DEAD HEAT (1988) – The Dungeon Review!
Dead Heat was a film I didn’t recall particularly liking when it originally came out. I would have never bothered with this film again had I not been compiling best of lists for the 80′s. I read enough positive reviews for Dead Heat that I figured I had to check it out again. If you are a regular reader of my blog you know that I appreciate a “so bad it’s good” type film. Just because a film has cheesy dialog, bad acting and cheap effects doesn’t mean it can’t be highly entertaining. Dead Heat is NOT an example of this, but it does have its moments.
Partners Roger Mortis and Doug Bigelow are cops who refuse to play by the rules. A face-off at a jewellery store with a near indestructible enemy leads them to a pharmaceutical company. Turns out big pharma is stealing criminal’s corpses, reanimating them and sending them out to rob jewellery stores. In the process of investigating the facility Detective Mortis is killed and then reanimated. He is more determined than ever to solve the case but he’ll have to do it quickly before his rotting body deteriorates into a pile of goo.
The buddy picture works best when there is some chemistry between the featured pair. Treat Williams is pretty flat and lifeless as Detective Mortis (and that is before he becomes a zombie). Joe Piscopo as his partner Bigelow is not nearly as amusing or over-the-top as he should have been. In fact, Piscopo isn’t funny at all in this film. He throws out a ton of miss-fired and badly timed one-liners that had me rolling my eyes up constantly. This is one seriously unfunny horror-comedy. While the dialog may be painful and tedious, fortunately some of the sight gags make up for it.
There were campy elements in Dead Heat that did work. The device that reanimates the corpses was a source of amusement throughout the film. Apparently just about anyone can figure out how to use it. It gets high marks for being user-friendly. At one point in the film, a character commits suicide and is reanimated so he can be killed again. The best scene by far is the one that takes place in a Chinese butcher shop. The owner of the shop has his very own reanimation machine and flicks it on as a distraction to make a getaway. Animal carcasses are twitching and jumping and coming to life, and wait until you see what charges its way out of the freezer! It really is an awesome scene and watching the hapless victims fight their way through it just adds to the fun. There is also a pretty funny scene where zombie Mortis faces off against an undead bad guy and the two just shoot the hell out of each other with automatic weapons about 6 feet from one another. I have no complaints about the effects in this film. I thought the effects actually looked pretty good, particularly the reanimated animals and the zombie makeup. Another plus for Dead Heat is the appearance of Vincent Price in one of his last feature film appearances as Arthur P. Loudermilk. He shows up late and doesn’t stay around long, but his speech to the wealthy investors on his reanimation machine leaves its mark. Also cast is the great Darren McGavin (Carl Kolchak on The Night Stalker) who plays the evil Dr. Ernest McNab. I definitely cannot deny Dead Heat its moments of greatness. Too bad there is so much unfunny lameness in between.
Dead Heat is a horror-comedy with painfully unfunny dialog. This should have killed the film but the effects are good and the action scenes are decent and occasionally awesome, so I’m giving it a borderline pass. Rent at your own risk. Or better yet, watch it for free on YouTube at your own risk.
Dungeon Rating: 2.5/5
Directed By: Mark Goldblatt
Starring: Treat Williams, Joe Piscopo, Lindsay Frost, Darren McGavin, Vincent Price, Clare Kirkconnell, Keye Luke, Robert Picardo, Mel Stewart