• Death Warmed Up (Umbrella Entertainment) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Umbrella Entertainment
    Released on: April 3rd, 2019.
    Directed by: David Blyth
    Cast: Michael Hurst, Margaret Umbers, William Upjohn, Ian Watkin, Bruno Lawrence
    Year: 1984
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    Death Warmed Up – Movie Review:

    Touted as the first splatter film from New Zealand, David Blyth’s 1984 film Death Warmed Up starts as the story of two doctors: Ray Tucker (David Weatherley) and Archer Howell (Gary Day). These men have been studying cryogenics with the intentions of prolonging human life and in doing so, come across something far more unusual. Howell wants to continue with the research, while Tucker thinks they’ve gone to far. Howell then uses some sort of wonky mind control on Michael (Michael Hurst), the son of his partner, and uses him to kill both of his parents in a bloody shotgun murder, leaving Howell in complete control of the project. Michael is promptly arrested and locked away in an asylum for a few years.

    Seven years later, Michael is a free man. He and his girlfriend Sandy (Margaret Umbers) and their friends Lucas (William Upjohn) and his girlfriend Jeannie (Norelle Scott) take a ferry to a remote part of New Zealand for a little fun at the beach. The ferryman warns them to stay away from the old World War II tunnels, which instantly means that they’ll wind up in the World War II tunnels at some point, but not before the two guys get into a fight with weirdos named Spider (David Letch) and Spike, who are in the employ of a company called Trans-Cranial Applications. This, of course, all ties back to the opening and to Howell’s experiments, but there’s more to all of this than first meets the eye.

    If you can look past the disjointed aspects of the rather choppy narrative, Death Warmed Up proves to be a lot of fun. It’s filled with quirky and colorful characters, particularly the villains in the film, and it moves at a nice, brisk pace. The New Zealand locations add plenty of nifty charm to the proceedings, there’s a lot of ‘local flavor’ throughout the film, and while it was clearly made on a modest budget the movie is nothing if not ambitious. It makes great use of the tunnels and laboratory locations and in doing so gives the movie a much bigger feel than similarly low budget pictures. The naturally picturesque outdoor locations help here as well.

    The movie also has a pretty twisted sense of humor to it. In addition to having a Caucasian actor (Jonathan Hardy of Mad Max) play an Indian shopkeeper in black face the exaggerated gore has a cartoonish quality to it that is occasionally amusing. The actors that play the villains, David Letch in particular, do a nice job of chewing up a bit of the scenery and the movie is all the better for it.

    Death Warmed Up – Blu-ray Review:

    Umbrella Entertainment presents Death Warmed Up on Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 1.85.1 and derived from a scan of the only known existing 35mm elements with a couple of shots inserted from a tape source. Outdoor scenes look pretty good, all things considered, with nice colors and a reasonable amount of fine detail. The darker scenes, of which there are many, don’t fare as well. They’re not very well lit and as such, detail disappears into the frame. That said, this is very much a case of doing what you can with the elements available. Will this win transfer of the year? Unlikely, but it’s watchable and given how the film has looked in the past on home video – murky, tape sourced transfers with no detail at all – it’s a substantial upgrade.

    The English language audio track, which is presented in DTS-HD 5.1 sounds pretty solid. There are some fun directional effects noticeable throughout het film, the underground motorcycle chase in the tunnel being a prime example, while dialogue stays pretty much entirely upfront in the mix. There aren’t any problems with any hiss or distortion and while a few spots sound a tad thing, the track is generally pretty solid. Optional subtitles are offered up in English only.

    Extras start off with an audio commentary with director David Blyth and writer Michael Heath. There are some interesting tidbits scattered throughout the track but they have a tendency to simply describe the action that we can already see for ourselves on the screen. There’s some speculation as to some of the motivations that we see early on in the film regarding Michael’s character and some talk about plot holes alongside the expect topics like casting the picture, budget, effects work and locations. They also talk about what got trimmed out of the version we see here, how it happened and why it matters.

    From there, check out I'll Get You All, a twenty-seven-minute interview with the man who played Spider in the film, actor David Letch. He starts by talking about how he got the part and had to give up the chance to play Mozart in a live theater version of Amadeus to take it. He explains why he did this and then goes on to talk about what it was like working with Blyth and producer Murray Newey, he talks about the black face scene in the movie, rehearsing some of his lines, the makeup job he had to undergo, and an amusing anecdote about an obsessed Japanese fan! The disc also includes a forty-minute interview featurette with David Blyth and Michael Heath wherein they share some of the same stories that they cover in the commentary. They also talk about their own feelings on the film and the status that it has attained over the years.

    The disc also contains the ‘Original New Zealand 4x3 VHS cut’ which runs 79:44 compared to the 78:53 running time of the Blu-ray version. It obviously looks a little rougher than the restored version and the frame rate here is incorrect, but it’s interesting to see what was chopped out of the film – if it was all sex and gore footage it would make sense from a censorial point of view but that isn’t the case here, there isn’t an obvious reason for some of the trims. The missing material is also available to watch on its on in a fifteen-minute featurette that presents the missing clips in context and with optional commentary from Blyth and Heath who seem rightly puzzled as to what happened and why.

    Rounding out the extras on the disc are the film’s original theatrical trailer, a pair of VHS trailers, a TV spot, a rather massive still gallery, animated menus and chapter selection. Severin has also supplied some great reversible cover art for this release.

    Note that the domestic Severin Films release mirrors this disc from Umbrella save for the frame rate on the VHS version (which was corrected on the Severin disc where it runs 83:04).

    Death Warmed Up – The Final Word:

    Death Warmed Up is a lot of good, gory fun. It is both fast paced and entertaining and the cast are clearly having a good time here. The Blu-ray release does a decent job with some dicey elements but the surround mix is solid and the extras are excellent. Recommended.

    Click on the images below for full sized Death Warmed Up Blu-ray screen caps!