December 1, 2011

Movie Review: Dead Heat

Now, can someone tell me why it took over 22-years for me to see Dead Heat? Also, can anyone tell me why no one ever told me it was a zombie movie? Seriously, I had no idea what this movie was about. I never even gave it a second thought. Never read a description or a synopsis, never looked it up on IMDB or asked friends about it. No one ever offered me any information about this little gem. Please, don't get me wrong, this is far from a masterpiece, it is not even really in the upper echelon, but it is certainly an entertaining little thing. Besides, this is probably the only time you will see a combination as odd as Joe Piscopo and Vincent Price. Yes, you read that right. It is too bad that Price was unable to participate more than he did.

For some reason I never noticed the zombie hand holding the police badge title card on the DVD art. Frankly, I would glance at the title, see Joe Piscopo and Treat Williams, take in the rather cheap looking art and write it off as just another Lethal Weapon clone. It looked like it would be B-grade buddy cop movie and I was not interested. Well, somebody should have slapped a little sense into me. This is an almost gleefully silly mashup of buddy comedy and zombie movie. It has stupid one liners, gun fights, some bloody effects, and what may be the first teaming of the living and the dead. Yup, this is kind of fun.

Dead Heat opens with a brazen daylight robbery. A couple of big guys in masks go into a jewelry store and proceed to order people around and start bagging up the jewelry. They don't seem like the brightest bulbs, but their brute force seems to be more than enough. Fortunately, there are a couple of detectives nearby, Roger Mortis (think about that name, it is a clue) and Doug Bigelow. One look and you can see they fall into the standard buddy cop movie cliches. That's all right, the movie seems to embrace them and have fun with it.

Well, they, and a whole mess of other cops, get into a shootout with the bad guys, but something seems off. After violently subduing them, they discover they were dead, before our heroes had their way with them. Their investigation leads them to a large corporation doing questionable experiments. Mortis uncovers an undead mutation in one of the labs, a big fight later and he is dead. Fortunately, the experiments the company is doing involve resurrecting the dead! In goes Mortis dead, out comes Mortis alive. Well, at least the semblance of life.

We know have a team of a wisecracking goon in Bigelow (Joe Piscopo) and a living dead straight man in Roger Mortis (Treat Williams). Get the name now? Rigor Mortis? Oh come on, that is funny right there. This odd couple now need to find the man behind these ungodly experiments.

Now, there is nothing particularly unique in the format. There is just some goofy stuff being done. What I found interesting is that I was wondering if it could have been better if the players involved had been a little lower rent? I kept thinking that I wanted to see this as a serious B movie, perhaps Italian trash style. I know, I am not quite all together...

Whatever, whatever, the fact remains that this is a fun mashup that is apparently easy to miss. Frankly, you probably aren't missing all that much by missing it, but I was surprised to find that it holds up pretty well. Yes, clothes and some of the jokes are dated, but it stands up, especially the effects! That fight at the Chinese restaurant is pretty fantastic with the living dead cow corpse and the duck heads and such. However, the one scene that really sold the whole thing for me is a reveal I won't give away, but the special effects are really amazing. I daresay jaw dropping.

Oh yeah, there is also the little fact that Vincent Price is in it! Unfortunately, he was sick and could not participate much so his role is pretty limited. Still, there is something about his presence, his voice, the man is amazing. There is also Darren McGavin in a pivotal role. It is an interesting cast for director Mark Goldblatt (who only directed one other feather, 1989's The Punisher, but whose career has lasted as an editor having worked on some great projects) and writer Terry Black (who, coincidentally is the brother of Lethal Weapon scribe Shane Black).

This is worth checking out, it is a quirky little movie that plays with a couple of genres and is moderately successful at both. Still, wonder what it would have been like had it been made by someone like Antonio Margheriti or perhaps John Carpenter...


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