Dead Heat (1988) review

Director: Mark Goldblatt

Starring: Treat Williams, Joe Piscopo, Lindsay Frost, Darren McGavin, Vincent Price

ROGER – So what’s the story on these John Does? What’s so unbelievable?

CORONER – I’ll show you. The teeth and fingerprints are practically worthless but I noticed one thing – stitches. You can see where the cut was made, traversing the sternum and incised with an electric saw.

ROGER – They had surgery?

CORONER – Nope. They had autopsies. They’ve been here before, fellas. I certified them myself.

Dead Heat is an 80s cop movie in which one of the cops is a zombie. There you go, that should be all you need, enjoy.

Fine, I suppose I’ll elaborate for the sake of making this review worth your while, but that description really does sum up what I believe is one of the most criminally overlooked cult gems of the 1980s.

"Sorry lads, the lookalike agency needs to save money and Luke Wilson and Chris Kamara just aren't popular enough"

Detective Roger Mortis (get it?) and his partner Doug Bigelow are called to a robbery at a jewellery store. As the crooks leave the store they pull out shotguns and start shooting at the countless officers who have surrounded the area. Although the officers score a number of direct shots on the criminals, it doesn’t appear to harm them and they continue to shoot cops dead until one is blown up and the other is run over.

Roger and Doug reckon there’s something funny about this so they ask the coroner (and Roger’s ex) to look into it. It turns out the criminals had been dead before, and had somehow come to life. Dum dum dummm. 

Woo! It's Vincent Price! He makes any film even better, and that's a fact

Without giving too much away, Roger and Doug soon uncover an evil plot to resurrect the dead using a special machine that can reanimate corpses with some sort of electrical shenanigans. In a scrap with the ne’er-do-wells involved in the scheme, Roger is killed and brought back to life by the machine, essentially becoming a zombie himself.

The problem is, he can only stay undead for so long before he eventually rots away, so together with Doug and Lindsay, a morally outraged worker at the company behind the machine, they race against time to put an end to things before it’s too late and Roger becomes all mushy and shit.

"I'm here to return this Clearasil. It just doesn't agree with my complexion"

In case you can’t tell, Dead Heat is ridiculous. Even though it knows this, it doesn’t go over the top and knowingly wink at the audience all the time as if to say “this is bloody mental, isn’t it?” Instead it continues to play it straight like a normal 80s cop movie, saving most of the laughs for the normal jokey dialogue between the two detectives. This just makes things even funnier, as nobody seems too bothered that Roger is essentially a walking, talking corpse.

That’s not to say it doesn’t go a little nuts at times, mind you. One particular kitchen scene – in which Roger and Doug fight with a bunch of reanimated meats – is bloody insane, as a liver flings itself at Doug’s face while a large, skinned, headless cow wrestles to the ground and a decapitated chicken’s head lying on a table starts squawking. It’s awesome.

"I'll just put his penis in my pocket for... ahem, safekeeping"

Even better is that the effects are fantastic for a film this old. Despite the clear madness involved in the aforementioned scene all the reanimated animals are surprisingly believable, and you’ll wonder how they made that hideous skinned cow run along the floor so realistically. Another surprising scene later on involving a plot twist and a rapidly rotting corpse looks a little hokey but is still a great effort by the effects team and looks suitably grimy.

You might never have heard of Dead Heat before, but don’t worry – not a lot of people (in the UK at least) have. Do yourself a favour and change that by tracking it down and enjoying a refreshingly funny and enjoyable film. Sure, it’s a little cheap and there are more plot holes than an amnesiac’s autobiography, but it’ll keep you laughing from start to finish and the surprise introduction of Vincent Price near the end is the icing on the rotting cake. They simply don’t make movies like this anymore, and after watching it you’ll better understand what a shame this is.

You can get Dead Heat for only a couple of quid off Amazon here. Failing that, if you have Netflix it’s available for streaming on both the UK and US catalogues.

If you enjoyed this review and would like to read more, here’s a complete list of reviews on That Was A Bit Mental.

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