Movie Review: Helldriver

Just when I thought I had seen everything, a film like Helldriver comes along knocking me off my feet. Last year, at Texas Frightmare Weekend, I was selected to host the Helldriver screening and panel with director Yoshihiro Nishimura and the ravishingly talented Eihi Shiina. The film is intensely personal to Nishimura as its release coincided with the present calamity in Japan caused by the previous earthquake and tsunami.  Communicating through his translator (Marc Walcow) at the Q&A, Nishimura explained, “The scenes of a separated Japan, the widespread devastation, the influx of refugees into the southern cities is strangely similar what is happening in Japan now.  I felt a remarkably sadness when this occurred because this odd coincidence connected me in a deeper way to the tragedy.  I think others may be connected as well in ways they would never expect.” Nishimura has tackled mutants and vampires in previous films. In Helldriver, he goes for the ultimate zombie theme. One thing is for sure, he likes to stick body parts where they don’t belong and he likes to use as much blood and gore as possible.

Welcome to fucking zombie world! Helldriver is a two hour roller coaster ride that gives you a pure emotional high and you don’t come down when the ride has ended. It’s an enthralling take on the nation diverging in two with humans controlling one half and zombies controlling the other.  The film has not been widely acclaimed but many feel it should receive more amenity and praise. There isn’t a trace of believability and that’s what makes it so enjoyable. It keeps it’s freshness and exhilaration from start to finish.  This blood soaked comedy is told with wall-to-wall effects. The bloodier it gets, the funnier it is. The jokes hit you in a subterranean comic sphere that the surrealists pranks have reached with sporadic stabs at political apologue. Nishimura’s jokes jump out at you, going for laughs and he gets them. Just when you think the film couldn’t get anymore insane, it tops the last scene with abominable visuals.

It opens with some poor fool falling of the dividing wall and getting rescued by a young girl named Kika. She dives her chainsaw katana into dozens of zombies and hurdles an insane zombie tower before a truck, out of nowhere, rams into the leaning tower of zombies making them crumble. Top this WTF moment off with a cute and sexy poll dance from Kika. I am not even sure if it’s appropriate for me to call that a WTF moment because there are so many WTF moments in this film. After this psychotic opening, we skip back in time to Kika’s home where her demented, cannibal mother and perverted, homicidal uncle have started dinner without her. Oh and her father’s legs are on the menu. Her uncle is just gross! There’s a scene with him eating pudding *shudders* I don’t even want to think about that again. A shocked Kika tries her best to escape the psychotic duo but her mother is not willing to let her go. Thankfully, a meteorite smashes into Rikka, Kika’s mother, but this results in Rikka stealing Kika’s heart to replace her own before becoming sheathed in a cocoon. That mysterious meteorite transforms half of the nation into some of the most eccentric zombies I have ever seen. I found the horns on their heads to be fascinating. Apparently, the zombie horns give humans the ultimate high. Rikka could control all zombies because of those horns and that’s little far-fetched but what isn’t? The nation is divided but soon that wall will come crumbling down. The prime minister and his opponent try to reunite North and South Japan together because living with zombies is possible???? A scientist helps Kika survive without a heart by implanting an artificial heart into her body that’s suppose to regulate her violent temper. Kika is now a chainsaw katana wielding soldier out for revenge. She has a team of assassins along with her to support her path of destruction. The fascist government has incorporated Kika and Co. to hunt down and kill the main source of the zombie outbreak, Rikka.

It’s magnificently tight casted, Eihi Shiina shows her knack for playing such a rotten person filled with acrimony. Her character as mother to Yumiko Hara (Kika) creates so much emotional chaos. We see the gorgeous zombie queen dancing around in copious amounts of spraying blood with so much glee. That was enough to put a smile on my face. Hara’s performance was just as entertaining although I am not too familiar with her work. Marc Walkow had a short and comical performance as the doctor.

It’s hard to pick a favorite scene. Nishimura is a dedicated craftsman who doesn’t just throw ideas and effects in our faces. His art is undeniably skillful and effective. We’ve got naked eight-legged spider zombies wielding samurai swords and machine guns, zombie babies twirling their own cords, Japanese space zombies, raining zombie heads, a zombie bar, zombie geishas, and zombies coming together to make vehicles and rockets. Perhaps the most celebrated sequence would be the eight-legged spider zombie. That’s also my favorite. The Japanese are so crazy! Viewers with short attention spans will not be let down. Viewers with closed minds may be disappointed from all the ridiculousness. The only downside is that at times the camera seemed a little jittery. I don’t quite understand why the credits roll mid-way through the film. Nishimura told us, “Do not leave after the credits. Stay and watch.”