Hellboy plays on PS4, how David Harbour got the role, and more.
For years it felt like a third Hellboy movie would never happen. And it’s not.
Seriously, don’t think of this movie as Hellboy 3 (for more on that, see my first point below).
Instead, Neil Marshall’s film is returning to the source material and attempting to bring to a wider audience the world Mike Mignola has been creating now for over a quarter of a century. Below are some of the key ways the new adaptation is trying to achieve that design.
1. Don’t Call It Hellboy 3
Director Neil Marshall is really hoping people don’t approach his movie with that mindset. Maybe it’s because he’s already turned down making that movie.
“I was first approached about possibly doing a Hellboy 3,” the British director tells me in between takes on the film’s Bulgarian set. In fact, we’re sat in a dark corner of the Osiris Club, with dark wooden bookcases encircling us. It’s all very atmospheric. “My response to that was, ‘Well, that’s somebody else’s terrain and I don’t want to step on their turf.’ But I was like, ‘If you are thinking about doing a reboot any time, then I’d love to do that.’”
Marshall clearly has a lot of respect for what Guillermo del Toro did on the previous two movies. (So does everyone I spoke with.) “It’s a tough act to follow,” he admits. So Marshall returned to Mike Mignola’s richly weird source material with a simple question… “what could we do that’s going to reinvent it in some way that isn’t radically deviating from the source material but in some ways being more faithful to that source material.”
2. It’s Okay to Be R-Rated
Emboldened by the successes of Deadpool and Logan (even more recent at the time of the movie’s 2017 production), the new Hellboy feels free to adapt anything in the comics without restraint. While achieving an R-rating isn’t the object in itself, it’s not something that has to be avoided at all costs either.
Releasing the darkness of Mignola’s work is what Marshall felt he should pursue with the reboot. “I just saw so much potential in a darker, more R-rated version of the material,” he explains. “Instantly, Mike Mignola sort of connected with that concept as well, and then everyone else came on board, and it was like, ‘Okay, so let’s go dark with it.’”
“I mean, there’s buckets of blood. There’s beheadings. There’s all sorts of… you know… there’s an intensity,” producer Lloyd Levin unpacks what the R-rating really means. “It applies to intensity. It applies to gore. It applies to horror – graphic depiction. It’s not that we’re grafting an R-rated mission onto the movie or onto the comic book. The comic books themselves are R-rated. It let’s us be more faithful to the graphic novel. And if you’re going to be faithful to the graphic novel, it’s R-rated material.”
Marshall adds, “When they said, you know, it was cool to do the R-rated thing, it did feel like we weren’t making it with kind of handcuffs on in a way.”
3. Stranger Things Got Harbour the Job
How do you even make a Hellboy movie without Ron Perlman?
It was a question that weighed heavy on the mind of Levin. But the solution came from an unlikely source, Netflix.
“We all watched Stranger Things […] I think, at that moment, a lightning bolt went off for everyone, and I said, ‘That’s how’ – you know. David Harbour. Hellboy. I had that. We all did.”
“Everyone involved kind of just – as soon as they saw Stranger Things – just said, ‘Wow, wouldn’t he be – wouldn’t David be a great Hellboy?’ And he was the first person and only person we approached.”
4. The Wild Hunt Is the Biggest Inspiration
While the new Hellboy doesn’t carry a subtitle, it’s indebted to Mignola’s The Wild Hunt (2008-09), the ninth collected book in Mike Mignola’s series.
But out of all the potential stories, of all Hellboy’s fantastical adventures, why pick that one?
“The Wild Hunt – well, it’s a great story, first and foremost,” says Levin. “But also it allows for an origin story – sort of like a backdoor origin story – so we can kind of get into who Hellboy is without, you know, the origin story structure of a comic book movie.
“It felt like a good starting point for a reboot and not have to tell an origin story.”
But it’s not a slavish adaptation of The Wild Hunt. They’re also pulling from Darkness Falls, The Sound and the Fury, and there’s plenty of original material in there too.
“One thing it isn’t,” Marshall points out. “It’s not sort of like a Greatest Hits, but it is a coherent story, at least from one end to the other, but it certainly dips into several different stories that Mignola put together, so I suppose it’s a collage of sorts.”
5. Mignola and His Comics Are Guiding Design
Mignola’s body of work came up, time and time again, as the touchstone for so many different members of the movie’s creative team. But one of the coolest aspects is how Neil Marshall is trying to mirror the comic’s thoughtful use of colour.
“There were several things that we tried to incorporate on the way,” Marshall tells me. “But right at the beginning, our wonderful production designer and DP [director of photography] came up with a colour palette based on the colour palette that exists in the comics, and trying to stick as closely as possible to that.”
So “whenever Hellboy is around, nothing else in the scene is red, unless it’s possibly blood. So we’ve endeavored to sort of create that palette for the whole thing, and give it those bold colors in the field of the comics wherever possible. And yes, deep blacks because we like shadows to be dark.”
Similarly production design Paul Kirby has referred to Mignola’s work continually. This movie was an opportunity to more faithfully and immediately adapt the work of Mignola, which was heavily refracted through the artistic sensibilities of del Toro in the previous movies.
“We’re not disrespecting the great del Toro’s work,” Kirby points out. “But there’s an opportunity to go back to the original material and delve deeper into that and make more of a Mike Mignola film. And we’ve consulted very heavily with him and–although he was consulted with the other films too. But it’s, in developing the look of the film, always referring to the original material. And the fans will know the original material. There’s no point in ignoring it.”
But it’s always a process. After all, it has to work on film. “You know, you work with it, and if you–if it suits your purpose use it. If it’s not–doesn’t suit your purpose and you can alter it for the better, that’s fine.”
Kirby illustrates what he’s talking about with Baba Yaga’s house. “In the concept and the legend is that it’s a little house that walks around on chicken legs. And in our vision […] it’s a huge tower.” But Mignola is on hand to be a resource even when deviations are required.
“It looks different to Mike’s version, but I consulted him about it, about what are the key ingredients of it. And he just wanted it to be bigger on the inside than the outside in a kind of a TARDIS way. But he was quite happy for it to be developed into something more.”
6. Gothic and Gory
Although he may more recently be known for his work on some of the most talked about TV episodes of recent years, Marshall is an established horror movie director. Dog Soldiers and The Descent are standout British horror movies, and he’s certainly bringing some of that tradition to the new Hellboy.
Gothic horror is how he lovingly describes what makes Hellboy a little different in the crowded realm of comic book movies. “It certainly has its roots more in that world of Gothic horror, and I think that’s part of the texture of the film, as well, having quite a bit of it set in the UK, and it ties in.
“It’s got a little bit of that Hammer Gothic, you know, when you’re sitting in that this amazing kind of old country house kind of thing. [Marshall looks around at gestures at the set of the Osiris Club.] It’s taking Hellboy [the movie incarnation] out of his comfort zone in some respects and putting him into this different world that we’ve not seen them in before.
“But it definitely taps into kind of Gothic horror sources and roots and all that kind of stuff that I love so much.”
7. Emphasis on the Practical
Mermaid skeletons, the skulls of giants mounted as trophy kills, the cottage of Baba Yaga.
You’d expect to see a lot of starling things in a Hellboy movie – but I actually got to see them first-hand, since Marshall and his team are trying to create as much practically as possible.
“I think in an ideal world, we would just be doing everything practical,” explains Marshall. “As far as I’m concerned, anyway, because I come from the school of practical filmmaking wherever possible. It just isn’t always practical to do practical all the time.
“So were trying to take the best of both worlds and to do is much practically as we possibly can, and then let CG step in if necessary to either enhance or manipulate, something like that. For me, CG is so much better until you ask it to, like, create something like a life, but it’s great at enhancing stuff that’s already alive or already real.”
I’ve been on a few set visits, and I’m pretty use to seeing swathes of green screen. But on Hellboy it was at a relative minimum. Instead, there was a workshop of filthy creation, containing an assortment of gruesome creatures cast from latex.
In a warren-like building on the edge of the sprawling Bulgarian film studio, Joel Harlow’s makeup and effects team worked away casting new versions of the Hellboy suit for Habour to wear the next day. It’s quite a striking image to see an Eastern European lady sat on a stool threading individual hairs onto the torso of a demon.
8. Hellboy Plays on PS4
At one point during the tour of the movie’s sets, we see Hellboy’s bedroom. It’s a peculiar aspect of the character: he’s ancient yet coddled like a child; he possesses untold power but confined, almost grounded like a teenager. And that’s certainly informed the design of his room.
His walls are adorned by by posters for The Cure, Sonic Youth, and Bauhaus. He’s a confused punk, emo, goth kid, who also has horns. I also spotted that he has a PS4, though there were no signs of what he was actually playing. Maybe he’s gone fully digital. Good for him.
9. Harbour’s Hellboy Is Inspired by Classic Private Eyes
While Hellboy might be a kid in some ways, Harbour also took inspiration from some older sources, too.
“So part of the thing for me in terms of finding his voice was that he idolized Lobster Johnson,” Harbour explains. “And in my mind, he also idolized kind of – even the trench coat sort of plays into this idea of this James Cagney sort of like, and I imagine him in the, like, you know, he was spawned in ’45 or something, right?
“So I sort of imagined him in the 50s growing up with these black-and-white movies of Double Indemnity and movies where, like, guys were – I don’t know, Double Indemnity was probably before that, but, like, guys who were men who were private eyes and went out and solved things.
“And so he sort of fetishize is this whole image of themselves as, like, and you know, in terms of being a demon, one of the things he wants to do is fit in, and so he wants to be a private eye who goes and solves crimes. He is the best B.P.R.D. agent. He’s the best paranormal detective the world has ever seen, so he takes great pride in his job and he takes great pride in this persona.”
10. How Harbour’s Hellboy Is Different to Perlman’s
But it’s James Cagney mixed with Frankenstein’s creation. It’s a strange mix, but a lot of it stems from Harbour evaluating what he could do differently from Ron Perlman.
“So my whole thing was like we’re not going to try to compete with what those guys did,” Harbour explains. “We’re not even going to sort of play in that ballpark. We’re going to do something completely different and were going to highlight a different aspect of this guy. So as an actor, like that was exciting, because I was like, “I can’t do what Ron Perlman does.”
So how would he distinguish his take from Perlman’s?
“…Let’s see, the terrible version is angst-y and the great version of it is tortured, I would say. It’s that he, you know, in the original Hellboy movies, I feel like he’s very much a guy that has a sense of humor, that goes about his job and does his thing and is like, you know, sort of deals with the demons and evil in the world.
“In our movie, he’s very much dealing with his own being ostracized from society. There’s kind of a Frankenstein element to it. There’s an element of–there’s, I think, a lot more self-hatred. Although those movies it did explore certain aspects of that, ours is just a lot darker in terms of the character piece and in terms of who he is.
“He’s a much more tortured guy who in the end has to do the right thing. This is, you know, he is destined to be the beast of the apocalypse, and maybe one of our goals is to justify the temptations of that destiny in terms of the creation of a world where, as a demon, he might be accepted. As a monster, he might be accepted, that he doesn’t feel in this world.”
11. Hellboy Has the Body of an MMA Fighter
David Harbour in full Hellboy makeup is an intimidating sight. There’s something more grizzled, scarier about this incarnation.
Makeup designer Joel Harlow, like so many of his colleagues, turned to Mignola. “The angle is just really going back to the source material, you know, and going back to Mike’s illustrations. And not just his illustrations but the way Hellboy is treated in his stories is very great. You know, he’s very down-to-earth, […] so I wanted to take it as far away from a comic book look as possible and keep it rounded, which is why he’s got hair on his arms and hair on his chest and scars and all that kind of stuff.
“You know, he’s described as having the body of a MMA fighter, so you’re going to get scars. You’re going to get beat up. We’ve all got scars just from our daily routine, so somebody like that is going to be even more so, you know, more weathered, more distressed.”
12. There’s a Strong Female Villain Who Kicks the Sh*t Out of Hellboy
Since the movie is loosely adapting The Wild Hunt, the central villain is the Queen of Blood, played by Milla Jovovich. Sometimes also referred to as the Lady of the Lake, she is the most powerful of all the British witches, and has served as antagonist several times in the comics.
Marshall knew he needed a powerful presence to play opposite what Harbour was doing with the lead character. “It is difficult, because he’s such a presence, you know, he’s a huge, great red demon guy, Marshall points out. “And Milla comes in and can stand next to him and not drown him out, but she’s there, and a total presence, and you feel it in every beat of every word she says and every moment and every look she gives.
“It’s like, ‘Okay, he’s got his work cut out for him, dealing with that.’ And she’s amazing, she’s been so much fun to work with. Such a pleasure, and delivers this absolute powerhouse performance.
“I think also for us just having a female villain was – it just felt good. It felt right, and it was good that this woman comes around and kicks the sh*t out of Hellboy. Yeah, that’s cool.”
13. It Could Be the Start of the Mignola-Verse
Hellboy has been around for over 25 years, and has spawned a host of weird and curious supporting characters. Some of been adapted before with varying degrees of success – Abe Sapien, B.R.P.D. – while others have yet to be given a chance – Lobster Johnson, Witchfinder. Could this version of Hellboy introduce a wider audience to this pantheon of paranormal characters?
“I know all that kind of stuff has been discussed,” admits Marshall. “But it’s so far in the back of my mind. Like right now, this is the focus, 100 percent. Get this done, make it the best film it can possibly be, and then see what happens.
“If that comes off, great. What an adventure and what a world to open a big door on? The B.P.R.D. and all the other characters. The huge universe that Mike’s created over the years it to tap into, but I cannot think about that right now.”
Producer Lloyd Levin, who worked on the previous two movies, feels excited by the idea of eventually realising Mignola’s work on the big screen. Especially as he thought it might not happen as del Toro’s third movie never came about. “You have over 20 years worth of stories and, you know, dozens of characters, and just felt like there was so much more of the Hellboy universe to explore or the Mignola-verse to explore.”
But Marshall is resolutely focussed on this movie. The one that has to succeed for all of that to follow. He’s not bothered about all that just yet. His hope is modest: “I would love [audiences] to walk away having seen, from their point of view, an original Hellboy movie.”
What better day than Saturday, March 23, aka Hellboy Day, for movie tickets to go on sale? Get them here.