Acclaimed indie horror auteur Guillermo Del Toro (''The Devil's Backbone'') is admittedly cuckoo for comic books. Which is why he was hell-bent on helming ''Hellboy.'' The second he heard that producers Lawrence Gordon and Lloyd Levin (''Tomb Raider'') had optioned the rights to the quippy, Satan-spawned superhero, ''I had my agent call Larry immediately because I'm the ONLY guy,'' says the director.
Adapted from the Hellboy collection ''Seed of Destruction,'' Del Toro's take begins by establishing the character's Nazi-occult origins, then segues to a present-day tale wherein supernatural secret agent Hellboy (Ron Perlman, whose blood-red prosthetics were designed by ''Grinch'' whiz Rick Baker's Cinovation Studios) investigates a sinister necromancer (Karel Roden) named Rasputin. Yes, THE Rasputin. Among his allies are the pyrokinetic Liz (Selma Blair), his unrequited crush; and the half-man/half-fish Abe Sapien (body by Doug Jones, a mime; voice by ''Frasier'''s David Hyde Pierce). The film's F/X complexities aside, Del Toro's biggest struggle was casting the commercially unproven Perlman. When Universal cut ''Hellboy'' loose after Del Toro declined to hire The Rock or Vin Diesel, the movie found a $60 million green light at Revolution. ''It was a f---ing miracle,'' says Del Toro, who shot in Prague last year. ''Some days, I can't believe Ron Perlman is the star of this film.''