Helldriver


Title: Helldriver
Rating: 4.5/5
Genre: Action, Horror, Comedy
Starring: Asami, Eihi Shiina, Yurei Yanagi, Kazuki Namioka, Kentaro Kishi
Director: Yoshihiro Nishimura
Language: Japanese

Terracotta East Asian Film Festival: #2


From the director of Tokyo Gore Police, he's once again returned to prove that as a master of special effects ranging from the ultraviolent to the bizarrely ultraviolent, he's returned with a tale so devilish it would make Sam Raimi (Evil Dead Trilogy) blush. There's no real way of evading the issue, it's clear that this film is only suitable for a niche audience. It knows it's targets well and shows no remorse or consolation for those that don't see the attraction; no accommodation for those with different taste, so if you've seen any other Japanese offering in this vein you may have something to expect, otherwise let me break it down a bit further. If you thought Braindead needed more fake blood; that Versus pacing was only just fast enough; that Battle Royale participants should have made better use of the dustbin lids and flowers given to them, then this roller coaster ride of ridiculous situations is one of the best zom-coms in years.

It's plot is wafer thin and ridiculous to an extreme, but in a sense reminds me of the way Shakespeare did things. Now, I'm not really comparing to the two – the two are incomparable – but much in the same way Shakespeare took well known stories and then worked around them, adding satirical elements and focussing on other aspects of the play (such as the dialogue), Nishimura has done precisely the same thing. Yes, there's a badass hero who must travel to the inhospitable wasteland long since sectioned off for being populated by zombies to kill, and yes it's nothing we haven't all seen before in countless other zombie films, but he never feels the need to spend long explaining it all because he simply doesn't need to. Kika is abused by her mother and uncle – who ate human flesh even before they became zombies – and when a meteor falls through her mothers chest, she rips out Kika's heart to try and fill the void, and fortunately with the aid of the zombie virus in the meteor, succeeds, creating the horned zombie menace as a consequence. Kika is saved at the last minute and given a robotic heart that also powers a chain-sword (half chainsaw, half sword) and together with a group of zombie hunters, are commissioned by the government to hunt down and kill the zombie mother.

The satirical element of his previous film is still on display in this largely unoriginal setup given a few twists; the fact that the zombie horn is an awesome drug to snort, or the whole 'zombies don't die unless you cut off the horn' rule being used liberally to create some of the more amusing situations from zombie golf to whacky races. Despite that, many of the comedic elements are replaced with a more horrific undertone; no witty puns shortly or after a death, it's rather unapologetic in the manner the death scene in itself often is the joke. There are scenes where you literally have to squint through the gushes of blood to see the cackling zombie in the background as someone tries to gather limbs that have recently been detached from their body. "Gory" doesn't quite get the emphasis across, but with these films it takes more than fake blood to make an excellent film, it takes creativity in its use, and this is where they really excel.

They must have called up the mighty demons of Gordon-Lewis' art of splatstick on this affair, because barely five minutes passes without some new ridiculous event occurring that'll have the gore hound in you in stitches. The Zombie Queen (Eihi Shiina, still probably best known for playing the lead in Miike's 'Audition') manages a sadistic laugh that is somehow infectious as you join her in her bloodbath, and rarely will the pacing slow down from it's crack-riddled frenetic pace. The focus is all on the action and the effects work is visibly budget but nothing less than you would expect from a man who forged his career supplying the bizarre; many of the nameless zombies are given their own persona, from the thuggish zombie brute to one great showdown with a tribute to the 'Braindead baby.' More than simply a good successor to the likes of Machine Girl and Versus, but Helldriver finds itself somehow near the top of the pile.

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