Dead Heat (1988)

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AKA: Iron Cops

LAPD detectives Roger Mortis and Doug Bigelow are in the middle of trying to solve a bizarre string of bank and jewelry store robberies. They think they’ve caught a break when they manage to corner two of the supposed suspects at a jewelry store. But despite a huge police presence and clearly being shot multiple times, the robbers seem strangely unstoppable. Roger and Doug manage to kill two of the suspects in a violent shoot-out that leaves dozens of officers dead. But they quickly find out that their case is much more complicated than they thought, when one of the coroners, Rebecca, informs them that she’s seen these two men before: on her autopsy slab several days earlier. She points out the previous autopsy sutures and the photos she took of the corpses as proof.

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Seen here: Proof

Baffled, the two detectives track down the only other lead the bodies provide, a strange chemical compound that leads them to a local corporation that just bought a suspiciously large supply of the chemical in question some time ago. While snooping around they stumble upon a room with a strange machine and yet another seemingly un-killable reanimated corpse, and Roger is killed in the ensuing scuffle. Rebecca, realizing what the machine is capable of, is able to bring Roger back from the dead. But everyone’s happiness at a second chance is quickly squashed when they realize Roger’s reanimation isn’t permanent, and he only has around 10-12 hours to live before he disintegrates into a pile of goo. Despite the narrow time frame, Roger and Doug decide to use what precious little time Roger has left to track down whoever killed him and get to the bottom of this strange Zombie/Robbery ring. But with less than a day left, Roger has precious little time left before he literally rots to death.

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Dude, you’re on a time crunch, now is not the time to experiment.

The best way to describe Dead Heat is that it’s like your typical, slightly cheesy buddy cop movie from the 80s….but with zombies. But when I say ‘buddy cop’ think less along the line of the straight man and chaotic duo of Lethal Weapon, and more along the lines of goofball and slightly more dignified goofball, ala Rush Hour (but without all the cool martial arts). It’s a unique combination to be sure, because I can’t for the life of me think of another example of a film where the cops spend most of their time trying to quip their way through a case, all while trying to evade a bunch of rogue, nigh-unkillable zombie assassins.

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No, really, that wasn’t a joke. There are zombie assassins.

With such an interesting premise I was kinda excited. I mean, cops, comedy and the living dead, what’s not to look forward too? But the longer I watched the more I realized why this one isn’t very well known. The poor plot of this film looks like a slice of swiss cheese that was shot a couple of extra times for good measure. The movie starts off with a bang (literally), but by the half-way point the holes start to show, and most of it boils down to one word: consistency. For instance, the zombies seem to be unkillable….until they aren’t. Shooting them multiple times doesn’t kill them, unless you get some head damage in. Except that doesn’t always work, so head shots are only useful if it’s convenient to the plot. And even then, any kind of head damage may, at the most, merely slow them down, because at one point the characters enter a Chinese slaughterhouse where everything gets reanimated and they’re attacked by damn near every animal from down on the farm, including a gutless, headless cow corpse that, despite being sans head, is clearly out for blood

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This scene makes the killer Barracuda from Death Spa seem tame by comparison.

Naturally stabbing doesn’t work either, except for that one time, when one of them is speared in the torso and falls in the pool. Why that worked, I have no idea, because it wasn’t even aimed at his heart, and was more of a gut shot. And before you ask, no, water is not their weakness, because Undead Roger was hiding in the pool for a good 3 minutes without any ill effects. So while a lot of these scenes may be fun and look good, the longer the movie progresses the more you realize how pronounced the lack of uniformity to the logic is.

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Then there’s the ending which, while fun, again doesn’t make much sense. They try for a twist at the end, but it feels forced because a) you can kinda see it coming, and b) the film’s poor sense of logic kicks in and instead of giving the audience an “Ah, ha!” moment, it lands with a whimper and leaves one wondering “But why?” Sure, I know the ‘why’ basically boils down to the age-old, evil motivation of MONEY MWAHAHA, but there aren’t enough interconnecting dots leading up to it to make it feel totally earned. So instead of leaving the movie off with a bang, it comes across as tacked-on and feels more of a dud.

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Come over here and let me show you all your predictable, impending doom…

Other than the lack of plot related conformity, the film’s actually quite well put together. Treat Williams and Joe Piscopo play Roger and Doug, respectively, and both do an excellent job. Williams is cool and collected, with an underlying current of anarchy just below the surface that slowly begins to pour out of him the more his character decays. Piscopo’s Doug, meanwhile, is the poster boy for anabolic steroids, though he does manage to get in a few good zingers. Roger describes him as a “nice neanderthal”, which is an apt description, as he comes across as a grown up frat boy who looks to be equally at ease shooting zombies as he would be sliding up to potential hook-ups saying “How YOU doin’?”. Both characters play against and with each other quite well, and admirably fill out the ‘buddy cop’ portion of the film’s formula.

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He thinks he’s cute. It’s almost precious.

The effects, surprisingly, were also quite good. In fact, with the exception of one slightly awkward green-screen moment, the special effects here are pretty top-notch. As well they should be, as the makeup effects and designer is none other than Steve Johnson, who up until then had worked on films like Big Trouble In Little China, Fright Night, Videodrome and Night of the Demons. The film has what very well may be one of the best ‘decomp’ scenes that I think I’ve ever seen, and the reanimated animal corpses in particular are absolutely excellent. Ducks and chickens come alive, Piscopo is attacked by a suckling pig, and Williams is almost smothered by the giant, animated cow carcass. It’s a gloriously nasty and unnerving treat for the eyes. The wonderful make-up job on all the other characters is just icing on the already excellent FX-heavy cake.

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And this little piggy said “DIE!”

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After watching Dead Heat I can see some of the issues that likely kept it from being more mainstream. But that doesn’t mean that I didn’t like it. It mixes a couple fun genres together in a unique way and, despite its shortcomings, is still a lot of fun. The acting is good, the sound is good, the action sequences are great, and the make-up and effects are up there with some of the best stuff to come out of the decade. In short, it’s a fun and entertaining cult horror film. If you like buddy cop and horror films, and appreciate a healthy dose of 80s goodness, then this might be something to look into.

Dead Heat is available on several streaming services, including FREE on Tubi TV.

It is also available on DVD and Bluray (though the latter may be out of print).

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Michi

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