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Death Warmed Up (1984)

Severin Films
Blu-ray Disc Released: 4/30/2019

All Ratings out of
Movie: ½
Video: ½

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 5/20/2019

In my recent review for Mega Time Squad, I briefly discussed the history of New Zealand cinema.  While I feel certain that filmmakers have been toiling in that country for years, we can basically boil an overview of their output into two categories – Pre-Peter Jackson and After Peter Jackson.  Yes, once that Oscar-winner began to put his stamp on the output from New Zealand, he basically became the face of movies for the island nation.  When we look at movies which came out before Jackson’s first film in 1987, we see that they could garner attention simply for being from New Zealand.  1984’s Death Warmed Up go some press upon its initial release for being a rare horror film from New Zealand.  Making its Blu-ray Disc debut over three decades later, does the film do the country proud?


Professor Tucker (David Weatherley) and Dr. Archer Howell (Gary Day) are two brilliant scientist who are locked in an ethical battle concerning the prolonging of life.  In order to gain the upper-hand on his partner/rival, Howell brainwashes Tucker’s son, Michael (Michael Hurst), and has the young man murder his parents.  Years later, Michael gets out of prison and heads for the island where Dr. Howell now does his bizarre experiments.  Accompanied by Sandy (Margaret Umbers), Lucas (William Upjohn), and Jeannie (Norelle Scott), Michael is determined to find a way into Howell’s facility.  What he didn’t count on are the violent people who work for Howell.  Michael and his friends soon find themselves fighting off a group of crazed psychopaths.


Through HBO and video stores, I watched a lot of horror movies in the 1980s and, at the time, I found most of them to be highly entertaining.  Watching them years later, I discovered that most of them were actually dull and offered few redeeming features.  (I can’t tell you how many times my wife has sat through a crap movie which I swore was great…when I had seen it at age 12.)  Death Warmed Up was that rare movie which I watched back then and immediately didn’t like.  Fangoria had done a profile of the movie (again, highlighting the fact that it was from New Zealand) and I was very excited to see it, only to be disappointed.  All these years later, Death Warmed Up continues to disappoint.


To be fair, the movie begins with some promise.  Dr. Howell feels threatened by Professor Tucker and in a move which would make Shakespeare proud, uses Howell’s own son as a tool of murder and revenge.  Thus, Howell gets away scott-free and Michael is now both imprisoned and parentless.  Following this prologue, Death Warmed Up transforms into a different movie, one which goes off the rails.  Michael takes his friends to Dr. Howell’s island, but it’s never clear if they are aware of his mission of justice.  Once they arrive, the film turns into a reel of scenes which don’t feel connected at all.  The character Spider (David Letch), who would go on to be featured prominently in advertisements for the film, is introduced, but we never learn much about him.  In fact, we never learn much about anything.  Dr. Howell is doing experiments on the brain.  We know this because the same brain surgery sequence is shown twice.  For some reason, this makes the patients homicidal, but no one seems real concerned about that.  The island has a quaint village and a little beach, but it’s unclear if these are connected to Howell’s hospital.  The finale is just a bunch of running and screaming, which leads to a ridiculously down ending.


The one thing, and I mean the only thing, which makes Death Warmed Up stand out is the neon-colored style which Director David Blyth has chosen.  That made the film look somewhat unique at the time (although, we were seeing similar things on MTV.)  When viewed today, the film’s look takes on a nostalgic feel, but still stands out as the one positive here.  Otherwise, we have a movie which attempts to combine a Mad Max-esque punk aesthetic with an old-fashioned mad-scientist film.  The result is a mess which will only appeal to those who, for whatever reason, are determined to see every horror film from New Zealand.


Death Warmed Up also never explains how Michael got such a nifty makeover in the psychiatric hospital courtesy of Severin Films.  The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 35 Mbps.  The image is sharp and clear in some scenes.  However, the picture also has a noticeably soft quality in many shots and there is some overt grain on the image.  The colors look good and the image is never overly dark or bright.  (All of which leads me to wonder if this was shot in 16mm.)  The level of detail suffers from the softness, but the picture never looks flat.  The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps.  The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects.  This re-mastered audio presentation delivers a mix in which everything is clear, but there are not an abundance of surround or subwoofer effects.  There are some obvious stereo effects at times.


The Death Warmed Up Blu-ray Disc contains a few extras.  We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director David Blyth and Writer Michael Heath.  “Interview with David Letch” (27 minutes) is a modern-day talk with the actor, where he refers to the film as “schlock horror”.  From there, he gives a detailed account of his involvement in the film and its production.  “2009 Interviews with David Blyth & Michael Heath” (40 minutes) offers separate interviews, which are edited together with clips from the movie, in which the filmmakers give an overview of the making of the movie and their reflections on it.  We get a 16-minute reel of MISSING/DELETED SCENES, most of which are simply longer versions of scenes from the finished film.  “Original 4:3 New Zealand VHS Cut” offers an 84-minute cut of the film which is letterboxed at 1.33:1.  This contains scenes which are not in the main version presented on this Blu-ray Disc.  The extras are rounded out by a THEATRICAL TRAILER, two VHS TRAILERS, a TV SPOT, and an IMAGE GALLERY.

Review Copyright 2019 by Mike Long