Death Warmed Up
Director: David Blyth
Stars: Michael Hurst, Margaret Umbers, William Upjohn
G’day Mate! Moving onto disc 5 of the Pure Terror DVD set, this next movie is the 1984 Australian horror film Death Warmed Up. It’s story isn’t anything too special, its visual style only offers a scant few good moments and it would be just a pretty typical and forgetable movie. However there is a uniqueness to Death Warmed Over that I just can’t pin down. I’m going to simply assume that it’s this movie’s down-under origin that gives it such a sense of individuality and plucky intrigue.
For me, part of the joy in watching a foreign film is learning about that culture and the people of that country. While reading a book about that place is probably a better option and actually visiting that country even better – there is still a great mixture of entertainment and education offered up in any foreign film. Outside of the Mad Max movies and a handful of Peter Weir films, I’ve not been greatly exposed to Aussie cinema. The few things I knew about this country were basically:
- Australia and Austria are NOT the same thing
- A baby kangaroo is called a Joey
- Foster’s is actually not “Australian for beer.” “Beer” is Australian for “Beer.”
- Australia has pretty beaches.
So here are the new things about Australia I’ve learned, or perhaps made incorrect assumptions about, from watching this Australian film.
1. Mad Scientists are a Pretty Commonplace Thing
Death Warmed Over tells the story of a young man, Michael Tucker. His father, Professor Tucker, works for a medical research company. Michael shows up just in time to see the professor getting into an argument with a colleague, Dr. Archer Howell, about recent experiments with immortality. Professor Tucker is pointing out that Howell’s experiments are insane, that he’s destroyed the lives of so many rats there’s no way they will approve his experiments for use on humans. Howell launches into some lunatic ramble about how “We will become the new Gods of this world!” He even tries to kill Tucker while saying something like: “How dare you interfere with my DESTINY!” Michael watches all of this and is absolutely unmoved. He watches this psychotic doctor ramble about a new world order with the same lack of reaction that an average person watches a game of golf.
Later, Michael bumps into Dr. Howell in the hallway. Howell points out that Michael looks pretty sweaty and says, “Why don’t you take a shower?” Michael casually agrees. People outside of Australia would react with: “No way! You’re CRAZY!” Instead, Michael just takes a shower without a care in the world and is actually suprised when Dr. Howell attacks him in the shower, injects him with drugs, ties him to a chair Hostel-style and starts brainwashing him. Dr. Howell starts his own psychiatric clinic where he cuts open people’s skulls, messes with their brains and starts creating his own army of zombies. Nobody really reacts to this. Their reaction is basically, “oh, that guy with the zombies. That’s just what he does.”
The impression this gives me is that Australia has so many mad scientists that crazy things like this have become such an incidental and every day occurance. There is plenty of mad science going on in the world today. Scientists at Johns Hopkins have created Super Monkeys, scientists in Pittsburgh have developed Robo-Monkeys and scientists in Tel Aviv have created Cyborg Rats. While my reaction has been “OMG! Rat-Borgs! The Human race is doomed!” I have the feeling that a typical Aussie would say: “Cyborg rats? That’s nothing. There’s a fellow in Perth who’s been trying for years to take over the world with his army of sword-wielding mutant koala ninjas. We all just laugh at him.”
2. There Are No Zombies Down Under – Just Sick People
The title of the movie, Death Warmed Up or Death Warmed Over as the movie alternatively goes by both titles, refers to a common phrase used to describe people who look a bit under the weather. During the movie’s prologue, for instance, Professor Tucker’s wife tells her exhausted and ill husband, “Honey, you look like death warmed up. Get some sleep.” There are plenty of brain dead and ghoulish looking zombies wandering about in this film, but they’re not really creatures from beyond the grave; they’re just some sick folk.
After attacking Michael Tucker in the shower, Dr. Howell brainwashes the boy and forces him to murder his own family. When I say brainwash here, I literally mean that he removed the brain from Micheal’s skull and messed around with it. Michael looks every bit like a lobotomized person; he staggers around with his eyes rolling and mouth half open and droll falling down his chin. When he goes into his parents room with a shotgun, the Tucker elders reaction is: “Oh Michael, you look like death warmed up.” He blasts them both with the shotgun and then, for some unknown reason, shoots the lamp. Michael is admitted to a mental hospital but, seven years later, he’s cured. “Zombie” is not a permanent status it would seen. All the mutilated synapses in his brain just grew back on their own – in Australia, brain cells can regenerate!
3. Australia is NOT an Island
Australia is the smallest continent but it is also called the largest island in the world. Of course the dictionary definition of the word “island” is “a body of land completely surrounded by water.” By that too-broad definition though, the largest island in the world would be the gigantic mass of land that makes up Europe, Asia and Africa. Heck, Paul Simon sings “I am a rock, I am an island,” and he’s not in the middle of the ocean.
What I really mean to say though, is that I’ve learned there are other islands off the coasts of Australia. Everyone probably knows about Tasmania, but there are several other smaller islands that I’m sure a lot of people outside of Australia didn’t even know existed. As Death Warmed Up brings its audience up to speed on what’s happened in the 7 years after the prologue, that Dr. Howell set up his own mental institution on an island. My first reaction was: “But he was already ON an island – Australia.”
Actually, Dr. Howell now lives on a little island off the coast that I never knew existed. The characters all get there via ferry and it seems like a nice little place. The island is scenic, has some sort of historic World War 2 monument and there’s even a quaint little fishing village with a market run by a nice Indian man. Sure the zombies who escape from Dr. Howell’s facility wander the island and kill the random person but I’ve already brought up how Australia reacts to the antics of mad scientists. Now, as for the little Indian man who runs the market…
4. Australians Can Be Every Bit as Racist as the Rest of the World
This Indian fellow is Ranji Gandhi and he is the MOST over-the-top and racially insensitive portryal of an Indian store owner I’ve ever seen. He makes Apu from *The Simpsons seem like an average white suburbanite. He is all Vishnu and curry as he bows and assists Dr. Howell and his friend when they come in to place an order. Now, this is what Dr. Howell orders:
Dr. Howell: Ranji, I would like a fish, an elephant, five pounds of chips and twelve pineapple fritters.
Ranji: Yes Doctor Howell. A fish, an elephant, five pounds of chips, Vishnu’s blessing Dr. Howell and TWELVE PINEAPPLE FRITTERS!
At this last request Ranji starts to freak out for a moment. He runs into the kitchen and yells to his wife. “Honey Honey! Hurry. We need twelve pineapple fritters. Good Doctor Howell wants TWELVE PINEAPPLE FRITTERS!” Now hold on just a damn minute – what about the elephant? Ranji just jotted down an order for an elephant without batting an eye but “Holy Shit! How are we going to come up with twelve pineapple fritters?!” I would hate to think that Australia offers up such a plentiful bounty of elephants than anyone can just drop in at the market and grab one without a thought. I’d rather think that Ranji already knows that Dr. Howell is screwing with him and, like any Australian, just brushes it off: “Oh, goofy mad scientists.”
On top of this. Ranji is also one of the zombies created by Dr. Howell. There is a moment when Ranji is overcome with a brief fit of zombieism to which he says “Oh Shiva – another mystical experience.” He then starts to dance and sing, in the familiar strains of any given Bollywood song: “Mystical experience. Mystical Experience.”
5. Never Piss on an Australian Man’s Vehicle
After his release from the mental hospital, Michael Tucker heads to theis nameless island to get his revenge. For some reason he takes along his girlfriend Sandy as well as their constantly fornicating friends Lucas and Jeannie. While on the ferry ride to the island, Lucas stops next to a van from the hospital and pees on the tire. The van’s two occupants step outside and, before one of them even finishes shouting: “Hey, mate, you pissin’ on my van?” An epic fight commences. What a brutal fight it is. Every hit looks real and looks like it hurts. You can hear the crack of bone and tearing of sinew. It’s intense and one of the better scenes in the whole film.
It doesn’t stop there, however, and the “you pissed on my van,” vengance carries all the way to the island. After a cra chase that ends with the van driver screaming: “I’ll get you!” the gang explores some tunnels on the island. It’s in these tunnels that the van driver and his buddy ride in on motorcycles and start tormenting the tourists. This is another moment of the movie that is exciting and intense. It’s shot great, with the bare red lights of the tunnel being the only light and a constant and alarming soundtrack adding to the tension. During this fight, Jeannine sustains a severe head injury and the van driver’s buddy is disemboweled.
This vengance reaches a climax when the van driver returns to the mental institution and releases all of Dr. Howell’s zombies to help him in this quest. When the local pub owner hears of the impending zombei attack he does NOT say: “Oh holy hell it’s the zombie apocalypse!” His reaction to this is simply: “Really? Again? Better lock the door I guess.” When the zombies do arrive, the pub ownder goes outside and tells them: “Come on, guys, now calm down.”
In the end, this vengance claims the lives of nearly everyone involved. Both Michael’s vendetta against Dr. Howell as well as the van driver seeking justive for the wet spot aove the rear tirewell. Moral = never piss on an Aussie’s ride.
6. Australian Men Should Never Grow Facial Hair
There are consequences. Most of the cast are smooth faced Aussie boys and girls and, with the exception of the occasional mad scientist or passionate seeker of justice, they’re all pretty normal and well-adjusted people. It’s the ones with beards and mustaches you have to worry about. Ranji the store owner has a mustache and I’ve already gone over his quirkiness. But then there’s this guy:
The lecherous burping and barfing hunchback on the ferry. He’s got a scraggly beard of sparse and unkempt hair. Most of the film he’s lying on the floor vomiting all over himself and screaming about “THE PAIN!” The reaction from his peers is just: “Well, you shouldn’t have let Dr. Howell make you one of his zombie folk.” Eventually, the hunchback drags himself to the mental hospital to get some help but it’s too late. His head explodes. Why? Because he grew a beard.
The hate-fueled van driver has no beard, but his friend is a different story. Like the unfortunate hunchback, he’s one of Dr. Howell’s bearded zombies. Like the hunchback, he spends most of the movie wallowing in misery, vomiting and complaining that “I don’t feel so good,” before his guts spill out of his body.
When the zombie army is finally released, guess what… THEY ALL HAVE BEARDS! It gets to a point where if any unshaven character shows up, you KNOW that they’re not going to meet a happy end. It feels so deliberate, as if the filmmaker was purposefully making a statement about facial hair on Australian gentlemen. There is a moment, towards the film’s climax, where one of these zombie folk catches on fire. He rolls around on the ground, bathed in flame before dying. One has to wonder if it was the filmmaker’s intention to deliver a message that this would not have happened if the guy didn’t have a face covered in kindling for a brush fire.
And that is pretty much all there is to say about the film *Death Warmed Over. It’s actually not too bad of a movie and offers up a few fun moments. However there are not enough of these good moments to allow the movie stand up on its own – which is why it now languishes in obscurity on a discount DVD set. It’s not one of the best movies on this pack nor is it one of the worst – it’s just sort of average. It entertains for about 90 minutes and then is quickly forgotten about because it didn’t offer anything truly memorable enough to make a lasting impression.