Directed by Yoshihiro Nishimura
Watching Helldriver is like sitting next to a kid puking slushies on you for two hours. Grotesque monsters and the occasional fun sight gag can’t compensate for Helldriver being a bore with repetitive shots of limbs being endlessly hacked off, action sequences that drag, and a perpetually jittery camera. It tries so hard to be charming, but like an obnoxious ADD addled classmate snorting Fun Dip in the back of the room while pelting his classmates with boogers, Helldriver is often dumb and annoying rather than irreverent, despite occasional stabs at political allegory.
The movie opens with a guy wearing a ninja suit climbing a wall, overlooking some zombies and a nasty monster with a misshapen face. The Lovecraftian creature has a spinal chord growing out of its head like a second neck, with a fleshy skull perched on top. The man tosses some limbs over the wall as zombie baitnand then starts decapitating zombies with his lasso. When he tries to lasso the head monster, however, he falls from his perch right into the pit of writhing zombies. They lift him over their heads to gobble him up as they rise into a zombie tower, but a truck ploughs into the zombies, dispersing them. Out pops a hot babe with a chainsaw katana who swirls around lopping off zombie heads while doing a pole dancing stripper routine. The skull monster is so turned on by this display that he’s distracted, leaving the babe an opening to knock his head off. You go, girl!
Seemingly directed by a horny 13-year-old boy playing with monster trucks, these kinds of sequences are initially diverting but quickly become tedious. There’s also some semblance of a plot, which due to manic editing and disjointedness, is a chore to piece together.
Teen protagonist Kika’s (Yumiko Hara) weird cannibal family, mom Rikka (Eihi Shiina) and perverted Uncle Yasushi (Kentaro Kishi), unleash a zombie plague on Japan after Rikka rips out Kika’s heart and plants it in her own empty chest socket, transforming into a zombie queen in the process, with a Starfish creature taking over when it latches on to her skull. She starts spewing ash which rains all over Japan, infecting those who inhale it and transforming them into zombie minions. The infected grow antler shaped tumors on their heads and begin munching on people, necessitating the erection of a wall which divides Japan’s North and South, segregating the zombies. Meanwhile, families create human rights groups on behalf of the infected, and a drug trade emerges around ground up hallucinogenic zombie horns.
Kika teams up with Kaku (Yurei Yanagi) who’s helping a boy known as No Name (Mizuki Kusuki) search for his missing sister. While working for the Yakuza, the gang gets captured by the new Prime Minister, Osawa, whose ham handed portrayal of a totalitarian leader falls flat. An anti-crime propaganda commercial featuring sock puppets and the swelling of patriotic music whenever Osawa appears all indicate Nishimura’s satirical intent. Unfortunately, Nishimura’s satirical aims remain muddy and unfocussed since Helldriver seems to be criticizing militarism while simultaneously glorifying in violent excess and vigilante justice.
Osawa drops the gang back into the zombie zone, ordering them to find and destroy Kika’s mom Rikka, the Zombie Queen, to finally end the zombie plague. On their way they join up with a Cowboy ex-cop and attempt a rescue mission at a zombie bar, where they encounter a zombie baby, and a monster with arms sprouting out of its face and all over its body wielding multiple guns. Nishimura’s undeniable visual imagination can’t compensate, however, for how long the action sequences drag and the disorienting editing, leaving an agonizingly long trail of hacked limbs and blood spray before Helldriver reaches its final altercation.
I know many audience members will love Helldriver, and fans of Nishimura’s Tokyo Gore Police will likely enjoy the carnage and mounting energy, as Nishimura attempts to outdo himself with increasingly outrageous monsters and action sequences. My favorite scenes, however, involved the personal drama of Kika’s psychotic family, which at times conjured some of the hallucinatory horror and dark comedy of a Sion Sono film and should have remained the heart of the film. As it is, Helldriver will likely appeal most to cynical action fans and those excited by a rowdy crowd, who will slurp up the blood slushy gore. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying some dumb fun, but for me Helldriver failed even on that level, and I wish it had had the courage to be as weird as it clearly wanted to be without descending into genre hack and slash clichés.
2 out of 5