There’s a howl in the night. Somewhere, deep in the dark woods of Bulgaria, a pack of wolves stir. They’re hungry, thirsty, and they’ve just spotted their next meal. The black dogs, with eyes that glow in the moon’s light, swarm on their targets, humans unaware that they are being tracked until the beasts are upon them. And then, just as their tongues lick across their sharpened canines… a lot of “oooo”s and “awww”s ensue.
Members of craft services on the set of Hellboy come out to greet the dogs for some snacks and a whole lot of ear scratching. According to production designer Paul Kirby, they’re just some of the stray dogs that roam the city of Sofia and are tracked by the municipality. With production on the reboot set up in the hills on the outskirts of the capital, the pups are regulars. They come every day to feed on scraps — and the crew is more than happy to oblige for the cost of a head scratch and a few cheek licks.
It’s part of what makes the film set such a strange place. As night falls on a windy August night, so windy that it blows away all effects from the smoke machines pumping mist into the evening air, set pieces like the chicken-legged hut of Baba Yaga and the eery display of Merlin’s Tomb, begin blending into the shadows. Then there’s David Harbour himself, star of Stranger Things, who is rarely seen by even his own cast mates out of Hellboy makeup. There always seems to be a horned red beast of the apocalypse walking about in a trench coat for coffee breaks at any given hour.
It’s all for the benefit of the production, which took up the unenviable task of creating a new kind of Hellboy movie years after director Guillermo del Toro made his two beloved iterations. This Hellboy, a new reboot with a new star and new story, is more horror than fantasy. “It certainly has its roots more in that world of gothic horror,” director Neil Marshall explains to press on set. “I think that’s part of the texture of the film, as well. Quite a bit of it is set in the U.K. and it ties in… It’s taking Hellboy out of his comfort zone that we haven’t seen him in before.”
For producer Lloyd Levin, who’s been involved with Hellboy since the age of Ron Perlman as “Big Red,” it’s now about maintaining the “DNA” of the comics from Mike Mignola — which, inherently, are more R rated. When Hellboy, still a member of the B.P.R.D. (Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense) at the beginning of the film, returns to London to deal with a bunch of giants, he’s alerted to the resurrection of The Blood Queen, an evil sorceress with a thirst for vengeance.
“Having a female villain just felt good,” Marshall remarks of casting Resident Evil’s Milla Jovovich in the role. “It felt right and was good that this woman comes around and kicks the shit out of Hellboy.”
Instead of John Hurt as Professor Trevor “Broom” Bruttenholm, Hellboy’s adopted human father, it’s Ian McShane in the role. Instead of sidekicks amphibian Abe Sapien (Doug Jones) and pyrotechnic Liz Sherman (Selma Blair) from the Del Toro films, it’s B.P.R.D. agent Benjamin Daimio (Daniel Dae Kim) and “human ouija board” Alice Monaghan (Sasha Lane).
“Some people inadvertently refer to it as Hellboy 3 and I desperately want to avoid that,” Marshall says. “I don’t want it to be seen as that. It’s a successor to that. I’d just like people to see it in its own right as a new take on Hellboy, and hopefully an amazing one.”
In exploring the Bulgarian set, here’s a primer for this new era of Hellboy.
- Levin says the production approached the reboot like a listical. “[On] some of your websites,” he tells press, “there’ve been some interesting articles about how it should be the same and how it should be different. Right from the get go we had very similar conversations along those lines, where is this the same and where is this different.”
- Mignola “was involved in the genesis” of the reboot, according to franchise Levin. Mignola and fellow Hellboy comic writer Chris Golden (Hellboy: Bones of Giants) even worked on a draft of the script together.
- The producers settled on an R rating not so much because of the success of Deadpool and Logan, but because of the comic book source material. “The comic books themselves are R rated,” Levin says. “There’s buckets of blood, there’s beheadings, there’s an intensity that equates naturally and organically to the R rating.”
Hellboy takes inspiration from all different areas of the comics. The antihero will be fighting in a Tijuana boxing ring against a demonic creature (similar to Hellboy in Mexico) when he’s called back to England to hunt giants (similar to The Wild Hunt). “One thing it isn’t is a greatest hits,” Marshall says. “It’s a coherent story but it certainly dips into several different stories that Mignola put together so I suppose it’s a collage of sorts, but we made a through-line that connects everything.”
- Hellboy will also feature references to other horror films, but Levin doesn’t want to reveal what they are as “it would maybe be overly suggestive.”
- Abe Sapien and Liz Sherman won’t appear in the reboot, per Levin.
- Harbour is rarely seen on set out of makeup. Two days in to filming her scenes as Osiris Club seer Lady Hatton, Sophie Okonedo still hadn’t met the real Harbour when he wasn’t wearing his “Big Red” silicon mask.
- The team lead by Joel Harlow, the film’s character and makeup designer, crafted six body suits for Harbour to use at any given time. While Harbour wears one on set, the others are maintained. “Some of the hair falls out, so we have to constantly maintain those by re-punching at the end of the day,” he says.
- Harbour’s transformation into Hellboy takes less than two hours each day, which, for Harlow, “is incredible for a character this complicated as far as prosthetic makeup goes.” It initially took around three hours, but by the 50th day in a row “it gets considerably faster.”
- Harbour’s Hellboy is a hairy guy, which for Harlow goes back to the film’s mission of pulling as much from the comics as possible. “It’s very gritty. He’s very down to earth,” he explains. “I wanted to take it away from a comic book look as possible and grounded in reality. That’s why he’s got hair on his arms and hair on his chest and scars.”
- Jovovich’s The Blood Queen will be used to play on Hellboy’s origins. “She raises a lot of issues that are very relatable to a big part of it,” Levin says. “We’re using her to also play into his origin story, his identity story, that she kind of sits on one shoulder and Broom sits on the other in a sense.
Kim describes Daimio’s relationship with Hellboy as “sticky”: “They’re teammates but they’re not necessarily on the same side. It takes a little while for the two of them to come to a working relationship and by the end they find a good one.”
- Daimio’s backstory won’t be explicitly laid out, though flashbacks will be featured and it certainly “informs every scene of his,” Kim says.
- Sorry, Daimio fans. His grandmother isn’t a part of this film.
- After Skrein stepped down from the role of Daimio over claims of whitewashing a Japanese-American character, Kim “had two whole days and 30 hours on a plane” to prepare for the role. “I did a lot of reading and, thankfully, there’s a lot of source material.”