When you think of New Zealand horror films, particularly of the splatter variety, you of course think of Peter Jackson's Dead Alive and Bad Taste, or more recently Jason Lei Howden's Deathgasm. However, if you take a trip back to 1984, before both Dead Alive (aka Braindead) and Bad Taste, you'll find the possible inspiration for those two films with Death Warmed Up, a micro-budget flick from director David Blyth (Angel Mine). Haven't heard of it? That's quite understandable, as the film barely made a dent theatrically in the United States and had to be heavily censored for release. Of course, the film has developed a cult following over the years among horror fans, and now thanks to Umbrella Entertainment, you can watch it fully uncut on Blu-ray!
Touted as the first splatter film released in New Zealand, Death Warmed Up starts off with doctors Ray Tucker (David Weatherley) and Archer Howell (Gary Day), who have been studying cryogenics with the intentions of prolonging human life. Howell however, begins taking things too far, experimenting on dead bodies in the hopes of bringing them back to life, and Tucker refuses to be a part of it. In order to prevent being outed, Howell uses a mind control drug of sorts on Michael (Michael Hurst), Tucker's son, and orders him to kill both of his parents in a brutal shotgun murder, which leaves Howell in complete control of the project. Michael is arrested and locked away in an insane asylum for years.
We fast forward to seven years later and Michael is released. He convinces his girlfriend Sandy (Margaret Umbers) and their friends, Lucas (William Upjohn) and his girlfriend Jeannie (Norelle Scott), to take a trip to a remote part of New Zealand for some quality time at the beach. Of course, the ferryman warns the group to stay away from the old World War II tunnels, which means they'll end up at those World War II tunnels eventually, but not before having a run in with two weirdos named Spider (David Letch) and Spike, who are employees of a company called Trans-Cranial Applications. This all ties in with the opening of the film and Howell's twisted experiments, but there's more than meets the eye here and Dr. Howell is about to have a deadly visitor...
With Death Warmed Up, director David Blyth offers up something so illogical and relentless that it’s nearly impossible to ignore, and if you can look past the lack of backstory in regards to Dr. Archer Howell’s medical experiments and a rather disjointed narrative, then you should be able to thoroughly enjoy this film. Fortunately, Death Warmed Up features more positive aspects than negative. It's brimming with quirky, vibrant characters, especially the villains, and it doesn't waste time in getting to the gory good stuff. Speaking of which, if gore is your jam, then you’re in for a real treat! Head explosions, knife killings, impalements, and an open brain surgery that looks so disgustingly realistic it'll satisfy even the most seasoned gore-hound, are just a few examples of the well-executed practical effects you'll have the pleasure of witnessing during your time with Death Warmed Up. And clocking in at just under eighty minutes, this film never overstays its welcome.
But it doesn't stop with just the blood and gore, the film's visuals do a phenomenal job with setting and maintaining the overall foreboding tone of the film, particularly in the tunnel and laboratory locales, both of which give the film a much bigger feel than similarly low budget pictures. The picturesque New Zealand landscapes help here as well. Death Warmed Up also has a pretty twisted sense of humor to it as well, as the exaggerated gore carries an over-the-top, somewhat slapstick quality, with blood spray being the punchline. Jonathan Hardy of Mad Max fame also makes an appearance as an Indian shopkeeper in black face. Performance wise the cast are very solid in their respective roles, with David Letch in particular, doing a superb job of chewing up a bit of the scenery. Additionally, the film gains major points for its driving synth soundtrack.
As I've mentioned on numerous occasions in the past, Umbrella Entertainment has really come into their own with these transfers, and this release is no exception. Death Warmed Up is presented in a 1080 progressive widescreen, with the transfer for this release being supervised by David Blyth from the only existing elements. The source used for this transfer is in great shape, as colors are vibrant, details are crisp and black levels remain balanced throughout with a healthy amount of grain. The release features two audio options, a DTS-HD 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD, and includes optional English subtitles. Both audio tracks are in great shape, with dialogue coming through clearly, and everything sounding balanced and full-bodied where it should.
Such is the case with all of their Blu-ray releases, Umbrella has packaged Death Warmed Up with a multitude of extras. First up, an audio commentary with David Blyth and Michael Heath offers up details on the origins of the film, the cast, filming locations, the use of humor, lasting thoughts on the film, and many other facts that offer insight into the creation of the film. Next up is an exclusive featurette titled "I'll Get You All: Interview with actor David Letch," in which Letch reflects on his experience playing the role of Spider, on set memories, negative critic reactions, and obsessive fans. There are a handful of deleted/missing scenes with optional audio commentary that offers up some background info on each scene. The disc also contains the "Original New Zealand 4x3 VHS Cut" which runs slightly longer than the Blu-ray version. It obviously looks a bit rougher than the restored version, but it's interesting to see what was removed from the film in comparison while also offering something nice for fans seeking a nostalgic touch. An interview with Blyth and Heath covers much of the same ground in the audio commentary. Rounding out the extras on the disc are the film’s original theatrical trailer, a pair of VHS trailers, a TV spot, and a still gallery.
If you crave cinematic chaos, blood and guts, and total insanity, look no further than Death Warmed Up! Even though the film lacks narrative substance, there's no denying that it's a truly bizarre experience that's sure to please any fan of the horror genre. Yet another highly recommended release from Umbrella Entertainment!