The new Hellboy film, not surprisingly, is packed to the brim with monsters. But amidst the blood queens and pig demons, the most unsettling scene in the movie belongs to a little old Russian witch who lives in a chicken-legged hut — and moves like no creature you’ve ever seen.
Baba Yaga has captivated Hellboy creator Mike Mignola since fifth grade, when a classmate gave a book report on her. He wrote Baba Yaga into one of the earliest Hellboy comics, and she’s been both family and foe to Hellboy (now played by David Harbour) over the years.
“She’s just one of these pivotal characters. She’s the icon of ‘grandmother.’ We need to know something, so we need to go to the woods and meet with ‘grandmother,'” Mignola tells EW. “Sometimes she’s gonna help you, and sometimes she’s gonna eat you.”
Creature design and special makeup artist Joel Harlow sculpted Baba Yaga’s one-eyed visage from clay.
“She’s a Russian witch and I knew I didn’t want to go with stereotypical witch-looking character with a hook nose and pointed chin,” Harlow says. “I wanted to go with something much more frightening and much creepier, something that really unsettled me.”
The finished Baba Yaga is a marvel of makeup, from the gaping abscess of her missing eye to the trail of viscous slime she leaves behind after a kiss. But then Harlow tasked contortionist Troy “Twisty” James to wear the costume, and the character was terrifyingly complete. Thanks to James’ unique physical skills (which he once showed off on America’s Got Talent), Baba Yaga bends over backwards and skitters around her hut. Her cannibalistic diet, evidenced by bowls of child-size bones at her home, is another marker that distinguishes this installment from the playful atmosphere of Guillermo del Toro’s previous Hellboy movies.
“When you’re in the troll market in the second Hellboy movie, it looks like it might actually be a fun place to live,” Mignola says. “But when you’re in Baba Yaga’s house, there’s nothing that really makes you want to stay for dinner.”
Hellboy is in theaters now.