Brain Salad Surgery… DEATH WARMED UP, Reviewed.

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BD. Severin. Region Free. Unrated.

“We’ve got an emergency here… a break out of psycho patients!”

Mad scientists…. a crazy bunch of bastards! Am I right or am I right? From Frankenstein to Moreau, Butcher to Dolittle, they’ve actually done very little to improve the human condition (which is generally their professed intention), more often than not opening up unprecedented vistas of dystopian degradation while trying. To be fair to Dr D, inter-species communication has proved to be a real boon but there’s always an exception to prove the rule and the rule, reasserted in spades in David Blyth’s Kiwisploitation epic Death Warmed Up (1984), is that disregard of medical ethics, no matter how lofty the reasoning behind it, bears catastrophic fruit, often in the form of psychotic survivors of speculative brain surgery running amok…

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Here, self proclaimed medical messiah Dr Howell (Gary Day) has decided to extend his surgical experiments on rats’ brains to human beings, confident that he can “make Death obsolete”. Pointing out the worrying side effects of these procedures (which will become all too painfully obvious as the plot unwinds), his colleague Professor Tucker (David Weatherley) demurs. Incensed by such lily-livered shilly-shallying, Howell brainwashes Tucker’s son Michael (Michael Hurst), by unspecified means, into going home and blasting Mom and Dad away with a shotgun (just as they were settling down to an agreeable spot of middle aged-nookie… he could at least have let Mom and Dad finish, out of simple courtesy!)

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Several years later Michael is released from the high security booby hatch to which he had, not unreasonably, been confined. He seems to have picked up the pieces of his life admirably well. While he looked even sillier than Angus Young as a schoolboy assassin, the grown up, bleached blond Michael more closely resembles Rutger Hauer in Blade Runner… quite the cool dude. He’s got a foxy girlfriend, Sandy (Margaret Umbers, whose swimwear stylings will interest all serious students of bactrian podiatry) and two great mates, Lucas (William Upjohn) and Jeannie (Norelle Scott). Together they embark on a happy-go-lucky holiday trip to a remote island but instead of sun, sand and sex, his friends are in for death, destruction and dismemberment… Michael forgot to mention that their destination is the location of Dr Howell’s Institute for Trans Cranial Applications, where he’s heading with vengeance uppermost in his damaged brain. As “luck” would have it, the Doc’s pissed-off patients start kicking off just as they arrive and Michael must fight his way through a horde of mutilation-bent mutants –  led by the relentless Spider (David Letch) – en route to the climactic confrontation with his Nemesis…

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“I’ll get you, you bastards!”

Over the Tasman Sea, Australian censors did’t get this film’s punk rock / comic book aesthetic of OTT outrage and Death Warmed Up found itself banned on the grounds of “excessive violence” (nowadays they’d probably be more worried about its stereotypical “comic” depiction of a Sub-Continental convenience store propreitor). Whatever, Peter Jackson obviously managed a squint at it, as cursory examination of his early gore trilogy eloquently testifies (thankfully David Blythe never made the jump to mega-budgeted muppet monstrosities). On account of this obvious influence, DWU has latterly been hailed as some kind of trailblazer for Antipodean atrocity, though it obviously owes its own debt to George Miller’s Mad Max I and II. Its sub-Blake’s 7 production design also brings to mind (to my twisted mind, anyway) that 1979 Lee Cooper commercial with the Gary Numan music…

… and of course Blyth’s cautionary tale of medical missteps would make for a tasty double bill viewed alongside Anthony Balch’s uproarious Horror Hospital (1973, below).

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Extras include interviews with David “Spider” Letch (who comes across as a benign, avuncular figure now that his eyebrows have grown back) and a double header with director Blyth and writer Michael Heath. Those two also provide optional audio commentaries to the main feature and also a reel of (sometimes mysteriously) deleted footage. As well as the expected trailers and TV spots, you can also watch original NZ 4×3 VHS cut, should you choose to do so. My copy came in an attractive slip case featuring the original poster art work by King of Quad, Graham Humphreys.

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The main feature is a bit grainy and there are some sonic imperfections but what do you expect, given the provenance of this picture… I mean, how slick do you want your Punk Rock, anyway?

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