Movie Review: Hellboy 2

The Prince is back. And he wants revenge.

No, this isn’t some Nigerian scam. This is one man’s critique of Hellboy 2, a mid-2000’s sequel to the cult classic eponymous movie, Hellboy.

Often cinematically considered as one of the standards for urban fantasy, this franchise raked in barges full of cash on its way to cementing itself in the millennial consciousness. Fraught with action and conflict, the second installment offers an experience worth shelling out a few bucks for.

The Plot Thickens

Hellboy II

Hellboy and company have their hands full saving the world once again.

As stated in the original terse paragraph, Prince Nuada has returned, and he wants blood. Having been exiled by his elven father at the end of Hellboy, Nuada wants to restore the crown. However, this is not any crown. It is the magical crown used to command the Golden Army.

It wouldn’t be any fun if the Prince simply meandered around and stumbled upon the three pieces of the sacred and powerful crown, now would it? Of course not. All manner of bad stuff happens as the nefarious, conceited royal son strives to indulge his basest desires. Blind avarice and a lust for authority drives Nuada. However, the man finds some…interesting and unusual allies in his quest to destroy humanity. In the nascent stages of his campaign of terror, the antagonist deploys a contingent of tooth fairies. Yes, tooth fairies. It might be worth watching for that alone. Weaponized, militant tooth fairies. That gets a vote for originality.

Hellboy Returns

Moving on, when we are reintroduced to Hellboy, he’s immersed in chaos. But, it is chaos of a much more banal and relatable sort: Hellboy is having some girl troubles. As Hellboy begins defying orders and rushing to investigate a string of murders tied to the infamous tooth fairies and Prince, his girlfriend reveals she is pregnant and everyone tries to stop the protagonist from doing what has to be done.

Overall, the plot seemed a bit cookie-cutter and thin. Bad guy returns to avenge the crime, only to be met by a defiant-but-resilient good guy with daddy issues and girl problems. Maybe it’s me, but it seems that may have been tried a few thousand times before. To be fair, that plot exists and thrives because it is so universally relatable, visceral, and compelling. Working on that, while the plot seems too predictable at times, the creators made some effort to insert unorthodox elements, such as the aforementioned fairies.

Truth is, we all kind of want to be Hellboy.

Four Stars for Hellboy II

Overall, I would rate this movie a solid 4 stars and recommend it. It gets a few bonus points for being much more family-friendly than many other Hollywood products produced after the 1970’s.

International Urban Legends: Madagascar

A monster lurks in the heart of the Malagasy jungle. As the mists hiss and rise into swirling masses, they conceal a terrible entity. A cryptid that feeds on human flesh. It is hundreds of years old. It’s story has been carried throughout the annals of history. It is likely one can read the story regardless of their language or national origin, despite the fact this distant monster dwells in a remote island forest.

These trees in Madagascar are said to eat people.

The Madagascar Trees

The Madagascar Tree is said to be a semi-sentient tree that consumes people. Some legends claim this tree was the focus of sacrifices by indigenous tribesman. Others claim that the tree is populated by myriad snakes that will blindly satisfy their voracious appetite with anyone, or thing, that comes close enough.

Some say that on a quiet day, if one strains to hear, they might find the solemn and urgent cries of victims carried on the wind. Others believe that woodpeckers, with a strange and magical gift, can release those trapped in the belly of this carnivorous beast.

Truth Stranger Than Fiction in Madagascar

The truth behind the Madagascar Tree, however, may be more fiction than fact. It is reported that the myth began in 1878 with German explorer Carl Liche (Karl Leche). At the time, Madagascar remained a remote and inhospitable land, dominated by wilderness. Liche reportedly took a group of Mkodo tribesmen with him as guides on the relevant expedition.

According to the lore, at some point, noting a strange tree and the agitation of his guides, Liche attempted to leave the area. But he was confronted by a human-eating tree teeming with slithering limbs. Seemingly he returned many days later, only to find a grinning skull stripped bare. No credible evidence of these claims has been discovered.

However, carnivorous plants do exist throughout the world. In Southeastern Asia, there have been confirmed accounts of carnivorous plants eating animals as large as small monkeys. It the presence of these pitcher plants and fly traps that adds fuel to the fire. It also helps keep some cryptozoologists in a job.

 

 

 

International Urban Legends: Switzerland

Today we head into Switzerland – hey it took a while to work our way through the Alps – and check out this country’s legends. Sorry, no chocolate-covered sweet legends to be found here.

The Devil’s Rock

Switzerland has its own Devil's Bridge legend.

The Devil’s Rock in the Canton of Uri in Switzerland

Apparently, you can’t trust the Europeans, especially if your Lucifer. Recall our stopover in France where we encountered the French version of the Devil’s Bridge? They trick the Devil into building a bridge in exchange for a soul. Only the soul turns out to be an animal’s and not a human’s.

Yeah, well the Swiss went and did the same thing in the Canton of Uri. Legend says that villagers wanted to build a stone bridge. Lo and behold a stranger appears with an offer to build it for them. The stranger is, of course, the Devil. All he wants in payment is the first soul to cross the bridge.

The bargain is struck and three days later the bridge is done. And the villagers send across a goat for the sacrificial first soul. Needless to say, Lucifer is displeased at being tricked – apparently for the second time – and chucks a huge rock at the bridge.

But his aim is even worse than his ability not to get tricked into stupid deals and the rock tumbled into the canyon below. If you travel to Göschenen you can see that rock today. The bridge? Long gone. Looks like the Devil might have gotten his due on this one.

The Matterhorn

Oh, you thought that the Matterhorn was just a ride at Disneyland, did you?

The Matterhorn in Disneyland is much smaller.

The Matterhorn – the real one – in Switzerland

The real Matterhorn is a mountain in Switzerland and legend says it was created by a giant named Cervin. But mountain building wasn’t an intentional act by the giant. Seems one day he was romping about and fell on a very large mountain.

So large was Cervin that all that remains of that mountain is the bit that was lying in the space between his legs when he landed. At nearly 4,500 meters in height – that just under three miles – that will give you an idea of just how big this giant was.

 

 

International Urban Legends: Italy

Today we stop for a pleasant weekend in Italy, the homeland of my people! If you find yourself in Lucca – in northern Italy’s Tuscany region – go find an area filled with olive trees. Chances are, you’ve found the family’s old estate. Say hello for me. But Italy isn’t just about art, the Vatican, olives, wine and good food. It has some pretty impressive urban legends too.

Ghosts of Pompeii

Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D. and buried the city of Pompeii under ash and debris. In recent years the city has been excavated. The site was remarkably well preserved and many of the structures and other items like pottery remained intact.

Ghosts of a volcanic eruption in Italy

This poor dog’s last moments are caught in plaster when the volcano erupted and buried Pompeii. in 79 A.D.

In a macabre scene, where the bodies of the people and animals who died in Pompeii that day had fallen and eventually decayed, voids in the shape of the body formed in the hardened ash. Scientists were able to fill these voids with plaster and then remove the ash from the mold, revealing the moment of death for many of the victims.

Some had been caught sleeping, others trying to flee. The few that survived told of their belief that the gods had punished Pompeii for its wicked ways. In modern times, tourists visit the site, taking in the layout and the statues of the dead.

But it seems the dead are not resting in peace in Pompeii. Shadowy figures have been spotted, disembodied screams without a source have been heard and an unexplainable smell of sulfur is sometimes wafting in the air.

This haunting begins when the Cistercian monks lived here in the year 1123. People were sent here to receive judgement, get baptized, and more. The monks even introduced rice cultivation to the area! But, the monks had turned their backs on God and the Christian faith, instead turning to worshiping the devil.

The Haunted Abbey of Italy

The Lucedio Abbey is anything but a place of peace and it has been this was for hundreds of years.

Legends say the monks rejected God and began serving the Devil instead. They would kidnap villagers to be sacrificed to Satan. Of course, it wasn’t long before the Church in Rome got wind of what was going on and put a fiery end to the evil monks and shut the doors on the Abbey.

Entry afterword by anyone was forbidden. Legend says that the inquisitors weren’t so sure they had cleaned out all of the evil from the Abbey. They may have been right.

If you head for Italy today, you can tour the Abbey and some that have done so have reported some strange things. A pillar in the judgment room where the Monks met their fate will become wet for no reason, as if it were weeping at what it has beheld.

A fog will form for no reason in another area of the Abbey and then there is the burial crypt. It holds the earthly remains of the Abbotts who died in service there. Legend says this is where the evil that had overtaken the Abbey was placed so that it could never get loose again. Some Abbotts were placed in a circle around the crypt, forever standing guard.

You can see their mummified remains, still on station, today.

Have a great weekend. We;ll see you back here on Monday.

International Urban Legends: France

Today we arrive in France. A country filled with fine wine, glorious art a couple of awesome urban legends.

Pont du Diable

The abbeys of Aniana and Gellone decided to build a bridge over the Herault River. Only problem was, every night the Devil would show up. And then the Devil would wreck all of the work they’d done that day.

The bridge the Devil was tricked into building

Pont du Diable in France

One of the priests, Guilhem, finally came to an agreement with the Devil. If the Devil would help them build an indestructible bridge, he could have the soul of the first creature to cross it. And you know the Devil never turns down a soul, right?

So the bridge was finished, Then the priest sent across the bridge the sacrificial soul. It was a dog, with a cooking pot tied to its tail. This did not make the Devil happy. So he tried to destroy the bridge, which he could not do because it was indestructible.

So the Devil threw himself into the river, which today is known as “The Black Abyss” and began to torment the locals in the form of a billy goat. After awhile, Guilhem had had enough of this too. He ambushed the Devil with Holy Water. But Guilhem was impaled on the Devil’s horns and died.

The villagers took up arms and chased the Devil – who was not in any condition to fight them thanks to the Holy Water – back into “The Black Abyss” where he remains today. And if you happen to be crossing that bridge and see the locals throwing stones into that area of the river, don’t be alarmed.

They are just making sure he is staying put in there.

Albino alligators

So you’re touring the catacombs under the streets of Paris and you notice the female guides all have white alligator accessories. It’s not an official part of the “uniform” but a fad and an interesting legend.

Seems a guide vacationed to Florida one year and purchased a stuffed alligator to bring home. Why? She’s French. It’s what they do.

France, where alligators are couture.

Al has never looked better.

But when she got home she quickly figured out that the gator’s color clashed with her decor and this faux pas simply would not do. So, instead of tossing the critter into the bin, she did what any sensible French woman would do.

She skinned it, threw the rest of the carcass in the bin, had the skin dyed white and turned into a snazzy-looking handbag. She took it to work with her and the newest fashion rage to hit the underground world of Paris was born.

Vive la France!!!!

 

 

 

International Urban Legends: Spain

We travel to Spain today in search of urban legends and… wait a second… we have breaking news!

“Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead!”

(I’m sorry. I just had to. For those born after 1975, see Chase, Chevy and Live, Saturday Night.)

La Chica de la Curva

The Girl On The Curve comes in as the most popular ghost story you will encounter in Spain.

Should you be driving along the road at night and pick up a young female hitchhiker, you’ve probably just met La Chica de la Curva. She’ll tell you to take care making the next curve because it is dangerous. You’ll ask her why and she’ll reply by telling you that this is the curve where she died. And then she vanishes.

Los Tronco de Brasil

Spain doesn't like spider plants, it seems.

Los Tronco de Brasil

It’s a plant. And it’s from Brazil. And one day a woman noticed her brand-new, freshly imported from Brazil to Spain plant moving across the floor under its own power.

Well, not its own power, but the power of thousands of baby spiders who had just hatched inside the plant. Or so says the legend that all but ended the importation of these plants soon after it was first reported.

Veronica Jaja

Like the Candyman in the movies or the popular Bloody Mary legend in the U.S., seal yourself within a closet or a small room and say the name Veronica Jaja three times while facing a mirror, if you dare.

If you do, its been nice knowing you and we’ll send flowers to your funeral. Because if she shows up, you’re dead.

Subways of Spain

No, not the sandwich shops, the trains. And I’m combining two legends here because they both are located within subways in Spain’s major cities.

The Rocafort Station in Barcelona is said to be haunted. It is the leader amongst all other stations in suicides – a stat I’m sure they’d happily do without if they could. And the security cameras have noticed unexplained movement in the station long after it has closed for the night.

But Madrid’s subway system says “Hold My Beer”. It has a rat and it is seen chasing the last train of the day and only that one. Legend says it is a reincarnation of a passenger who fell to his, or her, death while trying to catch the last train of the day.

And you thought the subway in New York City was rough…

 

 

International Urban Legends: Portugal

We have set sail for warmer waters and find ourselves in Portugal. What follows are three urban legends that, while lacking in the spooky department, are quite interesting.

The Seven Cities’ Lagoons

In a faraway time, near the Sete Cidades parish, there was once a kingdom. Antilia was said to be the most beautiful princess ever beheld by human eyes. But the princess was an unhappy prisoner of the castle and took solace in walking the nearby fields.

Portugal's legend of forbidden love

The Seven Cities Lagoons

One day, our blue-eyed princess encountered a handsome green-eyed shepherd. What began as regular conversations turned into love. But the King was not having it and ordered his daughter to cease seeing her love. Her pleas went unheeded, save one last permitted visit to say goodbye.

As the forbidden lovers bade farewell, their tears ran down the valley. The princess’ tears formed a blue lagoon, the shepherd’s a green lagoon. Those two lagoons have held their colors ever since. You can see them today, forever side by side but never touching the other.

The Miracle of the Roses

Queen Isabel was known to be kindly and generous with the royal treasury. She donated much to the churches and the poor to ease their suffering. Of course, leave it to a busybody nobleman to try to ruin it for everyone.

Tipped off by the snoop, King Dinis went to rein in his Queen’s spending and surprised her one day as she was about to dispense some charity. Her hands were covering her lap – where the money had been sitting before the King’s arrival.

Thinking to catch her in the act, the King demanded to know what she was hiding and refused to believe her when she said it was roses. It was not the season for roses at all and the King knew he had her. He demanded she lift her hands and reveal what lay beneath them.

The Queen complied and when she removed the covering hands, roses fell to the floor.

The Rooster of Barcelos Portugal

O Galo de Barcelos (The Rooster of Barcelos) is the unofficial symbol of Portugal. Travel there and you will no doubt have your choice of rooster knick-knacks to purchase – a ceramic rooster, t-shirts, key-chains, and the list goes on.

Portugal's icon of justice

The Rooster of Barcelos

The Rooster of Barcelos symbolizes honesty, integrity, trust and honor. It is a beloved icon to the Portuguese people.

As for the legend behind the giant chicken? Well, the people of Barcelos were once beset with a master criminal. His identity was unknown, so great was his skill. So, of course, when a pilgrim on his way to Santiago de Compostela passed through the village one day he was instantly pegged as the culprit.

He was arrested, convicted and sentenced to be hanged despite his impassioned pleas of innocence. As he was about to be led to the gallows, he made one last request: To be taken one last time to the judge that had sentenced him to die.

A final appeal

As he arrived at the judge’s home, a feast was in progress. In front of the judge and his guests, the condemned man repeated his claim of innocence one last time and added one last defense. He spotted the roasted rooster sitting on the table and said:

“My innocence is as certain as the roasted rooster will crow three times, if I should be hung.”

Okay, so everyone laughed and he was carted off to the gallows. As the hangman threw the lever and the rope tightened around the man’s neck, the rooster stood up and crowed three times. Fortunately, the noose had not been properly tied and the innocent man was still alive when the cut him free. His conviction was overturned and he went on his way in peace.

The man returned Barcelos a few years later and built a monument to St. Tiago and the Holy Virgin that he’d been on a pilgrimage for. And the people of Portugal have always remembered the rooster that had saved the life of a wrongly-convicted man.

International Urban Legends: Greenland

We head for Greenland today. A land filled with wolves that howl in the night…or was that one of the many ghosts that haunt the place so much that most residents – not that a whole lot of people live there to begin with – sleep with their lights on.

A land where the cemetery is a crevass. You can actually hike out to it, look down and see the skeletons at the bottom. Then there’s the ice.

Remember, the Vikings pulled a fast one on the world when they named the land of ice they’d discovered Greenland. They didn’t want immigrants on Iceland, where there actually is some green.

Greenland Icebergs and British Ships don't mix.

The Titanic was sunk by an iceberg from Greenland.

Icebergs that are found in the Atlantic are born in Greenland, snapping off glaciers and floating away. In 1909 one very large iceberg snapped off with a thunderous boom and headed south. In 1912 it ran into a ship. You might have heard about the incident…

Qivitoqs

Oh yes, Greenland has an urban legend sure to make you understand why the Vikings wanted nothing to do with the place.

They are called qivitoqs. They are not-quite-dead people who possess animal strength and are nocturnal. The source of these creatures is regular people like you and me, with one notable difference.

These people either fled their homes or were cast into exile from their town. They have been forced to survive in the wild. Many don’t survive. But those that do, legend says, become very strong, very fierce and very angry. And they want payback.

Which makes it no surprise that they are also a little crazy and have been known to return to their former homes and kill people.

The Darby Shaw Chronicles by Liberty Spiedel

So, I decided on a change of pace the last few weeks and only got back into Urban Fantasy after I’d finished my own novel. I was recommended the Darby Shaw Chronicles by a good friend of mine. They looked like a nice superhero story, so I decided to see how they were.

Superhero Police

The books are a slightly futuristic police drama. This is a world with hover cars and private police, but essentially identical to the current world. The drama starts on the first pages, where the hero has, inexplicably, become superhuman.

Under certain circumstances, she can bring back the dead.
This world does not seem to be a ‘superhero’ universe, with costumed crusaders knocking down villains. In fact, there doesn’t seem to be a costume in sight. Also, the only supervillains are in the US government. There is a reasonably good set of characters, including other superhumans, and a reasonable level of understandable politics.

Now, and I think this is the most important point, the stories don’t forget their concept. I’ve seen a lot of good stories go off the rails as soon as the hero “transforms.”

They start with the hero as a police officer, and at the end of the day the hero is punching bad guys. He can’t remember the basics of police procedure and evidence as soon as he is bulletproof and strong. These are stories of police, and crimes, where there is a breath of supernatural.

Positives:

As I have mentioned, these are police stories. Not as much procedural as some I’ve read, more than others. They are decent little stories. There is no sex and not a lot of violence, so the stories are perfectly acceptable to any age reader. The heroine’s relationships are generally healthy and the world confronts the issues that are generated in the story.

Negatives:

I’d say that the author is a little weak on description. I’ve little idea what the characters look like and there are few markers which stand out. The character names get a little confused for me (since I’m terrible at names), so I’ve gotten off track a couple times. Nothing too serious, as that is usually the background characters, but I’d appreciate a slightly richer world-view.

Overall:

Yeah, these are good novellas. There aren’t any “drop this” moments, and I was stuck reading Retaliation past midnight last night, to finish up the rescue. I’m not sure the ‘fun’ value rises to five, but a solid three and a half with four moments. Overall, I’ll give it a four stars rating. I’m reading them all.

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