“There are things that go bump in the night, and we are the ones who bump back,” says Professor Trevor “Broom” Bruttenholm (John Hurt), the brain behind the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense. It’s a clandestine wing of the FBI operating out of Newark, N.J. (Nope, Scully and Mulder aren’t anywhere to be seen.)

The good professor of “Hellboy” is also the surrogate father of Hellboy – a horned, tailed, crimson-hued hulk who was spawned in a 60-year-old experiment in black magic gone awry. Now an extremely grown-up grown-up, the hulking Hellboy chomps cigars, gobbles Baby Ruths, and uses his demonic powers to battle the forces of evil.

Cracking wise while doing so? You betcha.

“Hellboy,” with a prostheticized but recognizably wry Ron Perlman in the title role, is a jaunty yarn about giant tentacled monsters, nefarious Nazi scientists, mad monks (including “the mad monk, Rasputin), and a dastardly plan to unleash “the seven gods of chaos” on an unsuspecting world. (Question: Isn’t one god of chaos enough?)

Based on the Dark Horse comic-book series by writer-artist Mike Mignola, the film – despite being a half-hour too long – is a rocking, rolling supernatural spectacle. Armed, literally, with a hand the size of an anvil, Hellboy – his friends call him “Red” – stomps around in pursuit of nightmarish mutants and baddies who are messing with space-time portals and ancient relics of the Black Arts.

Aided by a telepathic fish-man named Abe Sapien (Doug Jones) and in love with a mopey-eyed lass with pyrokinetic powers (played by mopey-eyed Selma Blair), Hellboy uses his innate talents to hunt down his diabolically disposed brethren.

In essence, “Hellboy” is a simple story with a simple moral: It’s possible to do good things and be a good person even in a world rampant with villainy. And you’ll be the better for the experience, even if you have to power-sand your horns down to stubby stumps.

Guillermo del Toro, the Mexican filmmaker with a bent for fantasy and horror (the vampire art-house hit “Cronos,” the action sequel “Blade II”), orchestrates the thundering fisticuffs and “Alien”-esque special effects with aplomb. Like “Mimic,” his laughably bad giant-cockroaches-plague-Manhattan movie, “Hellboy” features a couple of big sequences set in the city’s subway system: runaway-train face-offs, third-rail fry-fests, screaming citizens running amok.

Super-powered conflict in the midst of everyday city life is, of course, a long-standing comic-book tradition. But such scenes also serve to extol the benefits of mass transit: Taking the subway not only cuts down on pollution, it’s more exciting than getting stuck on I-95.

Normal-looking newcomer John Myers plays straight-arrow FBI agent Rupert Evans, functioning as the audience filter for the freak-show action going on around him, while Czech actor Karel Roden hams it up as Rasputin, Ladislav Beran struts around in a creepy mask, and Bridget Hodson veers into camp as the Aryan hottie Ilsa – a lethal lady in an SS uniform.

Faithful to its pulp roots and lacking the cumbersome self-seriousness of many a comic-book adaptation, “Hellboy” is, well, hellacious good fun.

Rated: PG-13 (violence, supernatural hugger-mugger, profanity). Rating: 3 out of 4 stars.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.