HELLDRIVER Blu-ray Review

Editor, U.S. ; Dallas, Texas (@HatefulJosh)
HELLDRIVER Blu-ray Review
Yoshihiro Nishimura's Helldriver is nothing if not ambitious. Sushi Typhoon's resident gore-meister cranks up the crazy on this, the latest title to hit US home video from Japan's craziest splatter production company. I first saw the film at Texas Frightmare Weekend and, to be honest, I hated it, however, that screening was in a crappy room with terrible seating and even worse sound. Having the chance to revisit it, I can still recognize plenty of issues with the film itself, but it isn't nearly as awful as I remember. Helldriver is also the first release of Well Go USA's seven year contract with Sushi Typhoon as their exclusive US outlet, and they've done a great job with this disc. While the video is what you'd expect from a low budget splatter film, the audio seriously kicks ass and there are some great exclusive extras to enjoy.
A meteorite crashes into Japan, releasing a toxic ash that turns inhabitants in the northern half of the country into bloodthirsty zombies. Some time later, with the north now walled off from the rest of Japan, a young woman (Yumiko Hara) is charged with leading a group of ragtag soldiers into the infected region to kill the "zombie queen" (Shiina) - who also happens to be her homicidal mother.
In my initial review, I recall not mentioning the plot of the film at all. It seemed irrelevant, most likely because I couldn't follow anything due to my inability to see the subtitles. Rewatching the film, I'm tempted to say that I was pretty much right that the plot is the least involving part of the film and mostly a flimsy excuse to go from one over the top scenario to another. Everything you need to know about Helldriver can be gleaned from the summary above, it sometimes tries to be more, but it's very simple.

There are many films on which one can pin the origin of the Sushi Typhoon model, but I think the most logical starting point is Machine Girl.  Like Machine Girl, Helldriver is essentially a revenge story, and a nasty one.  We are frequently assaulted both visually and aurally by what's going on onscreen.  There are wonderfully delirious and phantasmagorical sights and sounds in this film. Just when you think you've just witnessed the craziest shit you ever saw, something else happens.  I think Helldriver probably holds up best as a series of crazy vignettes, rather than a narrative film, which leads to the film's main problem.

Helldriver is really fucking long. At two hours, it is obvious that Nishimura and company were going for gold with this one, however, the film could easily have been trimmed down to about 70-75 minutes and had a greater impact without losing anything significant. The first 45 minutes is all exposition, and as I mentioned above, plot is the least of this film's attributes. The second half really comes alive if you're patient enough to get there, and this time around I was. Although, even some of the crazier sequences in the second half, a duel between a mutant zombie and a truck comes to mind, the action drags out, lasting a good 2 or 3 minutes longer than it needs to. Even if they'd trimmed those scenes down a bit, it would have helped the pace greatly.

I don't think that anyone at Sushi Typhoon is under the illusion that they make great cinema, at their best they make fun splatter films, and the world needs those. Helldriver shows, however, that they are willing and eager to evolve, I just hope that soon they realize that evolution doesn't necessarily mean longer run times. I have seen a couple of the newer Sushi Typhoon films, Karate Robo Zaborgar and Yakuza Weapon, and I honestly like them both more than Helldriver, though they are far less gooey. So I think Sushi Typhoon has the right idea, they just need to dial it back a bit in terms of runtime (even Karate Robo Zaborgar is too long), and they'll find their sweet spot.

The Disc:

Like I mentioned at the top, Well Go USA has presented Helldriver on a pretty damned good Blu-ray edition. The video looks low budget, and it betrays its digital origins frequently, but it's all part of the aesthetic at this point.  You'll never be fooled into thinking you're watching a Terrence Malick film, but I think expectations are probably best moderated.  The DTS-HD MA 5,1 track, on the other hand, is fantastic.  There is plenty of action in the surrounds and the bass channel gets a nice workout.  Very solid audio.

Well Go USA have wrangled a couple of exclusive extras for their Blu-ray/DVD combo pack. The most interesting are a trio of short films set in the Helldriver universe from three different filmmakers.  As with any shorts, they vary wildly in quality, but all show ambition.  I wasn't fond of "Catch me if you Can", but "Helldriver Dokata" was a lot of goofy fun and "Bailout" had some unusually good cinematography. So they have their advantages.  Also among the extras is a 20 minute look at Sushi Typhoon's month long launch in Tokyo.  This includes interviews with all of the major talent and a quick look at some screening madness. It wasn't bad, and an interesting alternative to the usual EPK stuff.  Well Go USA rounds off the package with a theatrical trailer, and Bob's your uncle, we're done!

If you liked Nishimura's Tokyo Gore Police or Noboru Iguchi's Machine Girl, I think Helldriver is a safe bet. Well Go does a great job on this Blu-ray and I recommend it.


  • Yoshihiro Nishimura
  • Yoshihiro Nishimura
  • Daichi Nagisa
  • Yumiko Hara
  • Eihi Shiina
  • Kazuki Namioka
  • Yûrei Yanagi
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Yoshihiro NishimuraDaichi NagisaYumiko HaraEihi ShiinaKazuki NamiokaYûrei YanagiHorrorSci-Fi

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