Bounty Films // 2010 // 117 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge Paul Pritchard (Retired) // November 22nd, 2011
A Joy Ride.
When a starfish-like alien attaches itself to the brain of the murderous Rikka (Eihi Shiina, Audition), it unleashes a mist over northern Japan, transforming anyone it comes into contact with into flesh-eating zombies. With Rikka taking the role of the zombie queen, it is up to her daughter, Kika (Yumiko Hara), to defeat her and save mankind. Armed with a chainsaw sword, and powered by an artificial heart, Kika leads a ragtag group on a mission to destroy Rikka, and put an end to the zombie nightmare.
There's a moment in James Gunn's Slither where Nathan Fillion's character witnesses several zombie-like creatures merge into one, and calmly remarks, "Well, now, that is some fucked up shit." That same phrase was never far from my lips while sitting through writer-director Yoshihiro Nishimura's Helldriver, the latest entry in the Japanese splatter genre.
With Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl, Mutant Girls Squad, and the unforgettable Tokyo Gore Police already under his belt, Nishimura has built up a cult following, with his effects work gaining him a reputation as the Japanese answer to Tom Savini (Dawn of the Dead). What his films lack in story and character, they make up for with inventive gore, and lots of it -- at least that's what his fans will tell you. Non-believers are more likely to instantly dismiss his work as that of a fourteen-year old boy -- and they'd not be far wrong. However, hidden amongst this apparently juvenile love for gore lie the very reasons Nishimura's movies are embraced by his fans. Say what you will about his inability to craft a coherent narrative, just sit back, relax, and revel in the insanity.
One expects plenty of gore from a Nishimura film, but with Helldriver he has likely surpassed the expectations of even his most adoring fan. Revolting (and I mean that in the nicest possible way) practical effects work is complemented by a light use of CGI, resulting in a film where the camera is frequently drenched in blood. Better yet, Helldriver (Region 2) reveals Nishimura to be developing as a filmmaker as he becomes more confident in the director's chair, as visually Helldriver is arguably a step up from Tokyo Gore Police. While Helldriver still has a roughness to it, it has a little more polish to it than his earlier works, allowing some of the more elaborate sequences to really succeed. Yes, it's still ultimately nearly two hours of splatter, but rarely since Evil Dead II has it been captured so lovingly. Detractors of the genre will disagree, but there's a level of artistry here that should be commended. Action scenes, of which there are plenty (roughly one every 10 minutes), are dynamic and inventive. One of the more memorable scenes sees Kika and her accomplices attacked by a barrage of decapitated, yet still living, zombified heads, which they repel whilst speeding along in their camper-van. Oh, and if you're looking for some zombie penis, you're going to be more than well catered for here. Each successive scene does its utmost to outdo the last, and goes to extremes to do so. If it's not sword-wielding spider-ladies, it's levitating zombie babies -- and the thing is, the weirder it got, the more I found myself enjoying it.
If I can't argue for the greatness of the cast, I can at least admire the energy they bring to their roles. From the leads, right down to the extras, everyone is well in tune with Nishimura's vision.
But -- and there's always a but -- Helldriver is not without its faults. The first hour occasionally drags as it fills in the backstory, and the plot is very loosely held together. There's zero depth to characters, and there's the sneaking feeling that repeat viewings may dampen ones enthusiasm for the film. That is something only time will tell, and right here, right now, Helldriver is just a whole heap of fun.
Presented in a colorful 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer, Helldriver makes for a good-looking DVD. Detail levels are good, as are black levels, and the picture remains sharp throughout. The 5.1 soundtrack features clear dialogue, and some excellent effects work.
The screener sent for review contained two discs, with disc one of the set containing the theatrical cut of the film, which clocks in at 12 minutes shy of the director's cut, of which this review is primarily based. Included on disc two of the set is a "Making Of" featurette (43 minutes) that runs through numerous aspects of the film's genesis, and is well worth watching for fans of the film, or its director in general.
With Helldriver, Nishimura has delivered a film experience that feels totally without limits. It plays fast and loose with genre conventions, and is impossible to predict. If the J-splatter genre is your bag, or you just fancy taking in an insane action movie, I implore you to search this movie out.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Bounty Films
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Japanese)
Running Time: 117 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Unrated
* Theatrical Cut
* Official Site