Halloween Horror 50 for 31: Death Warmed Up

October 3, 2012 at 6:43 pm Leave a comment

50 for 31 returns this October. I dive right back into the Pure Terror box set, hoping to finish it off this year. Thankfully, my first movie isn’t a Spanish horror movie, which most of the movies in this set are. Instead we go to New Zealand for 1984’s Death Wqrmed Up. This movie lacks any of the genius of Peter Jackson’s early work but I think it’s in the same spirit.


Death Warmed Up is about Michael, a young man brainwashed through injection, forced to kill his parents, then locked away in an asylum for seven years. When he gets out, he wants revenge on the mad scientist who brainwashed him. Our Mad Scientist was a colleague of Michael’s father and they didn’t see eye to eye on the subject of immortality. A rock simple plot, how could it possibly end up so convoluted? Good question. In fact, I am still asking myself what the hell happened in this movie and why.


Not to be a negative person, I will start of with what I liked about the movie. The cinematography was fairly solid through out. A lot of thought was put into shot selection, lighting, editing, and camera directions. As a whole, the movie feels more like a DP’s reel than a fully flushed out film. The gore effects were well done too. It’s not always flawless, like one part were I couldn’t tell whether a man was turning into a werewolf or a zombie. Or another scene were I could have sworn a girl was going to turn into a zombie and attack her friends in the car. Turns out she was just really green in the face for some reason and nothing came of this not twist. By and large though, the special effects really are the high spots of the movie and probably the whole reason the film was made.


Now for the bad part. I don’t know where to begin. We start off with Michael running, for some reason, to a hospital. We never find out why. He witnesses two scientists, name are never dropped, arguing about the finer points of immortality. Good scientist says its wrong. Mad scientist starts roughing up the good scientist to get his point across. We don’t find out until later on that the Good Scientist was Michael’s father, I think. Maybe. Either way, Mad Scientist, I think, catches up with Michael and offers him a shower, which Michael is all to happy to accept. While in the shower, in a very uncomfortable scene, Mad Scientist sneak up behind Michael and sticks him with a needle. This injection apparently was enough to put Michael under mind control. His parents, in the meantime, watch a press conference on tv from their home where it’s announced our two scientists will receive a humanitarian award. Mad Scientist takes this occasion to tell the audience that no one can stop him and they are all fools. Certainly those comments will be hard to explain at the awards ceremony. We never make it that far because Michael bursts in and execute his parents with a shot gun. Just for fun he takes a few extra shots at the walls and a lamp after the deed is done. Was that part of the brainwashing? This is only the first 15 minutes or so of the movie and it goes down hill from here.


Michael gets out after seven years. It turns out the Mad Scientist has his own island were he experiments on the mentally ill. Who else would you give the gift of immortality to than a mental patient? Maybe this is how Michael Myers came to be. A methodical killing machine of pure evil is the perfect candidate for immortality experiments. Michael travels to this island to seek out revenge, which I don’t question. But he decides to bring his girlfriend and another friendly couple with him. What for? The pretense is a vacation in which they will explore some tunnels dug out during World War II. Michael knows thats bullshit though, so why did he invite them to come along on his quest for revenge? They never factor into his plan. In fact, he doesn’t seem to have a plan. At all. He gets two of his friends killed and his girlfriend traumatized for life, for absolutely no reason. He could have left them at home and it would have been the same movie, minus a couple of meaningless scenes. Generally, if your going to include people in your revenge plans, first you should have a revenge plan, then you should clue them in on it at some point before your on an island full of mutant mental patients, on the loose, thirsty for blood.

Another strength of the film is it’s use of locations and set piece. The problem is, they seem like they could be the center piece for a much stronger movie. Also, without context, these scenes lack the impact they could have had in a superior movie. When a group of mental patients are let loose and wreck havoc on the island, Michael, his girlfriend, and his best friend are trapped in a bar, while the other girl is locked in a car outside. This premise could have carried a good chunk of the movie. The barkeep warns about what happened the last time they got loose and he is the only person who adds any kind of tension to the scene. Tension that isn’t paid off because the asylum employees show up with stun guns and rescue the group from impending doom. Then they kidnap Michael and his friends, taking them to the hospital, which is where they wanted to go anyway. The girl trapped in the car acted like she was dying and losing her mind when all she suffered was a nasty gash on the forehead. Instead of turning into a bloodthirsty, crazed mutant, which is what you would expect based on how she is acting, she gets burned alive through her own stupidity. Unexpected, yes, but it made no sense considering what they were building up in most of her scenes.


And that’s the biggest problem with movie. Nothing has context. Most of the character’s actions aren’t based on any kind of motivation. The story could be summed up in four or five scenes, with the rest being filler. Death Warmed Up is just a bunch of stuff that happened for reasons that are unclear. This might make for some decent make up effects and camera angles, but it doesn’t make for good storytelling.


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