I JUST SAW… Helldriver (AKA Nihon bundan: Heru doraibâ, Japan, 2010)

Helldriver featureThere was one in point in cinema history when filmmaker Yoshihiro Nishimura probably thought to himself: “well, to create a buzz I must come up with the craziest ideas for horror movies”. That’s how, in 2008, the so-called ‘new wave of extreme gore Japanese films’ was born.

Tokio Gore Police, The Machine Girl, Mutant Girls Squad and Vampire Girl vs Frankenstein Girl came out between 2008 and 2010, all directed by Nishimura himself and starring Asami (Eihi Shiina) from Miike’s Audition (1999). These flicks can be considered horror comedies, just overly gory, over-the-top and utterly nonsensical plot-wise. In 2011, the last instalment in this unofficial franchise was Helldriver. Since I recently bought the Blu-Rays for all of these movies – which I hadn’t seen before and got me extremely curious – I decided to talk about my favourite of the bunch.

Helldriver 1In Helldriver we follow Kika, an 18-year-old girl whose mother (Asami) and uncle are serial killers who end up torturing and killing Kika’s dad. She wants revenge, obviously, but she’s stopped by an asteroid that hits northern Japan turning everybody who lives there into mutant zombies, guided by Asami herself. The government decides to build a wall to separate the infected from the healthy part of the country, but Kika – who’s got a robotic hearth and uses a chainsaw sword as a weapon – decides to cross the wall with a gang of misfits, all equipped with the weirdest weaponry, in order to find and kill her mother.

If the basic plot sounds insane to you, wait until you see the final product! Before you proceed into the review, it’s important for me to recommend Helldriver to you only if you’re the kind of horror fan who’s looking for something as far from Hollywood filmmaking and morals as possible. Otherwise, you’re going to hate this movie with a passion.

Indeed, the reason why I consider this film interesting is because it’s so quirky, nonsensical and unique. I don’t want to sound cool because I look for movies that masses don’t even hear of, instead I’m genuinely interested in filmmaking that takes one step forward and tries something unseen, crazy or simply new.

Helldriver 2.jpgHelldriver is clearly corny and self-aware, with fight scenes between our gang of misfits and mutant zombies that are violent to the extreme and more unrealistic than a flying pig! However, considering the long experience of Nishimura as a makeup artist for film, the effects look awesome and inventive: for instance, one of the zombies fights with a foetus and its umbilical cord as a whip; another one has 12 arms – one coming out of her… well, you guessed it – which she brandishes different weapons with; a third one has swords instead of internal organs that can be shot against the enemies. Trust me, though, this might create some gory scene but it’s all played for fun and I found myself laughing throughout the majority of the movie.

Every situation is also borderline slapstick-comedy, with the actors delivering their lines like they’re doing something epic, whereas the situation around them is utterly ridiculous and hilarious. Yet, Helldriver features a few scenes and touches some themes that could very much be considered disturbing, but the overall vibe kills those aspects making them quirky and enjoyable instead.

I do, however and in all seriousness, genuinely love two aspects of the film: the first one is the score, which I’m listening to even now, while writing this review – it’s badass, perfectly fitting the action sequences, and with a few songs that are catchy and seem to come from an episode of Naruto or Dragonball. The soundtrack is absolutely fantastic.

Helldriver 3The other aspect is the social commentary: I know, this movie seems to be everything but serious and profound; though, it touches quite a few controversial subjects like racism and, mostly, how the Japanese government would go to the extreme to protect their regulation about human rights. It’s rather interesting.

Nevertheless, I have a few complaints about Helldriver (as well as about the whole sub-subgenre of extreme Japanese horror comedies): for starter, this movie is too freaking long! With a runtime of close to two hours – two and a half in the director’s cut – everything becomes repetitive and even the most insane and weird scenes become tedious.

Also, all Nishimura’s movies cash-in on the fact that are super gory… but in reality, they aren’t. I mean, there are enough gruesome and gory sequences, but the movie is mostly bloody, with even the camera being sometimes fully covered in blood. Yet, the digital-video look makes these flicks appear extremely cheap and poorly made, it’s a technique that immediately creates a lack of artistic value. Then again, artistic value was probably the least concern in Nishimura’s mind. The CGI, purposely made to look trashy and dated, is also quite unnerving, especially if you don’t buy into the premise of this type of horror movies.

In conclusion, though, I experience most of these movies – especially Helldriver – as loads of fun: quirky, unique and far from usual filmmaking, Helldriver is a must-see for fans of unconventional horror movies.

Helldriver                   7/10

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