Steven Greydanus on Hellboy and Other Movie Demons

Steven D. Greydanus prepares the audience for Hellboy 2: The Golden Army by reminding us that wicked monsters may point us toward the truth… and that sometimes it’s easier for us to comprehend demons than angels.

“Believe it or not, he’s the good guy.”

So proclaims the tagline for Hellboy II: The Golden Army, opening in theaters this week.

Well, he definitely needs explaining. With his horns —filed to stumps or not — as well as his red skin, goatee and tail, Hellboy overtly embodies universally recognizable cultural iconography of the enemy of mankind in the great war of powers and principalities.

This imagery isn’t limited to Christianity. George Lucas claimed to have included Hindu and Greek mythology in researching the look of the similarly demonic-looking Darth Maul. (“A lot of evil characters have horns,” Lucas told Bill Moyers in 1999).

Still, Hellboy’s world “like those of other recent supernatural-themed films including Constantine and Ghost Rider” seems significantly shaped by Christian culture.


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About Jeffrey Overstreet

Jeffrey Overstreet has two passions: writing fiction, and celebrating art — music, cinema, photography, literature — through writing and teaching. He is the author of a “memoir of dangerous moviegoing” — Through a Screen Darkly. And his four-novel fantasy series, The Auralia Thread, which begins with Auralia's Colors, was published by Random House. He speaks at universities and conferences around the world about understanding art through eyes of faith. He is earning his MFA in Creative Writing at Seattle Pacific University, where he has worked for 11 years as an editor, writer, and communications project manager. His work has been recognized in The New Yorker, TIME, The Seattle Times, IMAGE, Ravi Zacharias International — and Christianity Today, where he served as a film journalist for more than a decade. He recently began a weekly column called "Listening Closer" for Christ and Pop Culture.

  • wngl

    I would advise Mr Greydanus to read the source material for Hellboy. His reading of the character as rooted in Christian culture is spurious at best and begs the huge question of how one defines the “culture” of Christianity, which itself is a product of many older traditions. My reading of Mike Mignola’s creation and the voluminous stories he has drawn and written about Hellboy draw upon more traditions than I could easily account for; suffice to say that Mr Mignola’s bases for the character are several and significantly varied, counting among them the Christian influence but not perhaps as significantly as Mr Greydanus suggests.

  • taj

    CITY OF EMBER looks promising, at least in concept. I went out and read the book upon seeing the trailer, and after reading, the filmmakers appear to have kept the premise intact, though certian liberties are apparent…

    Tim Robbins’s character (as yet unnamed on IMDB) looks like an original creation for the film. Same for the presence of some creature with a tail that, as evidenced by the one of the trailer’s closing shots, seems to lurk under the city.

    I’m still keeping my fingers crossed. EMBER would look great on screen, but these kinds of differences signal more of the same. I really want to be wrong.

  • striderdemme

    I also liked The Spiderwick Chronicles.