ON DVD & BLU-RAY
Dead Heat (1988) Blu Ray (88 Films)
When pair of masked crooks stage an armed robbery on a jewellery store in Los Angeles, cop duo Roger Mortis (Treat Williams) and Doug Bigelow (Joe Piscopo) rush to the scene. When the crooks emerge from the store the two cops plus a waiting armed response unit become embroiled in a shootout with them. However, despite having countless rounds of ammunition emptied into them, these guys don’t go down. Eventually, Mortis and Bigelow vanquish them by blowing one up with a grenade and crushing the other with a car.
When they visit the coroners’ office to meet Mortis’s old flame Rebecca (Clare Kirkconnell) she reveals that the crooks had already been on her autopsy slabs before - they were zombies. She also finds a large quantity of a drug that she traces back to a lab belonging to the Dante Pharmaceutical Corporation. With that crucial piece of information, the Mortis and Bigelow decide to pay the lab a visit.
When they arrive they are given a guided tour by Randi (Lindsay Frost). When they decide to sneak off on their own to investigate what’s going on, Bigelow discovers a mysterious hi-tech machine in one of the rooms. Lying on top of it is a strange-looking beast that, at that moment, comes back to life and attacks the pair. During the scuffle Mortis gets trapped inside a decompression chamber. As Bigelow is too busy fighting the monster he fails to save his partner before all of the air is sucked out - killing him. The devastated Bigelow works out that the device he stumbled across is the one used to resurrect the dead, so he puts Mortis on it. Sure enough the latter returns to life. However, after conversing with Randi they find out that he only has about 12 hours before he disintegrates, thus putting him to rest for good. With that, the two cops rush to get to the bottom of who is responsible for the wave of resurrected criminals before Mortis - quite literally - falls apart.
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This is one of those quirky 1980s genre mixtures - combining action, sci-fi, horror and black comedy. While enjoyable enough it’s rarely as inspired as such a promising idea should have been. Director Mark Goldblatt is better known as an editor responsible for working on a lot of major Hollywood action, sci-fi and horror films from the late 1970s to present day. These include several made by James Cameron, Paul Verhoeven and Michael Bay. Following some second unit work on Robocop (1987), Dead Heat was his first stint in the director’s chair. He went on to helm the Dolph Lundgren version of The Punisher during the following year, but apart from that his only other directorial credit to date is for one episode of the TV series Eerie Indiana in 1992. The writer Terry Black is the lesser-known brother of Shane Black, who is best known for scripting similar action buddy movies such as Lethal Weapon and The Last Boy Scout.
Goldblatt is best at handling the action scenes, which are tightly shot and edited with some great stuntwork and copious bullet squibs. The prosthetics work created by Steve Johnson (who had previously worked on the likes of An American Werewolf in London, Videodrome and Big Trouble in Little China) is generally impressive. The finest scene involves some animal carcasses in a Chinese butcher’s shop coming to life and attacking our hapless duo. If the film had a few more moments of comparable brilliance it undoubtedly would have gone down as a bonafide cult classic rather than the minor niche curiosity it has become.
Unfortunately the film tends to stumble when it comes to scenes involving acting and dialogue rather than latex, stuntmen and pyrotechnics. As a comedy most of the jokes aren’t terribly funny (the half of the cop duo who joins the living dead is called Roger Mortis - get it?). Erstwhile Saturday Night Live comedian Joe Piscopo tries his best with the weak material, but it seems that everyone else had no idea whether to play it straight or as a tongue-in-cheek spoof. Seasoned genre veterans Darren McGavin and Vincent Price bring some life into the picture with their enjoyably hammy performances, but sadly the pair (in particular Price) don’t appear in it much until near the end.
Dead Heat’s shortish 84 minute duration passes by quickly and largely serviceably, but you’ll probably struggle to remember most of it (bar that awesome butcher’s shop sequence) a few days afterwards.
Runtime: 84 mins
Dir: Mark Goldblatt
Script: Terry Black
Starring: Treat Williams, Joe Piscopo, Lindsay Frost, Darren McGavin, Vincent Price, Clare Kirkconnell, Keye Luke, Robert Picardo
As usual with 88 Films this is a relatively low-budget restoration with some noticeable artefacts (particularly during the opening credits). Colours range from vivid to a little washed-out. It’s not too bad overall however.
The sound quality is rather flat and more at DVD than Blu Ray level. It’s no more than OK.
Commentary with Mark Goldblatt, Terry Black, Michael Meltzer, David Helpern
The four have fun retelling their experience with the film. There is much discussion of scenes that were cut at the behest of the studio, the MPAA (who felt the original version was too gory for the commercially-critical R rating) or because of the low $5.4 million budget.
There are a lot of curious behind-the-scenes anecdotes here, such as the revelation that Treat Williams’s performance during the asphyxiation scene was helped by him suffering from sushi poisoning, and that the house where Lindsay Frost’s character lived during the film had to be remodelled to return it to the condition left before it was rented from the owners. We also hear that a sequel was proposed which was to include a promising-sounding scene where an undead Rebecca performs an autopsy on herself. Sadly, the original wasn’t a big enough hit for it to happen.
Dead and Alive: an interview with Steve Johnson
Johnson makes for a lively interviewee as he talks about how some of the FX sequences were created. This 19 minute doc provides a fascinating look at the considerable ingenuity behind the creation of practical effects work during this period. We also learn that real dead chickens were moulded for the butcher’s shop sequence, something that put Johnson off eating chicken for life. We also get a glimpse of a deleted “death day party” scene featuring a dancing skeleton which was actually a Bunraku puppet operated by none other than ‘80s scream queen Linnea Quigley.
Despite the poor, unrestored visual quality, some of these deleted scenes are worth catching. Amongst them are a romantic interlude between Roger and Randi (which would admittedly have slowed the pace down as well as coming across as being rather distasteful under the circumstances), the aforementioned “death day” party, a hilarious cameo by Dick Miller during the cemetery scene and a longer version of the gruesome decomposition sequence.
A short vintage press kit doc (again unrestored) presented by Reba Merrill, featuring interview footage with Treat Williams, Joe Piscopo and Darren McGavin plus some behind-the-scenes shots.
The usual selection of trailers, stills and a reversible sleeve round out the extras.
Dead Heat isn’t “dead good” but it’s still enjoyable enough. Extras are better than usual by 88 Films standards.