Highway to Hell: On the Set of a “Helldriver” Spinoff

The heady scent of cigarette smoke and grease paint fills my nostrils as I struggle to hold up a cheap plastic umbrella against the persistent rain, waiting for the last bit of makeup to be carefully applied to my face.  Amidst the pitter-patter of countless raindrops falling on the surrounding foliage, I can just barely make out the muffled sounds of shouted directions and the sharp crack of a clapperboard from further off in the mountain trails.  An unearthly moan soon echoes through the trees.  The man standing before me is Japan’s undisputed guru of gonzo gore, Yoshihiro Nishimura, and though I can hardly believe it myself, I am on location for the filming of a spinoff short to be included on the DVD release of his magnum opus of the living dead: Helldriver.  And I get the feeling that there’s something strange protruding from my forehead…John Zombie

To start at the beginning, on June 27th I had the opportunity to stand in as a zombie extra in a Helldriver short directed by Jun Shiozaki (first assistant director on Helldriver), one of three slated to be included on the film’s DVD release.  Those who are familiar with the works of underground film luminary Yoshihiro Nishimura (and his frequent partner in crime, Noboru Iguchi) are aware that one of the advantages of purchasing the DVDs of such films is being able to see the wacky spinoffs that are included among a host of other fantastic extra features.  This time around, regular Nishimura collaborator Shiozaki was selected to give his unique take on the world of Helldriver, deciding to set his humorous romp sometime after the events depicted in the main film.  I won’t give away any of the details here, but I’ll simply say that, like a certain other film’s catchphrase, something…or someone…has survived!

I met with Mr. Nishimura and the rest of the cast and crew at a station in the outskirts of Tokyo, and from there we made our way to a nearby mountain, ascending a steep flight of stairs to a small shrine nestled among the trees.  From there, we took a rough and winding path up a mountain trail through the rain to the summit, where we found a clearing with benches and picnic tables apparently made available for hikers.  Lacking his usual crew (who were in LA at the time), Nishimura took on the job of making up each zombie extra personally, with the help of one assistant.  First I received the ubiquitous “Yubari melon” horn that is such a prominent feature of Nishimura’s Helldriver undead creatures.  Then, using a simple pallet of grease paint, a brush, and his dexterous fingers, Mr. Nishimura worked his black magic on my features.  As many of you know, I have been an avid zombie fanatic since my youth, and I have the utmost respect for Mr. Nishimura and the brilliantly deranged special effects and diabolical directorial work that he has been producing in the underground film scene.  To have my dream of becoming a zombie brought into reality by such a skilled and talented artist was truly an experience that I will never forget.  Everyone on the set was pleasant and cheerful, even with the rather dreary weather that day, and I could sense their enthusiasm and drive to create something fun and interesting as a further addition to the Helldriver legacy. 

And speaking of legacies, after making the rounds of film festivals both in Japan and abroad to high acclaim, Helldriver made its official premiere this past Saturday, July 23rd, 2011 at the Ginza Cine Pathos Theater in Tokyo, joining a lineup of Sushi Typhoon flicks: Alien vs Ninja, Deadball, and Yakuza Weapon.  I was present for the showing, and I will be making a report on the event soon!  Until then, sweet nightmares…

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3 responses to “Highway to Hell: On the Set of a “Helldriver” Spinoff

  1. So amazing you got to do this! Wow! I wish I could have been there! Thanks for the pictures so I can feel a small part of the excitement.

  2. Pingback: Underground Film Links: July 31, 2011 | Underground Film Journal

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