Helldriver (2010)
Director: Yoshihiro Nishimura
Writers: Yoshihiro Nishimura, Daichi Nagisa
Starring: Yumiko Hara, Eihi Shiina and Kazuki Namioka

The Plot: A ridiculous plot to begin with, describing Helldriver is almost impossible. With that said, I will give it my best shot. Yumiko Hara plays a young woman, named Kika, who has waken from a coma only to discover a very scary new reality that is infested by zombies. Thankfully, her body has been worked on and is now a zombie-killing tool that is prepared to dispense justice. After wandering the streets, she begins to learn the ropes within this new version of society. These walking dead aren’t like your run-of-the-mill zombies, they can’t be killed via a simple gunshot to the head. Instead, they have a antler-looking system growing out of their forehead, and they only die once this is removed. As Kika wanders, she eventually finds a father/son combo who take her in as one of their own. The duo work as mercenaries for hire, but things go awry on their latest job and they are sentenced to death by the government. Yet, before they are eventually killed, the group are given the option to fight for their life and travel into the infected zone and take on the mother-zombie. If they can kill her, all of their sins are forgiven by the state and they’ll even win a cash prize! However… can they manage to escape these insanely crafty zombies?

The Review
Starting in 2008, the world of Japanese genre cinema was forever changed. For better or worse, the concept of what defines Japanese splatter has been redefined by Noboru Iguchi and Yoshihiro Nishimura. For those who don’t know the names, they are the two minds behind the first two “big” titles to come from this new movement. Iguchi was the director who brought us The Machine Girl (a film for which Nishimura handled the special makeup effects) and Nishimura directed the even more (in)famous Tokyo Gore Police. These two both came from a seedy past, and most interviews with these filmmakers usually paint them as filmmakers who seem to have an aversion to thinking of cinema-as-art, but their movies have been incredibly successful. Although Sushi Typhoon, the company that now handles the majority of these types of releases, wasn’t founded wholly around their work, this company has certainly found its name in releasing movies of this sort. Within the past few years, Japanese genre cinema has been transformed for many viewers. They now expect this sort of Westernized gore-laden exploitation, and with each successive film they are engulfed in more and more ridiculousness. However, could it be that Helldriver stands out amongst the pack, or does it seem to fade into the background amidst an entire army of similar movies? You’ll have to read on to find out.

With this strange new wave of Japanese splatter films, oldschool Japense-exploitation fans are confronted with a question about the authenticity of these titles. Although they are most assuredly born from the unique culture of Japan, it is also very obvious that these are movies that target a Western audience. Starting with The Machine Girl, these movies have all featured a love for pop culture, and they all seem to feed into an idealized version of the “wacky” world of Japanese exploitation cinema that the world has seen in the past. Yet, these are movies that are most definitely Japanese in their nature. So maybe it is a bit of both. Sure, it might be that these movies are born from a consumer-based push by Japanese producers to find room within the American marketplace, but maybe this hedonistic form of cinema is as much a part of Japanese cinema as anything else. A dark backdrop to the more well-thought-out version of genre cinema, these movies may not be smart but they are unique. Taking a cue from the insanely gory world of Japanese splatter in the past, while also mixing in the overexcited and over-the-top world of V-Cinema, this style of movie is simply Japanese exploitation condensed into a small package and then given a overdose of steroids. Helldriver fits into this description perfectly.

Nishimura and Iguchi are two directors of definite interest to any horror-movie fan with any kind of Asian cinema fascination. Both directors have a infatuation with the world of “body-horror,” something defined by the work of David Cronenberg, and this influence upon them has completely rewrote a lot of the definitions for contemporary Japanese splatter. These movies tend to be glorious in their reliance on practical FX work, but at the same time the effects rarely come across as realistic. Everything takes place in a heightened sense of reality that defies logical thought, so the lack of reality is okay for the most part, but the effects still seem to be hurt by the out-of-this-world aesthetic. Sure, there are decapitations, but some of these creatures barely resemble humans and instead start to more closely resemble paper-mache monsters. When the audience sees zombies that have distorted monster faces, as well as red skulls that stand on three foot spinal columns that extend out of their own skull, the movie begins to diverge from reality as it becomes more elaborate. The gore is about what one might expect. Cheap, fast, in large quantities, and a lot of fun. I was reminded, due to the violence and the way it is used here, of just how much films such as this one are indebted to something like Versus. A precursor to the Sushi Typhoon and American-targeted splatter flicks, that was a zombie tale that featured plenty of “cool” ideas mixed in with some extreme arterial spray and severed limbs. Helldriver is certainly a movie that gets by on its gore, but the innovative reasons for the gore are generally why these movies remain watchable.

Now, these movies are incredibly imaginative when it comes to filling their plots with wild and extravagant ideas, but a lot of these concepts are also things that we have seen in other zombie films found in the past. The concept of there being those who would protest the government for mistreating the infected isn’t an entirely new idea within this genre. Today, we can even see such things confronted on The Walking Dead television show, but if we travel back and look at The Dead Next Door we can see the concept tackled with a certain amount of ferocity. Despite many of these little borrowed concepts popping up throughout the movie, it does still manage to seem like an overtly original film. This is to be expected from Nishimura and his collective, as everything they do revolves around being pretty darn unique. The zombie epidemic is of course then shown as anything but ordinary. Featuring zombies who can ostensibly “think” and use machinery, the zombies here can even collectively find weapons as if they were a street gang. Featuring a roaming gang of zombies who all use chainsaws, seemingly like the zombie version of the baseball gang from The Warriors, this is movie that certainly tries to do a few things different with the world of zombie cinema.

The Conclusion
There are problems to be found in Helldriver, there is no getting past that. The biggest negative is that it is too long. A gore movie, under no circumstances, should push the two hour limit. The movie is simply guaranteed to wear out its welcome long before that. Another problem: this is a cheap and silly movie, not everyone is going to be down with that. I am, and the craziness of this movie is suitable for what I look for in a movie, but I wouldn’t expect others to have the same goals. Overall, I think this is a really solid entry into the new world of Japanese splatter. I give it a three out of five, and I must say that I enjoyed it. However, not everyone is guaranteed to feel the same. Certainly check it out if you’re simply looking for a fun piece of splattery goodness!