The Film: Dead Heat
Treat Williams, Joe Piscopo, Darren McGavin, Linday Frost, Clare KirkConnell, Robert Picardo, Keye Luke, Prof. Toru Tanaka, Vincent Price.
Straight-laced Det. Roger Mortis and his goofball partner, Det. Doug Bigelow, are on the case of a series of robberies that have been committed by dead guys who won’t stay dead. Upon investigating a lead at a laboratory, Roger is killed in a pressurized room. But thanks to a resurrection machine housed at the facility and that was the source of the larcenous zombies, Mortis is soon revived. The catch is, though, that he’s a walking corpse and he and Doug only have 12 hours to solve his own murder before he decomposes into a steaming organic stew. Nevertheless, Roger does soon discover that being dead has certain advantages, especially when bullets are flying around.
“I’m telling you, Treat, in a straight up fight, I really could kick Chuck Norris’ ass.”
“I believe you, Joe.”
“No you don’t.”
“Well, there’s always pretend believe…”
Good: Sure, it’s one of the more fun and airy zombie flicks I can think of. It’s the epitome of ’80s cult horror cheese that mixes the buddy cop and zombie genres nicely. It’s sort of Lethal Weapon meets Night of the Living Dead, which isn’t that surprising, considering Terry Black, brother of Shane, wrote it. Of course, Terry went to the Crypt to tell a couple of tales and hasn’t been seen much since.
If you liked Treat Williams in Deep Rising, then absolutely. This was a full decade before his turn in that campfest and that performance echoes his work in this film, which not only lampoons zombie flicks, but buddy cop flicks as well. It also might be the only documented occurrence where Joe Piscopo was tolerable. Not good, mind you, but tolerable. At this point, he was definitely better in the gym than he was on screen.
Everybody told Treat he was crazy to show up at the Everwood audition like this, but who got the last laugh…?
Williams and Piscopo did have good banter and the film breezes right through the gore and bulletfests as the two leads move from one zombie encounter to another. There’s a memorable bit in a butcher shop that takes animal reanimation to a whole new level and gives birth to the term “zombie duckheads.” The film manages to rise above its budget ($5,000,000 according to Wikipedia). It also has an element that isn’t seen very often in that Spoiler Everybody, and I mean everybody friggin’ dies. There’s even three surprise deaths, one of which is particularly disturbing (that’d be Lindsay Frost’s Randi James, who goes from ZILF to La Brea Tar Pit in the span of 30 seconds). End Spoiler.
The creature effects and makeup, especially in the aforementioned butcher shop scene, are also quite good. Particularly, there’s an overweight biker zombie that looked like he french-kissed a moving semi. However, the real treat here is Treat himself, who deteriorates nicely throughout the film and is affecting as a cop who has to deal with the inevitable. Darren McGavin also chews a little scenery against type and this is also one of the last few appearances by horror icon, Vincent Price.
“Hey, Doc, you think this machine will work on my career?”
“Don’t hold your breath, Joe…”
Although Dead Heat doesn’t quite reach the cult status of, say, Re-Animator, it is an easily watchable and relatively enjoyable film to watch.
Anecdotes: In addition to being one of the last hurrahs for Price, Keye Luke only had a handful more roles before he passed on in 1991. Terry Black and director Mark Goldblatt, who did the Dolph Lundgren Punisher a year later, also didn’t do much more in their respective roles, although Goldblatt has been a successful editor on major films before this and ever since. Shane Black also had a cameo as a cop.
Soulmates: The Re-Animator, Shaun of the Dead, Deep Rising
The Tally So Far