Color, 1984, 78 mins. 54 secs. / 83 mins. 4 secs.
Directed by David Blyth
Starring Michael Hurst, Margaret Umbers, William Upjohn, Norelle Scott, Gary Day, David Letch, Bruno Lawrence
Severin Films (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC), Umbrella (Blu-ray & DVD) (Australia R0 HD/PAL) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

The Death Warmed Upfirst gore film unleashed from New Zealand before the Death Warmed Upbreakthrough of Peter Jackson, Death Warmed Up is one of those titles that seemed to pop up on the shelves of every single independent video store in the 1980s thanks to its striking Vestron Video artwork. Cut to some extent almost everywhere outside of New Zealand (with little rhyme or reason for some of the deletions), it has since proven to be a tough one to bring back due to the lack of complete film elements and various restoration issues. However, after a seemingly endless wait, the film has made it back to the marketplace about as well as possible given the circumstances, restoring a key piece of the Down Under horror movie puzzle.

Seven years after spending time in an institution for the shotgun murders of his parents, Michael (Hurst) manages to talk his girlfriend, Sandy (Umbers) and pals Jeannie (Scott) and Lucas (Upjohn) to accompany him on a boat trip to an island that happens to be the tunnel-laden home to a clinic run by the nefarious Dr. Archer Howell (Day). As we know from the long prologue, Howell caught Michael during the dispatching of a colleague and was actually using the young man as a guinea pig for mind control injections that caused him to kill his parents; now Michael's gunning for vengeance. However, he may be outmatched by the results Death Warmed Upof the Death Warmed Updoctor's ongoing experiments in chemically altered slavery that could cost the friends their lives.

Heavily influenced by music videos and the waning punk aesthetic of the early '80s, Death Warmed Up is a blood-soaked, ramshackle oddity with a dark, druggy aesthetic you only find in that particular era up until the time of around Jack Be Nimble (which could also do with an upgrade). Aggressive camera movements and very odd humor were enough to separate this one from the pack at the time, and while it doesn't really work in the sense of any kind of traditional horror film (especially the peculiar final minutes that veer off in an unexpected direction), this is the sort of film that lingers in the memory and manages to perfectly capture the time and place to perfection.

With the negative long gone and usable film elements of any kind missing in action for many years, Death Warmed Up finally made its return to home video first in a Blu-ray and DVD edition from Australia's Umbrella Entertainment and then a virtually identical U.S. one from Severin Films. This is definitely a "they did the best with what they had" case as the only surviving print is the shorter export version version, mostly from that 35mm source with a few brief bits reinstated from lesser material. Obviously it looks much better than what we've had before with nice colors and minimal damage, though detail varies wildly and the darker scenes can get pretty murky and clogged up at times. The DTS-HD MA English 5.1 track (with optional English SDH subtitles) does a respectable job of opening the sound of the film up a bit with the Death Warmed Upmusic getting the brunt of the channel separation Death Warmed Uphere. Also included on the Blu-ray only is the full-length New Zealand cut which runs four minutes longer, while a separate deleted and extended scene reel (15m56s) places them in context for a more in-depth look with optional commentary pointing out the exact bits (sometimes single random shots or lines of dialogue) that got slashed along the way. An audio commentary for the main feature with director David Blyth and writer Michael Heath has some good tidbits about the production about the shooting locations (including the story behind that island), the shooting chronology (with some actors coming a bit late into the shoot), and the attempts to take the time to hang out with and develop the characters more than what they consider (rather questionably) to be typical of the genre. They do tend to fall back into lengthy recitations about the on-screen as well though, so be prepared for that. A 2009 interview with Blyth and Heath (40m1s) covers some of the same material but also provides more background in their friendship and the film's origins as a cryogenics horror project. An interview with actor David Letch (26m31s), who plays "the super nasty Spider" in this "schlock horror," sheds some light on how he was recruited to do this while he was busy with theater work and and ended up having to choose between this and another film, sacrificing a role as Mozart along the way. Finally the disc rounds out with the theatrical trailer, synthy video trailers ("prohibited in Queensland!"), a TV spot, and a huge 107-image gallery of posters, video art, stills, and other odds and ends.


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SEVERIN FILMS (New Zealand Cut)

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Reviewed on May 25, 2019.