Release Date(s)1984 (April 30, 2019)
Studio(s)Tucker Production Company/New Zealand Film Commission/Skouras Pictures (Severin Films)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: B-
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: B
Before Peter Jackson achieved (in his own way) international stardom with splatter movie classics like Bad Taste and Dead Alive (aka Braindead), another New Zealand filmmaker named David Blyth helmed a more controversial and less initially beloved horror film called Death Warmed Up. Barely making a dent theatrically in the United States, it was also a home video favorite amongst cult horror fans, particular for its Re-Animator-ish style of artwork.
In the film, a young man named Michael is kidnapped by a Doctor Howell who performs brain surgery experiments on him. Afterwards, Michael takes a shotgun into his home and kills his parents. Locked up in an asylum for a number of years, Michael is finally released. With a new girlfriend named Sandy on his arm and a couple of their close friends, they explore the New Zealand countryside together. Meanwhile, Doctor Howell has been busy, operating on a number of new victims, all with various deformities and mutations. Under the guise of going out to have a good time, Michael is now dead set on finding Doctor Howell and taking his revenge on him, but only if he can make his way through the doctor’s collection of murderous monsters.
Censored in various forms the world over, Death Warmed Up has long been unavailable due to a lack of salvageable film elements. Oddly enough, the 3 to 4 minutes that were trimmed have almost nothing to do with the film’s grisly content (in most territories anyway). Graphic scenes of brain surgery as well as multiple stabbings and exploding grey matter were left relatively unscathed. Minor snippets of plot and character development were cut instead, including some connective tissue in the beginning of the film that sets everything in motion, making the alterations feel more nonsensical than usual.
As for the film as a whole, it’s your standard “teens looking to have a good time fall into horror and government-related shenanigans” – at least at the outset. However, in this case, it’s actually very well shot. Offering a variety of colors and environments, in addition to some fine performances, its low budget does not hamper its scope or its look, which may be why critics were so taken aback by it when it was originally released. For fans of The Evil Dead and the Mad Max series, there’s lots of content, grisly and otherwise, worth digging into here. It’s a slightly choppy, but effective science fiction horror film nonetheless.
Essentially a carbon copy of the Umbrella Entertainment Blu-ray released in Australia, Severin Films’ stateside Blu-ray features the same new HD master. Unfortunately, the original film elements were accidentally destroyed long ago, meaning that what’s been assembled here has been taken from an archival 35mm print, complete with a couple of additions taken from a low grade workprint and an uncut PAL VHS release of the film (all of it supervised by director David Blyth himself). Confusing things even further, this version runs 79 minutes, whereas the original uncut version ran around 83 minutes. Why a composite version utilizing the PAL VHS was not created seems like a missed opportunity, especially since it’s all that’s available at this juncture (unless an uncut print can eventually be located). It makes more sense than what’s presented here, which is only 2 or 3 shots added back to a still trimmed version of the film.
Regardless, the overall picture quality of this version is quite serviceable. It’s definitely not a sharp, pristine presentation loaded with extreme fine detail, but it appears natural and film-like (aside from the lower quality additions, of course). The color palette is likely its greatest strength, which showcases a range of colors, including natural locations like the beach or wooded areas, and during the tunnel sequence which features Bava-esque uses of primaries and secondaries for effect. Blacks are often crushed, but contrast is good, and everything appears stable. Some leftover damage is apparent, including scratches, speckling, and even a few frame splices.
The audio is presented in English 5.1 DTS-HD with optional subtitles in English SDH. This is actually a remix of the original soundtrack which wasn’t exploited for this release. The film doesn’t warrant having all of these extra channels of audio, but it does take advantage of them when given the opportunity. Directional sound effects and atmosphere have been added, and the score has been expanded, giving dialogue exchanges more room to breathe. It clearly sounds like a repurposed track as some of the elements are still vintage, but it’s surprisingly strong. There are also no leftover instances of distortion or dropouts to speak of either.
The extras for this release are exactly the same as those found on the Umbrella Entertainment Blu-ray. They include an audio commentary with director David Blyth and writer Michael Heath; I’ll Get You All... David Letch on Death Warmed Up, a 27-minute interview with the actor; 40 minutes of interviews from 2009 with David Blyth and Michael Heath; 16 minutes of those aforementioned missing scenes with optional audio commentary by Blyth and Heath; the original 83-minute uncut version, which was released on VHS and DVD in New Zealand in a 4:3 transfer; the U.S. theatrical trailer, the Australian and Japanese home video trailers; a U.S. TV spot; an image gallery containing 132 stills of posters, home video artwork, promotional artwork, promo booklets, production stills, behind-the-scenes stills, and newspaper clippings; and an Easter egg, which is found by pressing right when the I’ll Get You All interview is selected and will take you to an additional 6-minute interview snippet with David Letch.
Restored to the best of everyone’s ability, Death Warmed Up is an obscure but welcome surprise that horror fans are bound to appreciate. Severin Films’ release offers up a nice bounty of bonus material, as well as a decent transfer, making it an essential upgrade for those still clutching their Vestron Video VHS copies of the film.
– Tim Salmons