Dead Heat (1988)
|You Can't Keep a Good Cop Dead
I'm a child of the 80s, and as such, you might be expecting
some clever opening about how Dead Heat was always
one my childhood favorites and that it has always held a
special place in this long-decayed heart of mine. Well I
could do that, but I'd by lying. The fact is, I had no idea
this movie even existed until a few months before its release
on DVD. I never saw it in theaters when it came out in 1988,
and by the looks of its box office receipts I wasn't the
only one that missed it (ahem). I was only 11 back then
and it was an R-rated film after all, so there's my excuse.
How it escaped my keen horror radar in the following 16
years is a complete mystery, however. You'd think that I
would have caught it some late night on television or on
video at least once in all those years, but Dead Heat
proved as elusive for me as a successful movie career did
to Joe Piscopo.
While Joe Piscopo may not have had a stellar career in movies,
as soon as I found out that he was in Dead Heat and
that the film is billed as half “buddy cop comedy”
and half “zombie horror”, that’s all I
needed to hear. I was sold. I’ve been a fan of his
since his Saturday Night Live days hamming it up with Eddie
Murphy. In a rare move for me, I bought the DVD without
even having seen the movie. My instincts proved correct
once again as I found out that zombies plus Joe Piscopo
equals comedy gold! Actually, gold might be overstating
it. Comedy silver? Maybe. At the very least, Dead Heat
is pure comedy bronze!
Detectives Roger Mortis and Doug Bigelow (note the comedic
subtlety of the names) are walking, talking police partner
stereotypes. Roger (Treat Williams) plays the straight man…all
calm, cool, and collected. Doug (Joe Piscopo) is his wisecracking,
loose cannon of a partner.
Called to a jewel heist in progress, Roger and Doug join
the fracas as two thieves with Uzis (the movie has no shortage
of these) unload on what appears to be the entire Los Angeles
Police Department as they’re exiting the store with
the goods. Roger and Doug, along with the rest of the good
guys unload back with a flurry of gunfire, only to see the
thieves take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’.
How can these thieves survive such a barrage? That’s
the million-dollar question. Doug quips, “Maybe they’re
just flesh wounds”, but oh if were only that simple.
The thieves aren’t dying because they’re already
dead! It looks like someone in town is resurrecting the
criminal element and using the zombies to do their dirty
work. It takes a grenade and a well-placed sedan to the
midsection to finally dispatch the two undead evildoers,
and detectives Mortis and Bigelow begin their investigation
into just who might be behind this bizarre new crime wave.
It wouldn’t be a buddy cop movie without the mandatory
dressing down from the captain scene. You’ve seen
a hundred of them I’m sure, it’s the usual stuff.
Despite the fact that the perps had taken out at least half
a dozen cops, there’s still too much damage to property,
they should have done it by the book, blah, blah, blah,
and the like.
It doesn’t take long before Dead Heat strays
from your normal buddy cop formula in a big way. When Roger
bites the big one in a doggie euthanasia room while fighting
a hefty undead two-faced biker (don’t ask me about
the two faces, I don’t get it either) and is resurrected
shortly thereafter, it becomes a race against time as they
try to find Roger’s killer. Can Roger find his killer
before his body decomposes and he turns into worm food?
Can Doug keep from becoming a walking corpse himself? Can
someone tell me whatever happened to Joe Piscopo?
Treat Williams and Joe Piscopo aren’t exactly the
first actors to come to mind when you’re casting for
police detectives, but if you preface the film as a zombie
comedy then the casting doesn’t look as absurd. In
a film like Dead Heat, they actually hold their own
as a crime-fighting duo. There’s no doubt that when
Piscopo is on screen, you hardly notice Williams. Along
with the some surprisingly cool special effects, Piscopo
carries the picture and the film suffers dramatically when
he’s not in the scene. It’s not really that
Williams is a bad actor, he’s not. His character is
just too bland and boring when he doesn’t have a sidekick
to bounce dialogue off of.
Piscopo's character Doug is a veritable one-liner factory,
churning them out fast and furious. It's probably because
we're too busy trying to absorb them all that the audience
essentially ignores Treat's character, Roger. Joe Piscopo
delivers the lines with ease, some being real gems and some
are just plain bad. The bad ones don't linger too long because
there are enough good ones to get you through. These one-line
jokes make up essentially all of the comedy in Dead Heat,
and in that respect the script is a little weak. They seem
to get less and less funny towards the end and it makes
for a bit of a slow jog to the finale. It's a shame because
the movie starts out with such a bang.
Like a lot of horror movies, the special effects and makeup
are almost a character in themselves. Dead Heat is
no exception. I was highly impressed in the job that Steve
Johnson (Species) did. With no CGI, all the effects withstand
the test of time, even after all these years. There's a
particularly nice scene of a woman who fast-forward decomposes
right before your eyes.
Even better than the decomposition scene is the Chinese restaurant scene. In one of the most phenomenal scenes in all of movie history, you can see all manner of animal get resurrected and get very ornery. From a pig on a platter and a flying liver of unknown origin to, best of all, a completely skinned undead steer on the attack. It's so utterly ridiculous, it's brilliant, and I doubt anything quite like it will ever be seen again on film.
Director Mark Goldblatt's vision for Dead Heat was
for it to be a legitimate comedy/horror crossover. If you
hold it up to that standard it definitely falls short, especially
if you compare it to the 80s film that was the most successful
at it, Return of the Living Dead. Where Return
of the Living Dead was funny, yet still very much a
horror film, Dead Heat doesn't nearly compare. There's
just no horror to speak of. All of the scenes that are supposed
to scare just don't work very well. Zombies attacking with
Uzis in broad daylight are more laughable than horrific.
They would have been better served to just concentrate on
Seeing as 1988 was the same year that brought horror fans
Chucky's debut film (Child's Play) and the fourth installment
of Freddy and A Nightmare on Elm Street, I can see why Dead
Heat was easily overlooked. Interestingly enough, the
similarly titled buddy cop movie Red Heat actually did well
in theaters that year and as we know now, Arnold Schwarzeneggar
and James Belushi went on to do much bigger things while
Piscopo and Williams went on to do.well, not as much. Wait,
that's not really fair; Treat Williams did land roles in
the mega-blockbusters Deep Rising, Venomous,
and Substitute 3: The Winner Takes All. So it wasn't
a total wash.
Simply put, despite its shortcomings, Dead Heat's
a fun piece of cheese that is distinctly 80s. Vincent Price
has a small, but important role, and what his presence adds
to a film you just can't quantify. This is one of his last
films, and it's worth seeing almost for that fact alone.
(Out of 5)
|May 6, 1988
|January 27, 2004
|May 13, 2004
|DEAD KEV'S ADVICE
|Recommended. It's cheesy, but in a fun way. The
restaurant scene is a classic and one that everybody
|1. Aim for the head. Apparently some people still
don't understand that.
2. Uzis are the preferred weapon of choice for undead
villians who use firearms.
3. If you ever find a zombie in your jaccuzzi, just
throw a plugged-up radio into it. That will solve
|-"You have the right to remain disgusting."
-"I'm dead Rebecca, how much worse can it get?"
-"Remember the good old days when guns killed people?"
-"Zombie duckheads. What a concept."
|Mark Goldblatt (The Punisher)
|Terry Black (Tales From the Crypt)
|Allen Alsobrook (Pleasantville)
|David Helpern (The Hidden 2)
|Michael T. Meltzer (Carnival of Souls)
||Doctor Ernest McNab
||Arthur P. Loudermilk
|Professor Toru Tanaka
|New World Pictures
|New World Pictures
|COUNTRY OF ORIGIN
|Dead Heat grossed a total of $3,588,626 during
its quick theatrical run. In comparison, it had a
budget of $5.4 million.
| Linnea Quigly (Trash from Return of the Living
Dead) plays a zombie go-go dancer in one of the
deleted scenes cut from the film.
|Martha Quinn, the 80s MTV VJ, makes a brief appearance
as a television news anchor.
|Ivan E. Roth, who plays a zombie at the end of Dead
Heat, also was in the zombie flicks Night of
the Comet and Night of the Creeps.
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