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Helldriver (2010)

Well Go USA
Blu-ray Disc Released: 11/22/2011

All Ratings out of
Movie:
Video: 1/2
Audio: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 11/14/2011

Like many open-minded movie fans, I went through an Asian movie love affair a few years ago. (As a life-long fan of horror movies, I was drawn to Japanese and Chinese movies such as Ju-on and Ringu.) This was especially fun as I typically had to seek out these movies. However, as the U.S. market was flooded with Asian movies, many of them quite inferior, I lost interest in this genre. However, in recent years, I began to hear about a new wave of super-crazy Japanese movies with titles like Tokyo Gore Police, Machine Girl and RoboGeisha. These movies supposedly has wild plots and over-the-top gore. However, as my local Redbox wasn't stocking them and I'm hesitant to buy movies sight unseen, I didn't have any means to experience them. Thus, it was with great excitement that I approached Helldriver, my first exposure to this trend.

(I will now do my best to write a coherent synopsis of Helldriver.) Kika (Yumiko Hara) is a young woman who lives in fear of his insanely abusive mother, Rikka (Eihi Shiina) (whom we see burning Kika's father). While they are arguing, a meteor hits Rikka, going through her chest. She remedies this by tearing out Kika's heart and inserting it into her own body. Rikka's body is then encased in an amber-like substance and a mist begins to emanate from her body. This mist causes people to turn into flesh-eating monsters. The mist moves out to sea after a few days, but the damage is done. The governmentís answer to this is to build a wall which cuts off the northern part of Japan. This creates turmoil for the survivors. Meanwhile, Kika awakens to find that the government has outfitted her with an artificial heart which is connected to a chainsaw sword. (Itís like an giant electric knife.) Kika is ordered to head behind the wall, find Rikka, and stop her. Teaming with a few other survivors, Kika takes the assignment, not realizing how abundant and dangerous the zombies are.

Again, I'm new to this Japanese sub-genre, but this is very familiar territory to Writer/Director Yoshihiro Nishimura, as he's previously helmed movies with titles like Mutants Girls Squad and Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl. Having never seen one of Nishimura's films, I can't say how Helldriver compares to his other works. I can say that the good news is that Nishimura swings for the fences throughout the entire movie. The bad news is that he whiffs more than he hits.

To say that Helldriver is over-the-top would be a complete misunderstanding of the term. The movie plays in the same vein as Peter Jackson's Dead/Alive and to an extent Sam Raimi's Evil Dead trilogy. However, the movie is far more gonzo than those two films ever dreamed of being. Again, Nishimura goes for broke in every scene. I'm not going to delve too much into the visual insanity here, but we are treated to massive arterial spray, limbs being hacked off, zombie gut-munching, and that's just the beginning. The movie plays like a combination of a traditional horror movie which has been invaded by video games and violent anime. The basic plot of the film plays like a cross between The Day of the Triffids and Neal Marshall's Doomsday, however this only serves as a platform for Nishimura to stack his bizarre ideas.

At this point, your enjoyment of Helldriver is all going to depend on how tolerant you are of what can only be called silliness. The movie should come with a Surgeon General's warning that it may cause ocular damage due to excessive eye-rolling. Despite the fact that the movie deals with child abuse, along with religious and political issues, and that it features nearly non-stop on-screen violence, it never takes itself the least bit seriously. Like an incredibly bloody Looney Tunes cartoon, the movie starts out slightly rooted in reality and then just goes bonkers from there. This may sound like fun, but at 2 hours (yes, 2 hours) this is an exercise in overkill and we find ourselves waiting to something truly interesting to happen. If nothing else, a movie like this should have some mind-blowing stuff, but Helldriver never quite makes it that far. Some of the more bizarre scenes are undoubtedly interesting, but that truly jaw-dropping moment which I was hoping for never came. A scene in the third act which is very reminiscent of a Clive Barker short story comes close, as does a fight with a pregnant zombie, but they don't quite make it.

Perhaps if Helldriver had contained a pinch of seriousness, or if Nishimura had taken his foot off of the gas for just a second, the movie could have been good fun. However, the two hour running time is simply numbing and instead of wondering what crazy thing would happen next, I just wanted the movie to end.

Helldriver offers the world's first zombie car on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Well Go USA. The film is letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 20 Mbps. For the most part, the image is sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look good, especially those which skew towards neon, but the image is a bit dark in the nighttime scenes. The transfer does not like direct light, as this creates unmistakable haloes. The level of detail is good, and the depth in daytime landscape scenes is notable. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 2.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This is a pretty good mix, as it provides a nice amount of stereo and surround effects. The stereo separation is good and these effects are nicely detailed. The surround sound effects really come into play in the action sequences and they clearly stand apart from the front channel effects. The subwoofer action is plentiful, as every hit and gunshot comes through with a rumble.

The Helldriver Blu-ray Disc contains a handful of extras. "Helldriver Dokata" (11 minutes) is a short film which takes place 100 days after the conclusion of Helldriver. If you've ever wanted to see a zombie play golf, then your in luck. (I get the feeling that plenty of zombies watch golf. It's a slow game, get it?) "Catch Me If You Can" (11 minutes) is another short film which plays as a side-story to the movie, this time featuring Kaito. (Helldriver is too long as it is. What's with these extra stories?) "Bailout!" (19 minutes) is another short film, and this one plays like a companion pieced to Helldriver, as it contains a similar story, but one which appears to be taking place in a different universe. (The whole thing feels like a condense version of 28 Days Later.) "Sushi Typhoon Invades Tokyo" (20 minutes) takes us to a mini film festival of sorts where the company behind Helldriver screened four of their films. We get interviews with the filmmakers and actors, who talk about their movies (and urge the viewer to see them). The final extra is the trailer for Helldriver (along with some bonus trailers).

Review Copyright 2011 by Mike Long