I’ve been a fan of Guillermo del Toro’s work since I saw The Devil’s Backbone. And then I saw him speak, introducing Gary Sherman’s Death Line, a very low-budget horror film made in England during the 1970s. Del Toro was a large, round-shouldered guy who I first saw in my peripheral vision in the aisle adjacent the row I was sitting. I had an empty seat to the right of me and was worried that he would claim it for his own, jostling my writing arm (I was working on an article about Death Line at the time and had never seen del Toro before, so I mistook him for a latecomer). He clutched a leather-bound notebook and approached the stage once he had been introduced. I loved him immediately; he was a funny, funny guy who was heartily Catholic and steeped in stories.
My Death Line story fell through, but I got an even better story in the process because del Toro talked about his upcoming movie Hellboy and his fascination with subways and sewers, pet subjects of my own. That leather-bound notebook held sketches for the Hellboy characters. I was not disappointed when the first Hellboy came out, but the second installment in the series did not touch me with the same sense of wonder, the idea that I had been touched by genius. Of course, it must be difficult to be a genius all the time. I’ve just come to expect it from del Toro with such masterpieces as Cronos, The Devil’s Backbone, and Pan’s Labyrinth.
I’m coming to recognize del Toro’s stylistic flourishes and could easily pick them out in Hellboy II: The Golden Army–the cogs, wheels, and clockwork that he’s fond of; a clutched rosary and other Catholic imagery; and his arsenal of the most fantastic, most glorious monsters since Jim Henson’s. I feel bad for Selma Blair’s Liz Sherman who must compete against men with monster makeup while she only has a corona of fire to set her apart. Her very human character is at a disadvantage when matched against her red devil boyfriend Hellboy and the philosophic fishman Abe Sapien. In the first Hellboy there were more human characters so Liz Sherman wasn’t lost onscreen, but in the second installment, it’s hard for her to command attention when appearing with elves, trolls, and toothfairies. The eye always goes to the creatures, though many of them aren’t as important to the story as Liz is.