aka ヘルドライバー aka Nihon bundan: Heru doraiba
Written by Yoshihiro Nishimura & Daichi Nagisa
Directed by Yoshihiro Nishimura
Ah, Helldriver. How damn awesome are you? Pretty damn awesome! If you love the Japanese gore flicks where blood flows like an Old Faithful orgasm-quake covering everyone and everything as they scream, if you love films where zombies build things out of parts of other zombies like the world’s grossest Lego set, if you like chicks with chainsaw swords and cowboys in blade-covered trucks, if you like stories of loss and redemption and revenge, then Helldriver is a movie for you. Helldriver goes…FULL THROTTLE!! Ha! Okay, sorry, that will be the only car pun.
Another in the line of Sushi Typhoon crazed gore flicks, Helldriver features many of the repeat players along with some new leads. Yoshihiro Nishimura is the makeup effects wizard who also helmed Tokyo Gore Police, Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl, and a chapter in Mutant Girls Squad, along with a massive amount of makeup work in cult flicks. He keeps the tradition alive with Helldriver, and attempts to break new ground. Each of these features attempts to one-up the last one, going further and further over the top. But it’s important to be more than just gross. It must be entertaining. I’ve seen a few that haven’t been so hot. Helldriver is long, has a complicated back story, parts are redundant, and at least one part looks thrown in at the last minute just to add Asami to the cast list. But overall it is pretty cool and zips along.
Helldriver clocks in at almost 2 hours in length. Partially because they need to explain the setup, which is an alien zombie infestation that caused half of Japan to be walled off and the survivors forced to crowd into the remaining half, and the various cultural problems that it would result in (arguments over the rights of the infected, overcrowding and stranger families being forced to live together, lack of proper food, and an illicit drug trade based on the horns of the zombies, which can get you high but also randomly explode.) There is a brief bit of narration setting a lot of this up, then later Kika observes the same things herself after she’s revived.
Zombies play a major role in Helldriver, but Helldriver put some thought into their creation and mythos. This isn’t your standard Romero zombie where a brain shot kills them (thank goodness!), they are more of Return of the Living Dead zombies, but with one weak spot – a horn that grows out of their head. People were infected by breathing in an ash, which then dissipated after 6 million were infected. No one bitten becomes a zombie. Zombies are ripped apart and sewn together, creating new and horrible chimeras of destruction.
There is more than just the zombie element to Helldriver. There is a strong theme of family throughout the film. Many of the proponents of zombie rights have relatives who are infected. They even go so far as to bring body parts to their infected children to feed on. Kika has an adversarial relationship with her psychotic mother, Rikka, and her equally crazed brother Yasushi. Rikka literally becomes the zombie queen, and snatches away Kika’s heart just before she dies. Kika doesn’t die, both women are cocooned in space goo, Rikka becoming the queen while Kika being preserved until she’s revived by Japanese government and turned into an instrument of revenge. A generator is built into the hole in her chest, and it powers a chainsaw sword. She’s then abandoned until the powers that be can use her for their own ends to kill the queen. Her heart still lives in the chest of Rikka, cpnnecting the two together. Kika’s last memories are of her father being eaten and burned alive by her mother and uncle. Further flashbacks seem to imply that he was wheelchair bound as a result of their abuse, that everything the family ever had was taken by Rikka and Yasushi for their own. Rikka is so bad it is a wonder she ever even had a child, or a husband who is kind. But the family must have their reunion, Kika wants her heart back, wants to confront her mom for everything she’s done, and can’t ignore her because her mom can torture her through hurting her heart. Side characters deal with their own family issues, from missing relatives to ones that were killed by the zombies. These themes help build Helldriver into something bigger than it sounds like it would be, based on the title and premise.
And then it gets even more nuts when you figure out all the North/South Korea analogies!
The revived Kika is captured and given a choice to go hunt down the Queen or die, as part of the Go Go Yubari law (because the infection started in Yubari, see…). The new PM Osawa is also the man who reconfigured Kika as a weapon. The prior Prime Minster was Hatoda (Minoru Torihada, who has a very interesting public persona…) and he supported the rights of the undead…until he was eaten by them! All thanks to Osawa killing him via zombie and then assuming control of Japan. In fact, every character who sympathizes with the undead is eaten by them in the end!
Kika’s group must embed a tracking device near the Queen, from which they’ll fire rockets at from space. But to get there they must travel across the quarantined zone of Japan. As you can guess, the movie wouldn’t be any fun if it was an easy journey. From the beginning they are pelted with zombie heads, and it just gets more extreme than that. Even the surprise appearance of a random cowboy seems ordinary in this mad zombie world. A trip to try to save No-Name’s sister results in a creative battle against undead amalgamations:
A woman with baby still on the umbilical cord, which is used as a weapon
A zombie with a million swords stuck through his body, who has a sword fight with Kaito’s helltruck.
A sewn together stripper with multiple arms that are armed with swords at first and then later machine guns battles Kika.
Later Uncle Yasushi builds a zombie car out of body parts….complete with it’s own nitrous system! There is then a car chase and battle atop the cars. The whole thing is ridiculous fun, but just sets up how things get even more ridiculous when they reach the Queen Rikka, who strides upon thousands of zombies. Eventually thanks to missiles being used as rockets, Kika battles Rikka atop a plane made out of zombies that rains down zombie pieces as they battle.
Their battle is beyond the Queen vs human, this is a family thing that only a few dysfunctional family Thanksgiving dinners can prepare you for. The 18 years of repressed rage as Rikka destroyed and took everything from Kika come out, and Kika does not hold back in battling her mother, trying to reclaim the life she was never allowed to have.
During the battle in the city at the end as zombies rain down, there is a hastily put together sideplot with Asami as one of a pair of wall defenders also equipped with chainsaw swords. These scenes are missing in the international cut, and would not be missed. But I’m one of those dudes who likes to see the original versions of the films.
In the end, Helldriver is pretty fun. Obviously put a lot of thought into the idea, the film is jammed packed with trying to do too much. This causes the redundant and tacked on scenes. The cultural issues and arguments over zombie rights and political assassinations by zombies and zombie parts drug trade are all great ideas. But it can be a bit much. Luckily, much of the film is not stop zombie fighting action, so it is forgiven. Helldriver is very creative and wanted to create its own believable world. And it did, everything seems to fit together using the rules of the universe. Thanks to the action, creativity, and so muchness, Helldriver has supplanted the number one spot as my favorite Japanese gore flick.
And don’t forget to stay during the credits!
Rated 8/10 (Yuya Ishikawa, Minoru Torihada, finding wife, ahead of the game, Demo Tanaka, Good Mama, Avatar of J-Splatter, burning symbol)
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