Directed by: Mark Goldblatt
Category: Cult Classics
This film had been sitting in my queue forever just waiting for me to give it a spin, but as with most things, I never got around to it. It wasn't until my good buddy Ingo over at Hellford 667 Movie Reviews did a review on this sucker a few weeks back that I finally got that little nudge to finally check it out again, which I hadn't in what seems like 20 years now. You can check out Hellford 667's awesome review here.
Dead Heat was a staple in my household back in the late 80's when this first hit VHS. I don't remember exactly, but I'm pretty sure it never got a theatrical release in my tiny little town, so VHS was the only way to get it. I've always loved this film because to me it represented one of the better pairings of horror, action and comedy, a formula that more often than not does not work. But I think there are several factors that go into that in Dead Heat's case. For one, you have the undeniable talents of first time director Mark Goldblatt. He's no stranger to the film industry as he's been a film editor since the late 70's on everything from The Howling, The Terminator, Commando, Rambo 2, Showgirls, T2: Judgement Day to the recent Rise of the Planet of the Apes. But his first foray into directing was with Dead Heat. And as most people know, he would go on to do Dolph Lundgren's The Punisher (1989) one year later. But you've also got a great cast, some great practical effects and a great premise.
|Dead Heat Japanese VHS cover courtesy of VHSwasteland.com
Mortis (Treat Williams) and Bigelow (Joe Piscopo) are two cops on the clock when they take a call for a jewelry heist in progress at a local jewelry store. When they arrive, it seems bullets just won't do the trick to bring these guys down. So Mortis gets creative and decides to crush one of them with the car, while the other one accidentally blows himself up with his own hand grenade. When the medical examiner, who also happens to be Mortis's ex, checks out the corpses, she discovers that these guys were already dead before the robbery as rigor mortise had already set in long ago . Soon Mortis and Bigelow discover that someone is reanimating dead bodies and using them to commit robberies. When Mortis himself is killed in the line of duty investigating the case, he himself is brought back to life at the lab he was investigating. Zombified and wanting revenge, he and his partner hunt down the culprit and ringleader of zombie criminals to put a stop to it before his time is up.
This was a lot of fun and there's no denying the chemistry between Treat Williams and Joe Piscopo. These guys make the movie as fun as it ultimately becomes. Williams is always great, whether he's doing action, drama or even some comedy. But here, as the straight man between the two partners, you know, the one who wears the suit while the other partner sports a leather jacket and skin tight jeans, he's able to convey the struggle of getting killed in the line of duty, resurrected back to life, and then sad and angry that 1. Someone killed him and he doesn't know who or why, and 2. he only has something like 72 hours left before his body starts to decompose rapidly until he's gone for good. As far as Piscopo goes, he's hilarious in anything he's in. As the tough guy sidekick he adds a lot of the much needed comic relief, but turns serious and tough when need be. One thing you immediately notice is how buff he is. Still strange to see since I'll always picture him as that skinny slimy guy from Johnny Dangerously. But here he's an odd buff. Like his arms are huge, yet he has no shoulders, which makes him look disproportionate. Or maybe that's just me. This was at a time when I remember he was really into weight lifting. I even had a copy of Muscle & Fitness magazine from somewhere around this time where he graced the cover. You read that right, Joe Piscopo actually graced the cover of a Muscle & Fitness magazine.
Dead Heat also works really well because of it's structure, and I think the pace also has a lot to do with it. It never get's too serious, and though there's a few sections in the middle devoid of action, it still moves along fast enough that you never get bored. Keep in mind, it's no genre defining masterpiece or anything, but if you're looking for a fun movie that's surprisingly well made on all fronts, then you should thoroughly enjoy this one. It definitely has a few standout moments, some pretty nifty effects, a standout supporting cast with the likes of Darren McGavin, Robert Picardo, Professor Toru Tanaka and Vincent Price, and enough action to be able to call it an action movie with some horror and comedy elements thrown in for good measure. I really wish director Mark Goldblatt had continued directing movies. He gave us all the one-two punch of Dead Heat and then the awesome The Punisher (1989) with Dolph Lundgren (the best one) the following year, but then stopped directing altogether. So at this point it's been 23 years since he's directed a flick, and I think it's about time he got back into it.