I have to be completely honest - I'm hot-and-cold with a lot of the Japanese splatter horror films. Sometimes, they just make me giggle and rock back and forth with a stupid grin on my face, and sometimes I find their sledgehammering of blood fountains and dismemberment to be dull and boring after a few minutes. I also find that my mood also plays a lot on whether or not I have the patience for something like Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl or Machine Girl.
I didn't know what to expect as I slipped Helldriver (dir. Yoshihiro Nishimura) into my Blu-ray player. I made sure I was in my favorite seat in my living room, the HD TV was angled just right, and my mood was neutral. I hit PLAY, and . . .
. . . my mood quickly changed.
For the better.
Helldriver tells the story of a Japan dealing with a zombie problem. In this case, the zombies aren't just undead - they're infected with something that came about when a meteor hit the earth and dusted the countryside with some sort of stellar dust. Or something like that. Honestly, it doesn't matter. The zombies now have these sprouts growing from their forehead that instantly identify them as the antagonists in the film, and apparently, harvesting these Y-shaped sprouts from the zombies' foreheads has turned into some sort of illicit drug trade since these zombie sprouts can be consumed as drugs by . . . okay, this is getting complicated. Let's try again.
Kika (Yumiko Hara) is a young woman whose father is dominated by her mother Rikka (Eihi Shiina). Oh, and her mother is not a stable woman. She and her brother - Kika's uncle - are described as "homicidal" in other reviews of this movie, and once the movie really picks up. At the beginning of the film, though, they're just bullies . . . who steal Kika's pudding and kill her father. Then this meteor comes crashing down in Japan, hitting Rikka and Kika, ripping one of their hearts and transposing it to . . . okay, let's try this again.
Helldriver deals with the very real concern of overpopulation. Japan has a zombie problem, but their are many Japanese citizens and government officials who view the zombies as important members of society . . . at least, important enough to keep around. They're not destroyed. They're not killed. They're rounded up and basically housed behind a HUGE wall in Japan. This causes problems in terms of available land space for those who don't have these alien sprouts bursting out of their foreheads, and there's a conflict in the streets and within the government when it comes to determining how to best handle this crisis.
Helldriver takes all this, gives Kika a chainsaw samurai sword, shakes it all up in a can of carbonated fake blood and lets it explode all over the screen.
The film can be broken up into two halves, mostly because the opening credits take place fifty minutes into Helldriver. The first half sets up Kika as our hero, Rikka as a zombie queen, a group of drug dealers and zombie-sprout collectors all coming together just as there's a violent change-up in Japanese government policy regarding how the zombies are to be treated. We learn about this new zombified world, get splashed with a load of blood and watch a lot of zombie violence. The effects are solid, Kô Nakagawa's score is perfectly suited to the imagery on screen, and the overall mix of editing, cinematography (courtesy of Shu G. Momose) created a great origin story.
That the opening credits take place halfway through seemed odd, but it also set up the second half in which there's a new government in place, Kika and company are on their way to stop the zombie queen, and we eventually meet Kaito (Kazuki Namioka), whose clearly based on the Tallahassee-from-Zombieland mode (right down to wearing a distinct hat).
More chainsaw-lined weapons and armor, a sword fight between a zombie and a car, and a final sequence that seemed to pull some inspiration from Clive Barker's short story "In the Hills, the Cities" . . . with missiles, and Helldriver really became a smiling mess for me.
The movie's over-the-top, and I do think it could have been cut down a LITTLE bit in terms of running-time, I had a good time watching the film. It's not something I would have chosen to watch on purpose (see above re: my previous experience with Yoshihiro Nishimura's previous films), and while this isn't something that will drive me back to Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl, I will find myself watching Helldriver again.
Preferably with a group. This is a PERFECT group film, especially if that group knows what to expect. In my case, the only person to join me while I was watching Helldriver was Bren, who only walked into the room when I started giggling because the film's heroes were being attacked by a raining barrage of angry zombie heads. (She left the room when the screen literally filled with explosions . . . for almost no reason . . . the explosions that, is. She had no reason to actually leave the room. I mean, the explosions were AWESOME, especially on Blu-ray.)
Is it fair to give this movie a rating of 4-out-of-5 Headshots? I think so . . . especially if you know what you're in for when you start it up. Chances are you're not going to pick up the movie unless you're a fan of this sub-genre of horror-comedy film, but just in case, the director himself introduces the movie and invites you to kick back and enjoy Helldriver for what it is.
Helldriver hits DVD and BLu-ray November 22. The official English-language website for the film can be found http://www.sushi-typhoon.com/films/helldriver.
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