There’s Riggs and Murtaugh, Tango and Cash, even Turner and Hooch, but now you can add Bigelow and Mortis to the long list of cop movie buddies – only this time in the action/comedy/horror genre. In Dead Heat, Detectives Roger Mortis (Treat Williams) and Doug Begelow (Joe Piscopo) get called to the scene of a jewelry store robbery in progress, where they find a couple of thugs that can take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’. These guys are soaking up bullets but they don’t seem to be adversely effected by being pumped full of lead. After Mortis gets the bright idea to just take them down with a cop car, they find some startling information about these crooks once the coroner get’s a chance to examine them. They’ve been to the morgue before, and not just for a sight seeing tour – they were admitted as stiffs just a short time earlier and were given the full service treatment, autopsy and all. So, if these guys are dead… how were they able to attempt a jewelry store robbery?
Easy, it’s because they’re zombies. Zombies who were criminals, and reanimated to be used for more crimes. But who could be responsible for bringing these meaty stick up men back from the dead? The only unusual thing found on these now deceased zombies is sulphatiazole, and Bigelow and Mortis learn that Dante Industries have just gotten a large shipment of it. When they get to Dante Industries, they meet their PR manager, Randi James. Randi takes Mortis to show him their sulphatiazole product line, while Bigelow goes snooping around and finds a mysterious room under lockdown. Using his cunning detective skills, he uses his laminated visitors’ pass to somehow short circuit the electronic lock on the door by shoving it in the card slot, and he discovers a huge machine with a 2 1/2 faced zombie biker that now wants to kill his ass.
While Bigelow is locked in combat with the biker, Mortis comes to help but gets locked into a decompression room that the lab uses to euthanize animals. A mysterious gloved hand starts the process with Mortis inside, suffocating him. When Dr. Smythers — Mortis’ ex girlfriend, and coroner — arrives, Bigelow and Smythers decide to try to reanimate Mortis in the machine where they found the zombie biker. The process works, and brings Mortis back from the dead, with him feeling better than ever. The only problem – he doesn’t have a pulse, and when he accidentally severs an artery (how you accidentally sever an artery, I’ll never guess), he doesn’t bleed at all. They find out that even though he’s been reanimated, his body will only hold out about 24 hours until he eventually decays into a pile of organic stew. Now, Bigelow and Mortis take Randi into custody in order to find out who’s reanimating these bodies and why they’re using them to knock off banks and jewelry stores, and on top of that, who wanted to kill Mortis?
Maybe I wasn’t giving Joe Piscopo or Treat Williams enough credit, but while the plot about a cop that becomes a zombie and tries to solve a bunch of robberies sounded cool, I wasn’t quite sure those two actors would be able to pull it off. Williams has been in some decent roles, but he’s also turned in a few stinkers too. I didn’t know much about Piscopo, but I think his reputation preceeded him, and frankly, I didn’t expect much out of him either. I have to say I was surprised at how good they both were. Piscopo as Bigelow plays the wise cracking smart-ass, and Williams as Mortis plays the straight man role, and they both do a convincing job. Bigelow can get pretty obnoxious, and his jokes aren’t really that funny, but he plays that role to a T.
The special effects in this movie were top notch. There were zombies in all different states of decay, and there’s even one scene where one of them turns from a normal looking person into a pool of goo in about 3 minutes. The transition effects were excellent, and the only part where it looked a little hokey was at the very end, but otherwise it was great. There was another scene that took place in a chinese market where all the different butchered animals come back to life and start attacking the detectives. At one point an butchered cow carcass busts out of a freezer and joins in on the action. For not being a full blown horror movie, you can tell a lot of work went into all of the effects. There’s not one point where I had to suspend my disbelief in order to enjoy how well done everything looked.
The story itself was also really well done. The “whodunit” aspect unravels as Mortis and Bigelow discover more clues and take out more zombies. The twist at the end isn’t a total shocker, but they did a good job of concealing it until the very end. While I went into the movie with low expectations, I was really surprised at how well everything turned out and how much I really enjoyed the film as a whole, and I really got a kick out of how they dispatch the final bad guy.
There aren’t many films that can combine the action, horror and comedy elements well, but Dead Heat is definitely one of them. I got a whole “Big Trouble in Little China” feel from this one, and this is definitely a movie I’d recommend to all those aficionados of 80’s action films. There’s even a small role for Vincent Price!
Dead Heat earns 4.5 zombie bikers out of 5.
Here’s that transformation scene I was talking about