This completely bonkers gore-fest from Japanese director Yoshihiro Nishimura flies in the face of all cinema conventions as we know them. When it wants to be high tempo – and it almost always is – it chooses to do so. When it wants to be loud, obnoxious, pointless, it chooses to do so. When it wants to parody, it chooses to do so. The whole film is a giant ‘Fuck You’ to every unsuspecting audience member out there.
Primarily it’s a zombie action revenge thriller, but that label doesn’t begin to scratch the surface. Let me map out one scene for you – an un-dead man infused with a multitude of blades has a swordfight with a car, this is part of a montage that includes a man being attacked by an un-dead foetus and a girl being brutalised by an aggressor that uses M16s for limbs. Remarkably, this is not one of the film’s craziest segments; it might not even make the top ten.
This refusal to adhere to conventions is exemplified by the opening credits not appearing until about forty minutes into the film. It’s a jarring moment, but if you can stomach it then you’ll find the majority of the film’s other deliberate kooks palatable.
Don’t expect to explore any sense or deeper meaning here – arguably there’s an atomic bomb subtext, though that gets drowned by severed limbs – Helldriver merely wants to chew you up and spit you out on the other side of sanity. It’s unquestionably ‘J-sploitation’ cinema, and will appeal to those who are fans of the various genres it takes on: notably, Sci-fi, horror, gorey goriness.
It has been surmised that originality is dead, and those pessimists may have a case when looking at cinema from a purely structuralist point of view. There is, however, always a way to do something different – Helldriver is testament to that fact and therefore deserves credit. Arguably it owes a lot to the prosthetic-ridden exploitation films of the 70s and 80s (think Street Trash) but it never shies away from these facts, never pretending to be anything other than what it is. It’s notable that this surreality does occasionally bridge into genius – some of the set/costume design is remarkable, paying homage to an amalgamation of different media (The Silent Hill video games, Bladerunner etc). There are also particular flashes of gore that, so ridiculous and brutal is their nature, will have you rollocking with glee in your seat.
Helldriver is actually very difficult to criticise – how do you put down a film that clearly doesn’t care what you think? There are a few noticeable drops in pace, it’s also likely that you’ll need to spend a few moments rubbing your eyes in disbelief, but it never once compromises its mission – to be original and absolutely mental. It’s an immoral but praiseworthy quest, and one that it achieves through a relentless score of metal music and excessive ultraviolence.
If you don’t think that Japanese cinema if your thing, then please God do not to try to access it here. Those of you willing to give it a shot may come out the other side tarnished in one way or another, but at least you’ll have an answer when somebody asks you – What’s the craziest film you’ve ever seen?