanoid Abe Sapien (Doug Jones), pyrokinetic fire-starter Liz Sherman (Selma Blair), and human metal-detector and technical genius Sydney Leach (Rob Paulsen). Once the team starts investigating the haunting, they find that not only is it real, but it has much larger implications, culminating with the return of Bruttenholm's old nemesis!
There's a wee bit o'ghosties here!

A bit of background

This is the latter of the two "Hellboy Animated" series of direct-to-DVD films, the other being 2006's "Sword of Storms." They don't follow the continuity of the comic books, though they do implement a lot of elements from those works.

These woofers are from an unrelated comic, but shoehorned in.

They act as "prequels" to the 2004 film "Hellboy" directed by Guillermo Del Toro, who acts as a producer of these cartoons. Animation producer Michael Wolf is a veteran of animation, having worked on many film and television projects.

The good

The hand-drawn animation is far better than made-for-television animation of the era, but you wouldn't mistake it for a theatrical film, as it still has its rough moments. There is an impressive amount of cast here, reprising their roles from the theatrical film (and later the sequel). The situations presented are quite adult and spooky, with a surprising amount of blood, gore, and just a bit of nudity.

Trust me: you don't want to see much of this nudity.

It's not a gratuitous slasher film by any means, but it doesn't pull its punches with violent imagery. The story is (mostly) told skillfully, with reverse flashbacks showing snippets of the Professor's original case, revealing character motivations as it goes. There's a wide variety of monsters here, from vampires, to harpies, to werewolves, to lamia-like snake goddesses, and it feels "spookier" and more "Halloween" than the "Sword of Storms" film.
"Woofs on roofs! WOOFS ON ROOFS!"

The bad

It's not all good, though. As much as I approve of the technical animation, the character designs are a huge letdown for me. They try to stylize the characters in their own identity, but though the style they chose has some of "Hellboy" creator Mike Mignola's creative DNA, they ultimately look like a more childish and comedic version.

A good example: It sort of looks like something Mike Mignola would draw but the proportions are more cartoony.

This takes away much of the horror and grittiness, and I personally can't watch it without having flashbacks to "Clerks: The Animated Series," as the characters look really similar. As great as the film's voice cast is, there are noticeable absences, like Jeffrey Tambor's Tom Manning being voiced by "Darkwing Duck" voice actor Jim Cummings.
"All right team: Lets. Get. Dangerous!"

Further complicating matters (for me -- your mileage may vary) are other familiar voice actors that break the vibe and just cheapen the experience for me. Most notable is Kath Soucie, whose voice is always like nails grinding across a chalkboard to me and having her as the main villain takes away the terror as she sounds like Phil and Lil from "Rugrats."
"Hewwo! I'm Tewwifying!"

Rob Paulsen, who I love in other cartoons, sounds like "Rob Paulsen doing his inoffensive nerd voice" and really makes this feel like a Saturday morning rip-off. Cree Summer as Hecate is also sort of irritating, as I keep hearing her "blacksploitation voice" peeking through from her time on "Rugrats" and "Drawn Together." My only gripe with the story is that after the plot is satisfactorily wrapped up it devolves into Hellboy punching a goddess for 10 minutes, and that gets excessive.
This bit just feels sort of tacked on.

Not safe for kids. Sorry.

Do not, and I can't stress this enough, DO NOT watch this with young children. There's no sex, but there are depictions of gore, bloodletting, some nudity (breasts but no nipples), some brief swearing, some gunplay, and lots of death. It looks cute and cuddly from the screenshots, but don't be fooled.

Too spooky for kids!

Also: Too sexy for kids.

This film is unrated, but I feel that it mostly translates to a strong "PG-13" or a very soft "R."

Where can you find it to watch?

"Hellboy Animated: Blood & Iron" is available on DVD, Blu-ray, and 4K Blu-ray, or you can stream it for no additional cost on YouTube Premium.

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