Japanese horror films have always held a special place in my heart, but not just specifically horror—all films from Japan from all the various genres have always been a cultural curiosity, sort of thing for me. There culture is just so fascinating and interesting, whether it be the ways they prepare and consume food, how they build such awe-inspiring electronics, or even the consumer products they put in their vending machines on the streets. Really, one can go to a machine and buy a bottle of booze or purchase a pair of used panties for the jerk-off ride home on the train. Don’t forget to grope the sexy schoolgirl with the short Catholic plaid skirt and knee-high stockings, shortly after every dude on the train jumping in on the action in Chikan frenzy!

So why, when I heard about a new film from Well Go USA entitled HELLDRIVER, did I think that the film would be anything less than bizarre and extreme, almost ridiculously entertaining? From the title, I thought it would be about a demon driving a badass vehicle, made from human skulls and bones, driving up from the depths of Hell. Sort of a Ghost Rider meets Lobo kind of ass-kicker. No such luck. I don’t really know what I expected. I just got the unexpected. It was pretty twisted and gory and it was just called HELLDRIVER.

I am not even sure 100% what the film is really about except that these zombie-like humans have mutated or turned into creatures that crave other humans and that Sushi Typhoon is tied to the project and if you like that company, this film will not disappoint. I guess they can be called zombies for all purposes. The only bizarre twist on their physique is that they have this weird, twig-like, gnarled thing sticking out of their foreheads. These zombie creatures are contained in walled-off zones while the rest of the population exists relatively safe from harm. A girl’s sister and her incestuous brother are criminals and psychotic in nature. They come to Kika’s (Yumiko Hara) house, start grinding up her father and making his flesh into hamburger meat, while she freaks out and runs off (but not before taking a metal bar that has grooves in it the shape of a swastika) and brands the brother. She then runs off but gets caught by them. I believe they are her brother and sister, but the one dude with the now branded swastika forehead refers to him as Kika’s uncle.

A meteor comes out of nowhere and rips through Kika’s sister (Rikka portrayed by Eihi Shiina from AUDITION) so her sister gets mad and rips Kika’s heart out. That makes sense. I hate when meteors tear my insides a new hole. This sequence is filled with arterial blood spraying out by the bucket loads. Next, Kika’s sister turns into this even more powerful and twisted villain due to something in the meteor. It clamps onto her head and she has some odd, yellow, jell-o-like crap turn hard and then flake off like burning ash. This ash turns most of the world (or maybe just Japan’s population) into zombies. All the zombies have antlers on their heads and that makes them very different from American zombie films. I am perplexed by the creativity the Japanese throw into a zombie film.

For example, one of my favorite scenes is when one of the characters gets a decapitated zombie head hurled at her that makes its way into her lap and starts munching on her crotch. In the next scene, the villains hurl zombie heads at the heroes like bombs and some of them land on one character and eat her to the bones. The CGI looks sort of hokey, but the idea behind it all was brilliant. If one is going to do a film like this, go all-out and do it over-the-top! I feel that the beginning of the film moves a little bit slow but when the battles begin at the hour mark things get epic!

Director, writer, and special effects makeup artist Yoshihiro Nishimura goes with an age-old recipe in fun filmmaking—GORE GALORE! Nishimura adds in tons of gore, blood, and violence to HELLDRIVER, a bit of comedy, and somewhat annoying CGI in a generally entertaining movie. The soundtrack is peppy and upbeat giving the film a party vibe to it. Scenes of the zombie apocalypse portray the different and shocking food delicacies such as eating bowls of gnarly insects, as well as eating sushi made of whale that may or may not contain high levels of mercury. Did I also mention that the branchlike antlers contain some sort of dopamine in them and people risk their lives to saw them off zombies and get high for a bit? Yeah, never a dull moment with this film. Well, actually, some spots move along slower than others and if one is not sure what is going on to begin with it can get to be a drag.

This film has some familiar faces and names in it. Nishimura directed MUTANT GIRL SQUAD, VAMPIRE GIRL VS. FRANKENSTEIN GIRL, and TOKYO GORE POLICE. If one dug those flicks, pretty sure that this will be another pleasing gore escapade. Also, Asami (a busty Japanese porn star and also an actress in MACHINE GIRL) plays a wall guard. If it’s the wall guard I remember in the film, she has a mask of sorts that was designed to hider her face as well as protect it from getting slicked or shot up.
The film does have good characters fighting bad characters, good vs. evil, and heroes vs. villains. This much I easily figured out. Much of the rest of the crazy shit is just either amusing, humorous, or a total mindfuck. I did enjoy seeing Eihi Shiina play another evil bitch in her Rikka character and for those of you who have not seen Miike’s AUDITION go out and buy it because Shiina stars in it. I got a big kick out of the bizarre special effects and make-up, one of Nishimura’s strong points, and if there is any reason to watch this movie it does create some unique creatures and ideas in special effects.

As usual, I watched both the Blu-ray and DVD in this combo pack and the Blu-ray looks great. There are tons of extras on the Blu-ray disc, including a few spin-off short films in connection to HELLDRIVER, some hilarious press from opening screenings, a director’s introduction, and a bunch of trailers. The sound and quality of the print was great and I had no issues with it.

I find HELLDRIVER, as well as a lot of the more modern Japanese horror films, to be almost comicbook in nature and just lacking any sort of realism or seriousness. Sometimes this is okay, especially if the gore is over-the-top—which it was. HELLDRIVER also has the longest introduction to the title and credits I have ever seen. At around 48 minutes the title and credits roll along, almost at the halfway point in the movie. Man, those Japanese sure do have a weird way of doing things. I love it. For fans of this genre of Japanese horror films, HELLDRIVER is a must!

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