Death Warmed Up (1984)

Director David Blyth
Writers Michael Heath, David Blyth
Starring Michael Hurst, Margaret Umbers, William Upjohn, Norelle Scott, David Letch, Geoff Snell, Gary Day
Genre Revenge
Tagline I'll get you, I'll get you all

Talk us through it

Michael Tucker is brain washed by mad Scientist type Dr. Archer Howell and as a result kills both his parents with a shotgun. Naturally young Michael is institutionalised and Dr Howell continues with his experiments aimed at making death redundant.

Seven years later and Dr Howell is experimenting on human subjects at a Hospital on a secluded Island. But Michael has been released back in society and has one aim, getting revenge over the death of his parents. Along with his mates Sandy, Lucas, and Jeannie, Michael has an appointment with the Island of Dr Howell and one feels it's not going to end up with a reunion dinner. However putting a spanner in Michael's plans are Spider and a number of other former patients of Dr Howell who are at best unstable.

Can Michael gain his revenge or will a full psycho outbreak derail his plans? Much murder and mayhem ensues.


"We are the new messiahs." - Doctor Archer Howell

It's taken a while friends and neighbours but we are at the 100 movie review mark, quite the achievement if you ask me. Which you weren't of course. In celebration I decided to have a look at Death Warmed Up, David Blyth's seminal New Zealand horror movie that introduced Kiwi movie makers to the concepts of gore and lots of claret in dark genre movie making. Arguably Sam Pillsbury's The Scarecrow was the first New Zealand horror movie, but David Blyth wasn't that far behind and Blyth didn't overly concern himself with doing anything meaningful in an artistic sense. The early works of Peter Jackson would not have happened without David Blyth paving the way in brains and blood. Whether or not that's a good thing probably depends on your point of view, two thumbs up from my end of the couch. one.

Firstly before people start wondering about the polished Boredwood aspects of the movie I should point out Death Warmed Up is an Indie feature shot on a shoestring in four weeks around the environs of Auckland. Got to love finding locations that pretty much save on sets and props etc. Okay so in a couple of places you get the boom mike in focus, there's the odd bit of shaky cam going down (insert your own Shaky Isles joke), and the film stock hasn't made the transition to digital entirely successfully. Well at least on my copy of the movie, there's a new release coming out of New Zealand that sounds like it's a much better print. On the bright side Blyth got the lightening correct, the print might have been murky but I didn't need to squint to make out what was going down at any stage. In essence you get a pretty raw film that doesn't care what you think about it's hairdo, Blyth is making a horror movie here not a fracking beer commercial, it's a bit raw but by hell the film is ruggard enough to forgive the odd blemish. Besides the Actors look like real people and not fashion models on heroin, looking at your Twilight. Oops my apologises to David Blyth for mentioning that overdone commercial shite in the same review as his classic cult movie, I will self flagellate myself when this review is off to editing.

What's noticeable in Death Warmed Up is the amount of gore being ladled onto things. Well okay it doesn't reach the insane heights of Jackson's Braindead but for 1984 New Zealand it must have been a shocker for funding agency Film New Zealand. Besides people getting stuck with sharp objects, we get brain surgery (loved the power drill), heads exploding, and death by fire. Blyth clearly adding his claret then decided not to be too dainty about things and just tipping the whole bucket on. Surprisingly the gore effects are still pretty solid for a modern audience, two thumbs up to the special effects people, in particular the surgery scenes will have some people squirming in their seats. I must admit I was knocked over with the amount of carnage Blyth shoe horns in here, clearly he wasn't spending his time selecting cardigans and having afternoon tea with the Vicar when he devised this little expedition into the macabre.

Behind the camera Blyth is doing the best he can with a limited budget. Okay we may not have a 101 camera angles coming at us but the Director does a pretty decent job of keeping things on the interesting side of the scalpel and avoids the point and shot approach. We get rapid cuts to static shots, overhead angles, and some interesting use of natural light. The tunnel scenes in particular are well conceived and hit the spot in terms of tension and tight pacing. Blyth doesn't let the movie lag, maintains our interested in his characters, and keeps the weirdness flowing. Death Warmed Up is one movie where you can't sit back between shock scenes, Blyth throws things at us constantly so don't get comfortable.

There's a certain amount of humour going down, both through the dialogue “one piece of fish and make it snappy”, and in terms of slap stick. Blyth isn't throwing on a comedy so don't expect a laugh a minute outing. One of the weirder aspects of the movie for a viewer is likely to be the stereotypical Indian shop owner. The whole thing verges on racism, and I have this real strong feeling we are talking an actor with the boot polish on. It's simply a weird scene, Blyth thankfully drops the character quicker than a kiwi slips fielder puts down a catch, but it sticks out like a sore thumb at a hand model convention. I would really like to at one stage find out what this aspect of the movie was about, maybe the crew had hit some “special mushrooms” during filming that day.

Strangely in some quarters Death Warmed Up is being referred to is a zombie movie, not seeing that connection myself to be honest. I'd dropped this one into the grey area between revenge flick and psycho killer opus. The movie touches base with both sub genres but doesn't seem to make a definitive statement either way. The psycho killers here are neither dead, Romero requirement, or under the influence of voodoo, trad-zom requirement. You could probably make an argument for mad scientist movie as well considering Doc Howell has a few sheep on the loose in the top paddock. So don't go in expecting a traditional zombie flick, besides the pub scene there's none of the survivors facing overwhelming chaos going down.

Quick mention of our Psychos before we start wrapping this review up. On a couple of occasions I was reminded of Mad Max 2 when Spider and his sidekick got vehicles and targets on their minds. Other than that the crowd aren't at all defined. There's some nutters loose in the hills but Blyth keeps things pretty much under control. Guess the budget didn't extend to a horde of extras but the Director overcomes that short coming pretty effectively in places.

Michael Hurst plays Michael Tucker pretty effectively, though the early scenes had me wondering how many years Michael, the fictional character, had been held back in high school. There's a sort of low grade tension to Hurst's performance that's working like a brought one. Margaret Umbers (Sandy) and Norelle Scott (Jeannie) spent way to much time being scream queens and didn't quite pull it off. William Upjohn (Lucas) was standard best mate material and delivered on the requirements. And huge props to David Letch (Spider), the dude was stealing scenes with Letch's performance being a highlight of the movie for mine.

There's some T&A coming at you as Blyth ticks all the low budget horror requirements. Guys get Norelle Scott topless, the Ladies get a pretty buff William Upjohn. Look out for one of the less successful sex scenes committed to film.

Mark Nicholas delivered the sound track that went from overly dramatic to quirky as Death Warmed Up progressed. There's nothing wrong with Nicholas work but it didn't quite fit Blyth's movie for some reason.

Summary Execution

I vaguely remember catching this movie at the cinema at some stage of my sordid career and enjoying it a lot but finding it confusing. A re-watch of the DVD left me without the confusion but still with the enjoyment, Death Warmed Up is a solid horror movie that shows it's age like a badge of honour. I had a fun time with the movie and will probably double dip the new dual disc release coming out of Kiwiland.

Sorry no trivia on this one or box office figures. There was a recent re-release including a whole bunch of extras but cannot find it anywhere on line. Mind you I can't find an essay I once ran across that detailed the importance of Death Warmed Up to the development of New Zealand film either. Oh well over to to do the homework on this one.

I'm not entirely sure if I'm not viewing Death Warmed Up through rose tinted glasses, hence a recommendation with the proviso that the movie may be of more importance to Downunder horror film historians than the general dark genre faithful. In any case warm the DVD player up, it's not going to be the death of you to watch this early David Blyth movie.

ScaryMinds Rates this movie as ...

  Ever wonder how gore stuck to the fan Downunder?