Film Review No.339: Dead Heat


Gawd I’m way behind on getting this review done. The last week has been quite busy for me. I recorded about 3 hours of gaming fun for my mellow gaming Youtube channel, followed that up with an 85 minute podcast called Critapocalypse and have spent the last 4 days editing these things. Now, is finally the time for me to get back to reviewing them film things I review. Ladies and gets, here is Dead Heat.

Dead Heat tells the timeless tale of a pair of police officers investigating some abnormally undead criminals which leads to one of them being killed and brought back to life. He then has just a few hours to solve the case and find those responsible before he decomposes. If you’re wondering how seriously this film handles its premise please know that the police officer that is now a member of the walking dead is called Roger Mortis (Treat Williams)… I’ll let that sink in.

Roger is joined by his best buddy cop, the pun name challenged, Doug Bigelow (Joe Piscopo) and they both work with PR agent for the company responsible for the undead being given a new lease on life. Her name is Randi James (Lindsay Frost) … as in James Randi famed magician and debunker of fraudulent paranormal activity named backwards. Together they will find the man that killed Roger and probably shoot and maim a lot of zombies along the way. Maybe they’ll even fight a zombified cow carcass. Actually, that’s not a maybe. They really do fight a zombified cow carcass. Did I not infer that this film wasn’t all that serious?

he kinda just looks a little disappointed at his imminent death.

he kinda just looks a little disappointed at his imminent death.

If you go look at the clear paragon of quality standards, Rotten Tomatoes, you’ll see that Dead Heat has a rating of 14%. This is stupid. Dead Heat is a masterpiece. For example, the main character is called Roger Mortis. Which I know I mentioned, but I feel like it needed repeating. Vincent Price is in the film and clearly shot his scenes via a combination of one weeks work for scale pay and an hour in his bed. Did I mention the fight with a cow corpse? Hows about two zombie men firing machine guns at each other at point blank range for 10 seconds straight because they’re zombies and they can do that?

Right, I’m done talking about how dumb/smart this film is. Onto the technical stuff. The undead cow carcass is pretty much a guy in a semi rigid rubber suit. Thing is it is shot and crafted so well that, for a 1988 film, they really get away with it. In fact, pretty much all the effects are handled really well. Whilst Roger Mortis (seriously..) spends most of the film just being gradually made to look a little unwell, any other make up effects are pretty exceptional. A large amount of the films budget must have been spent on one effects sequence in particular where a character rapidly decomposes on screen. A number of the great make up effects can be credited to Steve Johnson who has worked on The Howling series, Videodrome and An American Werewolf in London before this. There really is some nicely done work here.

I'm sure that'll heal up soon.

I’m sure that’ll heal up soon.

The film keeps it’s humour simple and focused on being used to endear you to the main duo. Doug plays the clown to Roger’s straight man and the relationship is mostly one of mutual annoyance/affection. The film’s direction is pretty standard stuff, with no special visual flair beyond the effects. That said the story moves along at the sort of quick pace you’d expect from a director who’s main job is as a film editor. Mark Goldblatt only directed one other film, the Dolph Lundgren starring Punisher. I think he’s been banned from directing now due to the part he played in the production of Super Mario Bros The Movie as the “film’s” editor. And now I want to watch the Thomas Jane Punisher film.

Really, the most important thing to say about Dead Heat is that it’s a damn fun time. This isn’t a film that explored the nature of being. It never asks the big questions. Performances aren’t making any attempt to earn awards. Every single element of this film is focused on being big dumb fun. This is what I want from my popcorn movies. No offensive stereotypes. No noise for the sake of noise. No convoluted plot that only serves to confuse due to wanton plot hole creation. Just silly, gory fun. There’s an element to the film that feels a little ahead of its time too. The sort of juxtaposition of comedy with violence was typical at the time but the knowing nature is a little more recent. It’s closer towards the scale of Buffy the Vampire Slayer than Evil Dead. A few films recently have taken the odd cue from Dead heat’s plot, such as Deadheads and The Revenant. Wouldn’t be surprised if a soulless remake of Dead Heat is on the cards soon.

Overall Dead Heat is a greatly over looked comedy horror classic. It really deserves a spot next to films such as Monster Squad and the like as being just a plain fun piece of entertainment. When I talk about a film being honest this is what I’m getting at. Dead Heat knows what it is, knows what its audience expects and then delivers that along with a few extra doses of what the hell. It doesn’t bog you down with bullshit or waste your time with plot threads that only serve to prolong the film. It just gets on with being fun. There is much to learn from Dead Heat’s approach. I recommend you give this silly little genre mash up a chance. I mean, Jesus, the main character is an undead cop called Roger Mortis for Christ’s sake.


About lvl54spacemonkey

Just a dude who likes movies and games and has delusions of working in one of those industries. Write screenplays and work on short films in my spare time. Most of which never get finished. View all posts by lvl54spacemonkey

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