When I reviewed the first Hellboy Animated feature a few weeks ago, I didn’t intend to get to the second one quite so soon. But as it happened, it was available through the same service as the first, and it fit neatly into my schedule when I was looking to view something but was a little pressed for time. Like its predecessor, this direct-to-video feature is only 75 minutes long, making it a little easier to find time for than many other films.
Also like its predecessor, it’s directed by Tad Stones, though this time partnered with Victor Cook. More importantly for most viewers, the voice talent — i.e., the stars of the live-action films — return once again, with Ron Perlman as Hellboy, Selma Blair as Liz, and Doug Jones as Abe Sapien. Where it differs from Sword of Storms is in its theme; where that story drew on Japanese mythology, Blood and Iron goes not for East Asia, but rather Eastern Europe, with a vampire story inspired by Elizabeth Bathory.
The numerous vampire stories that are inspired by Bathory aren’t nearly as scary as the fact that Bathory was capable of inspiring numerous vampire stories.
Hellboy and the team are sent to investigate a haunted house that they suspect is merely a publicity stunt — the buyer is a corporate official building a tourist attraction, and the BPRD squad is being sent because he’s a friend of the senator overseeing their funding. Of course, things are never that simple, and the house turns out to be haunted by hundreds of ghosts seeking vengeance for their deaths at the hands of a vampire — who is in the process of being resurrected on the premises. Cue gothic imagery and some scary monsters for the team to fight.
There are some entertaining action sequences involving Hellboy facing off against monsters several times his size and Liz battling a pack of hellhounds, but the BPRD field team is almost out of focus in this film. Despite being the title character, Hellboy is essentially regulated to the role of sidekick in this outing. Going along with the field team is Professor Bruttenholm, the man who raised Hellboy like a son. Voiced by the always-excellent John Hurt, the Professor is really the main character of this feature, as the vampire in question was the subject of one of his former cases in his youth. The Professor’s previous adventure is shown in flashback throughout the cartoon, and it’s the Professor who is shown to be on top of things throughout.
Never send a Hellboy to do an old man’s job.
The animation is on a par with the previous feature, and the character designs are essentially unchanged. The backgrounds are somewhat different, lacking the Japanese influence of the previous film, and drawing more heavily (and appropriately) on gothic tradition. The design of the vampire (voiced by Kath Soucie) is well done, suggesting a character who may have been pretty in life but is immediately recognizable as what she is. Other monster designs range from stylish to deliberately grotesque; the animators didn’t shy away from making a disturbing concept look disturbing.
In terms of story, the movie is entertaining from start to finish. It does have something of a weakness in that there’s essentially no surprise to the story; save for one particular death, everything is easy to see coming from a long way off. Although it’s not really playing at being a mystery, this does occasionally lead to the feeling that the audience is waiting for the BPRD team to catch up with what the audience and Professor Bruttenholm already know. Still, this is a mild complaint at worst. Overall, the film is slightly stronger than Sword of Storms, and Hellboy fans will be sure to enjoy it.