Opening the Door: Brian Levy part one
Editors note - This is intended as a pilot article for a new regular segment from the community. If you have your own story to share, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Come back early next week for the second half of Brian’s Hellboy History.
One of my most vivid memories from before I was a teenager is the image of my brother and I, staring at the teaser poster for the first Hellboy movie in 2003.
We were at a movie theater with my parents. As we were exiting the screening room, my parents had to use the restroom so my brother and I went to go look at the posters. Very little could capture my imagination like an evocative movie poster. The way they’re lit, the intentionally striking imagery; for a kid like me with a strong imagination and horrible, horrible ADHD, a good poster was like catnip. There were two posters on the stretch of wall we were looking at. One was some ad for some studio comedy with that big dumb red font and a sitcom actor as the lead. Me and my brother didn’t care too much about that one. But the other one was the Hellboy poster.
It simply took over our brains. First of all, the name was really something. Hellboy. Hell? In the name of a movie? Right-wing family-values Christianity was the dominant culture at the time. Jesus was huge. Boy Scouts were big. Our President was an openly evangelical man who thought he was getting messages from God. 9/11 was a very, very recent memory and as a reaction, America had thoroughly embraced wholesomeness as a national identity. I grew up Jewish. All my friends however were Christian and pretty hardcore ones too. They’d goad me into converting, sort of as a joke but sort of seriously too. I got invited to church a LOT. My friends were genuinely concerned for my soul. I didn’t totally take it all seriously, but the mind of a 12 year old is pretty malleable so despite my weekly Hebrew lessons, the fear of Hell was in me and there was a voice in the back of my head always telling me that I should just listen to my Christian friends and accept Jesus. It was frustrating and stressful.
Hellboy! It immediately registered to me as something dangerous, but fun. To me it was a rejection of the dominant culture, as much as 12-year-old me could understand that idea. This Hellboy was clearly some kind of super hero who came from hell, the place America was terrified of. I could see the tail and the sawed off horns and that giant gun. Not to mention Ron Perlman’s slightly scary mug. There was also that giant, iconic B.P.R.D. symbol. Despite its simplicity, there was a whole world in that image. Looking at this poster gave me something. It didn’t make me forget about the stress of being a child in a post 9/11 Christian America, but it gave me my first example that stuck with me of irony.
The local movie theaters were pretty serious about making sure 12 year olds couldn’t sneak into PG-13 movies and I hadn’t expressed any interest in seeing Hellboy to my parents, so I never wound up watching it in the theater but I knew a kid who had and what he said about it hypnotized me. I remember him specifically talking about Kroenen, a clockwork Nazi zombie man with blades on his arms, and it was fascinating to me. All these creatures working together to fight other creatures, it was just so cool. I asked . My mom brought me up on Godzilla and Star Wars and the Universal Monster movies and at that moment in time, we were in the throes of both Star Wars prequel fever AND Lord of the Rings mania, so creatures and production design were always something floating around in my mind. The idea of it was just so cool, but I never saw it. That is, until we got a PlayStation Portable for Christmas 2005. It had came with one game and one movie. The game I hardly remember but that movie was, of course, Hellboy.
My dad loved to take my brother and I on Sunday drives up Pacific Coast Highway. We did it all the time. PCH is a beautiful stretch of road, one of the most scenic drives in the country, but once my brother and I got our hands on Hellboy and a device that could play the movie in our hands, the drive as well have not existed. You couldn’t get us away from this movie. My dad must have been slightly disappointed that we weren’t exactly on board with his Sunday drives once we had our hands on this movie but I don’t know anyone who’s parents insisted on weekend drives who didn’t find any way they could to not pay attention to the drive. My dad had his comic books, kids today have Fortnite on their phones. My brother and I had Hellboy on our pixelated PSP screen while we got carsick.
So my dad was neither here not there with this Hellboy business and I absolutely don’t blame him but my mom was IN. TO. IT. My mom is a gigantic nerd, always open to whatever goofy basement dweller stuff my brother and I were into, never scoffing at our interests, always trying to be as supportive as possible. By this time, my brother and I had gotten our hands on a DVD of the movie, so it was on the TV basically every other weekend. At one point she watched it with us and she like us, immediately fell in love with it. It’s easy to see why! This is a woman who’s favorite movie is the original Star Wars. I’m not going to argue that Hellboy is better than Star Wars, but I can absolutely see how a person whose mind was blown back in 1977 would instantly appreciate Guillermo del Toro’s vision of this lovingly, carefully crafted world of occult secrets populated by these lovable working class characters you leave the movie wishing were your friends.
The following year Pan’s Labyrinth was released to universal acclaim, cementing Guillermo del Toro as a respected director and giving my family and I fuel for our hope that maybe we’d get more Hellboy eventually.
When my mom and I saw an ad on a bus for the sequel in early 2008, we both gasped. We immediately began counting down the days till The Golden Army would be released that July. Anticipation for Hellboy 2 was one of the constant threads that year in our household. Of course, the election was also happening, but as far as media to look forward to, it was season 4 of Lost and Hellboy 2 and that was it.
By the time July rolled around, my dad had been invited to a tech conference in Jackson Hole Wyoming, hometown of Dick Cheney and various Israeli CEOs. One of these Israeli government agents turned tech-millionaire knew my dad through some work conference they had both attended. This man held an annual conference of his own that was based out of his massive house in Wyoming. He and my dad had stuck up a friendship at the event they had met at so this guy invited my dad and the rest of the family out to Jackson Hole to participate in his tech conference. The only problem here was that the week of this conference happened to be the week Hellboy II came out.
My brother and I were pretty mopey in Wyoming, being two teenaged city boys surrounded by a bunch of business adults. We didn’t take our surroundings for granted. We savored being around Yellowstone, seeing families of moose, spying a few wolves, breathing the mountain air and being around all these weirdo tech Israelis, but we couldn’t shake the dismay that this was the weekend Hellboy 2 was coming out and we really wanted to see it. Lucky for us, my mom was also bored out of her mind at this conference and was just as excited for Hellboy as we were.
The three of us looked in the local paper at the showtimes at the one movie theater in town and saw that they were playing it. We were giddy. We got in our rental car, left my dad to go listen to some Israeli guy talk about investment, and had one of the best moviegoing experiences I’ve ever had. The theater was absolutely packed. To me and my brother, it seemed like everyone in Jackson Hole must have been in that room. Every action sequence dazzled. Every joke landed. Every cool monster elicited murmurs from among the audience. Every moment of that second Hellboy film felt like a blessing; a gift. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
Everything I loved about that first movie was present in the sequel, but instead of simply being more of what worked, it took what worked and with it went down a new uncharted path. The focus on the characters I cared about was stronger, their relationships were more interesting, the creatures, good lord the creatures. The troll market sequence is absurdly entertaining. And Sapien’s love story gripped my 16 year old heart. The Angel of Death, the coolest thing I’ve ever seen in a movie. I could go on. It was a treat. Pure candy for my imagination.
I felt like the biggest Hellboy fan in the world, and I hadn’t even read one of the comics yet. That’ll come next week. Thanks for reading!