Everybody got really excited about Horror Comedy Week and had plenty of requests, so many that I’ve worked on this second week of films. This one was requested by Adam Cicco, who I’ve been friends with a long time and was on our World Series of Pop Culture team when we tried out for the VH1 show. That’s a story for another time.
Joe Piscopo was a big deal in the 1980’s. He and Eddie Murphy were the only two members of the 1980 cast of Saturday Night Live to stay on after Dick Ebersol took it over. His impressions of Frank Sinatra were his calling card and even the Chairman of the Board loved what Joe did with him. Supposedly, he got so into the character that he’d refuse to do certain sketches, saying “Frank wouldn’t do that.”
After leaving in 1984, he had a comedy special, released an album and started appearing in movies, notably as Danny Vermin in Johnny Dangerously and Moe Dickstein in Wise Guys. Dead Heat comes near the end of him being a movie star, although he’s appeared in several more in the past few decades. He now supports Donald Trump and has a radio show in New York City.
But let’s talk about Dead Heat, a movie that horror fans truly don’t remember.
Detectives Roger Mortis (Treat Williams) and Doug Bigelow (Piscopo) start the film in the midst of a violent jewel robbery. For some reason, the criminals take bullet after bullet and survive, which means that the guys have to go extreme to defeat them. After a trip to the morgue, they learn that the criminals already had autopsy scars and records. There’s also a harrowing trip to a Chinatown butcher shop where barbecued corpses of animals come back to violent life. Look for pro wrestler Professor Toru Tanaka in this scene!
The detectives meet with the PR person of Dante Laboratories, Randi James, and get a tour of the labs. As Doug encounters a reanimated biker, Roger is knocked into a decompression room (used to humanely kill animals used in testing) and dies. One of the doctors in the lab, Doctor Rebecca Smythers, and Doug use the machine to bring Roger back from the dead.
Now, our hero has no heartbeat, his skin is cold to the touch and he’ll be a puddle of gore in 12 hours. Plenty of time to close this case.
Roger goes to Randi’s house where two thugs attack them. She explains to him that she’s the daughter of a rich industrialist, Arthur P. Laudermilk (Vincent Price!). After learning that he can either save his life or solve the crime, Roger goes to get more clues. At Laudermilk’s tomb, Randi reveals that she isn’t really his daughter, but his protege.
When they get back to Randi’s home, Doug has been killed, drowned upside down in a fishbowl. This movie suddenly has taken a super dark turn that surprised me, but it’s not done yet. Randi looks at Roger as she begins to decompose, as she was one of the first experiments. Seriously, this scene totally took me by surprise. I didn’t expect two of the main characters to violently be destroyed like this. It’s not pretty and it really breaks what had been a funny buddy cop movie with supernatural elements up until this point.
Roger confronts the head coroner Dr. Ernest McNab (Darren McGavin!) who ends up getting the upper hand on our hero and locking him in an ambulance with Dr. Rebecca’s dead body. Man, everyone is getting killed! Our hero emerges from this trap looking like a scarred up zombie.
He makes his way to the hospital, where McNab and a resurrected Laudermilk are auctioning off the resurrection machine to the highest bidder. Almost everyone dies, but McNab reveals his final boss: a reanimated Doug, who is now an obedient zombie. Roger somehow restores his memory and they hook up McNab to the machine and he promptly explodes. Laudermilk begs them to use the machine to stay alive forever, but they destroy it and wonder if they’ll be reincarnated in the dark conclusion.
Writer Terry Black, who created the Red Steel video games, was approached by New World Pictures to write a sequel, but he wondered how, as everyone was dead. They responded, “You’ve got a resurrection machine… you figure it out.” No sequel has been made.
Director Mark Goldblatt would go on to direct the Dolph Lundgren The Punisher in 1989 before moving on to be an editor. He’s worked on everything from the Terminator movies, Rambo: First Blood Part II, Chappie, Pearl Harbor, Showgirls and True Lies.
Dead Heat is a weird movie. It’s funny in parts, shocking in others and isn’t afraid to hit you with plenty of gore. There are lots of cool cameos too, like Martha Quinn as a reporter, Linnea Quigley as a zombie stripper, Shane Black as a cop, pro wrestler “Judo” Gene LeBell as a guard, Dick Miller as another security guard, Keye Luke as a Chinatown gangster, Robert Picardo as a lieutenant and Mel Stewart from All in the Family as the police captain.