This one comes from Yoshihiro Nishimura, the mad man behind “Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl,” “Mutant Girl Squad” and “Tokyo Gore Police.” He’s the kind of guy who thinks nothing of beginning a movie with a mass zombie beheading, eventually getting around to his opening credits 48 minutes into the thing. That’s not a typo.
The rice cracker-thin premise has millions of Tokyo residents turned into zombies by a cloud of ash, and separated from the uninfected via a great wall, like something out of Snake Plissken’s adventures. The zombies are easily spotted by the two-pronged horns sprouting from the center of their foreheads. One can ground the horns into powder to make a potent drug with a power-packed high, so horn harvesting has been declared illegal.
The title ostensibly refers to Kika (Yumiko Hara), who wields a mean chain saw/sword hybrid and has made pole-dancing skills. At the first, she uses it to fight off a mohawked man with a swastika burnt between his eyes, and later in a government-forced rematch with the so-called Zombie Queen (Eihi Shiina of Takashi Miike’s infamous “Audition”). Later, it comes in handy battling this spidery thing with arms growing out of its face and holding eating utensils; Ray Harryhausen would weep.
“Helldriver” is not without its moment of gory glory — chain saws operating only by disembodied hands, zombie heads falling from the sky to attack Kika’s van, a starfish-type creature playing the drums on someone’s head — but it just doesn’t know when to quit. That moment probably should have been before a woman’s nipples are bitten off, yielding two geysers of blood.
It’s not that bit of bite I object to — it’s just that it comes after so many crimson-soaked shenanigans equally as over-the-top. “Helldriver” clocks in four minutes shy of two hours, which is, quite frankly, far too long for what amounts to basically a Troma film in a foreign language. It’s like watching the same fight sequence in any given episode of “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” over and over and over again: exhausting to the point of numbness.
Nishimura has some great ideas (even if some belong to Sam Raimi). I’d love to see what he could up with twice the plot under an 88-minute running time. —Rod Lott