Death Warmed Up (1984)


aka Death Warmed Over

New Zealand. 1984.


Director – David Blyth, Screenplay – David Blyth & Michael Heath, Producer – Murray Newey, Photography – James Bartle, Music – Mark Nicholas, Special Effects/Makeup – Kevin Chisnall, Production Design – Michael Glock. Production Company – The Tucker Production Co/The New Zealand Film Commission


Michael Hurst (Michael Tucker), Margaret Umbers (Sandy), William Upjohn (Lucas), Norelle Scott (Jeannie), David Letch (Spider), Gary Day (Dr Archer Howell)


Teenage Michael Tucker is brainwashed by the evil Dr Archer Howell into taking a shotgun and blowing his parents away. Three years later, Michael is released from an asylum. Along with his girlfriend and two other friends, he travels to the offshore island that houses Howell’s Trans Cranial Applications hospital in pursuit of revenge. To get there they must first deal with Howell’s zombie creations and the various crazies loose on the island.

Death Warmed Up has the distinction of being New Zealand’s first horror film. (There was Sam Pillsbury’s dark Gothic The Scarecrow (1982) first but Death Warmed Up was the first full-blooded, genre-identifying horror film). Death Warmed Up was made by David Blyth, an ingénue director who had previously made the interesting-sounding Angel Mine (1977) about suburban kinkiness.

David Blyth was clearly inspired by the cult success of George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1978). There were an enormous number of copies of Dawn of the Dead being made in Italy around this time. When you come down to it, Death Warmed Up is an Italian horror film in tone – the garish lighting effects and experimental camerawork recall Mario Bava and the level of full-guts-ahead energy recalls Lucio Fulci and the numerous Italian Dawn of the Dead copies. The film is highly inventive in its enterprising low-budget and looks and moves far more slickly than many American counterparts on similar budgets. There are some inventively el cheapo costumes and corrugated tin sheet hospital sets that amusingly suggest a New Wave version of The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975).

Death Warmed Up is also a deeply problem ridden film. Particularly noticeable is the absence of anything remotely resembling a plot or rational imposition of narrative. There is no explanation of what Dr Howell is doing or why. The film’s level of energy carries it for two-thirds of the running time before it becomes more and more noticeable – about the point the action arrives at the hospital – that nothing is holding it together. Particularly annoying is the ending that promises a big showdown between hero Michael Hurst and villainous David Letch, which fades out before anything happens and Blyth cuts away to a meaningless epilogue. Blyth sometimes also does not know when to call it a day. The film’s most nauseating and funny scene – a brain operation wherein the medical personnel are splattered – gets a laugh so he repeats it all over a second time. Worst moment is an appalling cameo from Jonathan Hardy as an Indian grocer.

Death Warmed Up served to announce David Blyth’s presence to the world and was well received at various horror festivals, although Blyth has failed to do much since. He went onto direct The Horror Show (1989) for Sean S. Cunningham but was fired a few days in. He next made the interesting medical vampire film Red Blooded American Girl (1990), returned to New Zealand to make the children’s vampire film Grampire/My Grandfather is a Vampire (1992) and then the cable thrillers Red Blooded (1996), unrelated to Red Blooded American Girl, and Exposure (2000), before returning to the horror genre with the confusing deathdream film Wound (2010) and Ghost Bride (2013). Blyth’s only other work has been directing episodes of tv series such as Eerie, Indiana (1991-2) and Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (1993-6), as well as Bound for Pleasure (2002), an interesting documentary for New Zealand tv about BDSM. Among the cast, Norelle Scott has gone onto become an acclaimed playwright and New Zealand tv writer, while Michael Hurst of course became the sidekick Iolaus on Hercules: The Legendary Journeys (1994-9).

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