Made in 1991 with a vision that far outstrips it’s budget, Zeiram is one of those movies that emerged from Japan at the time that seems blatantly based on some kind of Manga or Anime series. However, it is in fact a completely original release that fuses the anything-goes energy the medium does so well with a good, old fashioned dollop of John Carpenter style dystopia, which no doubt saved the filmmakers a few yen.
Essentially what you’d get if the makers of Mighty Morphing Power Rangers whacked their head during a corporate retreat and woke up thinking they were James Cameron, Zeiram is a hugely feisty creature feature that may have passed under the radar for most of you, but once you’ve experienced the extremely random and very gooey pleasures this unstoppable juggernaut has to offer, you’ll be surprised you’ve never heard of this flat-head bastard before.
Needlessly cute alien bounty hunter Iria and her over cautious A.I partner Bob have formulated a plan to reel in axbig fish by attempting to capture a hulking, mass-murdering being known only as Zeiram who has torn the galaxy a brand new butthole with his seemingly endless killing spree. Iria’s plan is simple in it’s intricacies: lure Zeiram to earth and contain him in a alternate dimension called The Zone that will resemble his surroundings in every way except the lack of people and the fact that he’ll be unaware that he’s not actually on earth should make it easier to catch him.
At this point, allow me to introduce you to the flies in the ointment: two hapless electricians named Kamiya and Teppei who stumble upon Iria’s lair only to be accidently teleported to The Zone and desperately try to take cover as the towering biological weapon matches firepower with the plucky bounty hunter. Amazingly, thanks to some nifty body armour and some highly effective jumpy/kicky stuff, Iria is triumphant but only after the last of her many containment devices prove to be effective (you’re really gonna use wires to ensnare a monster with a head shaped like H.R. Giger’s garbage can lid?) and she blips back to the real dimension to make the proper arrangements. However, one of Zeiram’s highly unsettling weapons are grenades that spawn grotesquely misshapen creatures that does his bidding and when one follows Iria back and wrecks her equipment, both Kamiya and Teppei become trapped in the unstable, temporary dimension just as Zeiram manages to free himself.
With no clue how any of Iria’s alien tech works and with the clock on the stability of The Zone ticking down double time, the two workmen have to engage in a tense game of cat at mouse where the cat can flip a car with minimum effort…
Directed by Keita Amemiya, who started out as a character designer for shows like Kaman Rider Black, Zeiram makes up for it’s low funds by intelligently embracing that low budget filmmaking rule by crafting a script that matches your budget and then using your imagination by coming up with a bunch of nifty concepts that still play into classic sci-fi trappings. Thus we have The Zone, a sneaky concept that ingeniously means that all the money you save on ditching elaborate sets and having a minimal cast you can chuck at the many, extensive creatures that pepper the movie.
Chief of these is obviously the titular Zeiram, a hulking surrealist nightmare who looks like the ‘roided out result of dumping Toad from Super Mario Brothers and Resident Evil’s Nemesis into Seth Brundle’s telepod. He’s a magnificently realised beast whose appearance throughout the film changes as the events of their film take their toll on his armoured body and who’s relentless pace and tireless kill rate makes the Terminator look like he has a severe case of mono. He’s a startlingly original looking fucker too, with his head peaking with a large flat crest looking like one of those enormous wicker hats seen in Big Trouble In China and his immense body wrapped in buddist-like robes, he’s legitimately fascinating to look at even when he isn’t pulping a corridor full of shock troopers. However, possibly the most fascinating aspect of his esoteric design is the bone white, angelic face that sits in the middle of his forehead like a weird kabuki mask that smiles evily, coos shrillly and has a nasty habit of lashing out on the end of a tentacle like that hellish second mouth of the Xenomorph from Alien. Even when the film’s events finally start making him take some serious damage the movie takes the route of The Thing and has him take bizarre new forms like his spidery, stop motion skeleton bursting free to resume the fight or a very Rob Bottin-esque creature that’s all mottled flesh, teeth and – for some disturbing reason – a single human breast…
On the flip side to this meticulously designed beastie, the human character can only wish they were half as intricate as the marauding title character, but they still come with a few interesting quirks to keep them on the right side of bland.
Yoko Moriyama’s Iria is virtually every butt-kicking badass who just happens to look like a Japanese school girl you’ve ever seen but she proves herself a capable action foil and scenes where she’s going toe to toe with a guy in a rubber suit twice her size is pulled off far better than, say, when Mila Jovovich did the same thing in the second Resident Evil movie. Also the actors who portray the humans, one old older and cynical, the other younger and naive, also have enough chops to have you warming to them way before the end credits roll and the fact that their job has them where garish work overalls that makes them resemble children’s tv presenters succeeds in rendering them even more vunerable to Zeiram’s arsenal of body horror inspired weapons.
Making up in stripped back style what it lacks in so-called substance, this super lean sci-fi thriller makes full use of it’s minimalist trappings and instead makes them work in it’s favour and although the odd ratty effect slips through (Zeiram’s severed flat top taking off like a flying saucer is as threatening as a battle axe made of balloons and a couple of it’s deformed minions look like someone’s shaved a birth defect suffering Teletubby) the filmmakers ingenuity and the sheer freaking awesomeness of it’s title creature make this a lost jewel that needs to be rediscovered.
Wham, bam, thank you, Zeiram…