Written/Character Designed/Edited/Directed by Yoshihiro Nishimura
Music by Koh Nakagawa
Action Director Isao Karasawa
Visual Effects Supervisor Tsuyoshi Kazuno
Stunt Coordinator Yoshio Miyaki
Costume Design by Minori Niizaki
Production Design by Nori Fukuda
Cinematography by Shu G. Momose
Produced by Yoshinori Chiba, Akifumi Sugihara, Ryo Uchiyama, Hiroyuki Yamada
Helldriver is the greatest video game movie never made. What do I mean by that? I'm not totally sure.
Helldriver isn't actually derived from any extant video game franchise. There is no Helldriver for PS3, X-Box, Wii, etc. But Helldriver the movie, which does exist, is a kind of collection of all the over-the-top splatter and sadistic kills that one would expect from one of the major splatter franchises, Resident Evil, House of the Dead, Mortal Kombat, all those games known for their nonstop mayhem and dismemberment, evisceration, and novel, many-tentacled mutations on the prowl for brains, guts, flesh, or just glorious self-destruction in one-to-one combat. There's even a touch of one of those car-crashing franchises. There are car-crashing franchises, right? Yeah, sure, why not? There are video games that involve driving cars real fast, maybe stealing the cars first, and then driving them real fast, something like that. And then there's the Fast and Furious series of movies, which are also strongly reminiscent of video games . . . yeah, there's some of that in Helldriver, too, I think. It's the "driver" in Helldriver, if you will.
I should say none of this is prologue to a scathing or even particularly negative review of Helldriver. I enjoyed it's lust for pure, gruesome absurdist spectacle. It is exactly the movie it wants to be, and no one will ever take that away from it. It's got zombies, aliens, imagery and costumes right out of Japan's Imperial era, some rather disturbing moments of zombie sexuality, a really fucked-up scene involving zombie sexual assault and torture, a tricked out Badass-mobile, sword fights, car fights (what Joe Bob Briggs would call "car fu"), self-assembling zombie monstrosities composed of various arms, legs, and torsos of the chopped-up undead . . . it's all here. There's nothing left out--it's even got a vaguely satirical streak, for people who insist on that kind of thing. And geysers of watery, Kool-Aid looking blood. "Hey, Dracula, don't drink the Kool-Aid!" Ah, ha, ha . . . don't know where that came from. There's no vampires in the movie, it just kind of came out of me . . . so, you know, this movie's got pretty much everything except vampires, but here's how you can fix that. Just obtain a copy of Helldriver and copies of whatever your favorite vampire movies happen to be, put 'em on your hard drive, and use digital editing software to splice together your very own underground, so-off-the-map-indie-it-positively-throbs UltraRemixed No Serial Numbers Allowed Bootleg Helldriver With Vampires version of the movie and you're good to go, my dawg, no sweat. I won't tell the Governor if you won't . . . I suppose my point is that this is a movie which exists as a series of very impressively staged spectacles. You could pretty much watch the scenes in any order and the impact would likely not be reduced nor would it be enhanced, although the wonderfully impossible ending scene that plays as the credits roll wouldn't really work at any other place in the narrative.
What the fuck happens in this movie, you ask? It goes something like this: in the near future, maybe the year 20XX, a strange alien life form crashes into Japan and unleashes a cloud of toxic ash which transforms all who are contaminated by it into flesh-eating zombies who sprout these weird, rubbery antlers out of their foreheads that are actually kind of kawaii at times, and fucking disgusting at other times, and, get this, are harvested by freelancers and sold to the yakuza to make highly addictive, snortable narcotics. But there's a problem with the zombie-antler derived narcotics: they can make your head explode. That's right, the antlers are composed of a volatile substance which can explode whenever the filmmakers want to make sure you're still paying attention. Guess which part of these undead fuckers you should target when it comes time to start shootin'?
The Japanese government responds to this outlandish crisis by erecting a giant wall and quarantining the antler-zombies behind the wall. The Prime Minister doesn't want to alienate voters who have zombified family members, and so he doesn't order any kind of extermination effort against the zombies. This is a rather intriguing aspect of Helldriver: the controversy over whether antler-zombies should be given human rights and due process, or just summarily executed. This is a controversial position to put it mildly, and elements within the Japanese government see the crisis as an opportunity to consolidate power and whittle away at pesky individual (uninfected human)liberties . . . ring any bells, citizens?
Zombie movie fans, ask yourself this question: would this issue even be considered if the alien lifeform had crashed into the United States? Or would the President just go straight to martial law, targeted assassinations, and extraordinary renditions? Oh, and why not go ahead and place the non-zombie populations under surveillance, and start eliminating social welfare programs, regulatory agencies, environmental protections, start revving up the foreclosure cycles, etc. And don't give me any of that bullshit about, "Well, gee, it depends on whether it's a Democrat or a Republican . . ." because we all know that wouldn't matter. Come on, film fans, pay heed to the words of George Carlin: "Take a chance. Tell the truth."
Who the fuck are the main characters in this movie, you ask? The Japanese Prime Minister? The zombies? No, no, not exactly. The characters in this movie are not the most interesting parts of it, in my opinion, although I did appreciate the lead performance by Yumiko Hara as Kika, the chief zombie-slayer, and Eihi Shiina as Rikka, the Alien Queen of the Antler-Zombies. Rikka's got a brother played by Kentaro Kishi, and the character is truly a sick fuck. It's something else . . . more I will not say.
I'll say this. Eihi Shiina is a beautiful and intense actor who gave a memorable performance as a bride-to-be in Takashi Miike's masterful Audition, and was also quite memorable as the taciturn, self-mutilating supercop Ruka in Tokyo Gore Police, which was an earlier effort from Helldriver director Yoshihiro Nishimura. As Rikka, Shiina is buried under some wildass makeup, prosthetics, and costuming that make her look like a boss from a Parasite Eve side story. Shiina gives herself over to the crazed, cartoonish evil of the part, but I missed the subtle intensity she brought to those earlier roles. Yeah, I know, my complaint is totally out of place, but there you have it. I would've liked a little more nuance in this character, but it is what it is.
Yeah, and here's another complaint. Helldriver is clearly the hard labor of a committed cast and crew, and it's quite effective on its own terms, and yet largely forgettable once consumed. I guess it's the perfect definition of entertainment. Director Yoshihiro Nishimura seems to specialize in this kind of gory-goofy type of film. Just hit up his filmography on Wiki or Imdb: Tokyo Gore Police, Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein, Mutant Girls Squad, and a score of special gore EFX credits going back to 1995. Nishimura knows his stuff. Tokyo Gore Police really left an impression on me. It was both absurdly funny and really fuckng icky, and it made an impression with it's shameless mutational perversities. Tokyo Gore Police was all about damaged, violent people seeking the edge of somatic experience and transformation packed into a fairly compelling mystery plot. Helldriver is just one damn thing after another. Helldriver's best scenes recall the most adventurous bits of Tokyo Gore Police without quite equaling it. Helldriver is not quite as visually accomplished, either, but it does create some impressive spectacle scenes. It lacks the grimy texture and doom-laden atmosphere of Tokyo Gore Police. The antler-zombies are good for a laugh, but they don't quite achieve the bizarro-pathos of the mutants and predators from Tokyo Gore Police.
Helldriver is pure sensation, featuring many scenes of impressively orchestrated carnage, and a delightfully off-kilter soundtrack. It's fun for what it is, but if you like Helldriver, I urge you to check out 2008's Tokyo Gore Police. It's in a similar style, but with more impact.
Helldriver does do one thing that Tokyo Gore Police couldn't or wouldn't. It asks the question: "Can you build an aerodynamically feasible device out of the bodies of antler-zombies?"
For the answer, you'll just have to see for yourself . . .