Death Warmed Up (1984)

I can watch good movies…I just usually don’t.

Death Warmed Up (AKA Death Warmed Over) is an early New Zealand splatterfilm, coming out in 1984. While it would lack the humor of later New Zealand splatter releases, this is exactly the kind of thing that Peter Jackson was watching when he started working on films like Braindead (Dead Alive to us Americans) and Bad Taste. There’s a little sex, there’s a fair bit of gore, and there’s a whole lot of screaming and darkness.

Michael Tucker is a good kid, but he’s an unfortunate pawn in a battle between his father and a rival scientist, Dr. Howell, who believes he has found a way to cure death through a cranial transplant. Howell is more than a little nuts, so he drugs Tucker and hypnotizes him into killing his parents with a shotgun. Tucker spends 7 years in a mental institute, and when he gets out, he’s hellbent on revenge. But Howell has spent the last 7 years doing brain implants on a remote island that he controls, and now he has all manner of hot nurses, freaky mutations, and messed up psycho hillbillies to do his bidding.

This film is quite short, clocking in at only 85 minutes in its full version(and 78 in the butchered UK release which cuts out some of the violence and gore). And while it starts with the lead up to the murder, the middle section is a little strange as Tucker travels to the island with three friends and they explore and piss off the locals. This middle section is the weakest part, but things begin to improve once the kids sneak into the island’s extensive sewer tunnels and discover the mutations in the lab. One of the kids gets hurt, one of the hicks gets killed, and the other hick declares he will have his revenge and releases the mutants on the island. Murder and mayhem ensue, as folks get burned, blown up, stabbed, scissored, axed, electrocuted, and so on to death.

This is a dark, depressing movie. The middle section may be the weakest part, but it’s also supposed to be the one that lightens the mood, and it doesn’t really work as it is sandwiched between two sections of darkness and shocking levels of violence and gore. This film is much more despairing than other Kiwi splatters, and to make matters worse, its pointed out that even worse horrors await the near future following the film’s end. There are more people out there who received the surgery that will inevitably turn them into murderous mutants, and it’s only a matter of time before they breakdown and run wild. One of the final lines is Tucker declared to his screaming girlfriend, “It’s only beginning,” right after she claims the violence is over. The movie then proves his words by killing off the anti-hero lead in a freak accident. Such nihilism in a film where scientists attempt to play God and conquer death.

Did I like it? Yeah, I actually thought it was pretty cool. I do think Kiwi and Aussie fashion in the 1980s was a bit odd, but overall, what a gloomy movie.  It’s exactly what I wanted.

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