Wednesday, June 12, 2024

All Cops are Bodies

Film: Dead Heat
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on Fire!

Horror movies are great for genre mash-ups. Science fiction is a common choice, and a lot of science fiction movies have horror elements in them. There are plenty of horror-comedies as well. That said, there aren’t a lot of horror comedies that work really well; they either play too hard into the comedy or lean too hard into the horror. The right blend is difficult to find. Dead Heat opts for more than just horror-comedy, though. This is, and I struggle with the fact that I’m actually typing these words, a horror-comedy/police procedural action movie. It’s also a movie that stars Saturday Night Live alum-turned bodybuilder-turned political nutjob Joe Piscopo, for whatever that’s worth.

Cops Roger Mortis (Treat Williams) and his partner Doug Bigelow (Piscopo) respond to the robbery of a jewelry store. The two perps seem to be shrugging off the bullets they are being hit with, and are eventually stopped by a combination of hand grenade and being rammed by a car. They discover that the perpetrators were bullet resistant for a good reason—they were already dead. In fact, the coroner (Clare Kirkconnell) performed autopsies on them in the past.

Chemical traces on the bodies lead them to a company called Dante Pharmaceuticals where they meet Randi James (Lindsay Frost). Doug wanders off and encounters another zombie. In the ensuing fight, Roger gets stuck in a room used to humanely kill animals when necessary, and naturally the room is triggered. It turns out that the company in question has figured out a way to reanimate dead tissue, which means that Roger is resurrected—he feels fine, but has no pulse and his skin is cold. Told that he has a limited time before he essentially dissolves into a pile of goo, Roger decides to spend his time finding who killed him.

And, really, that’s it. We’re going to dive into what is essentially a sort of film noir as they investigate what happened to Roger, how the reanimation technology works, and how all of this is connected to the series of robberies that started the film.

What’s odd about Dead Heat isn’t so much the story or the genre mash-up, but the cast list. Piscopo hasn’t had much of a post-SNL career, but Treat Williams certainly did a lot of work and a few solid films. But beyond him, we’re going to see Darren McGavin, Vincent Price, Robert Picardo, Keye Luke, Mel Stewart, Martha Quinn, and Shane Black. Most of them are in it only for a few minutes, but it’s fun to see them.

The downside of the film is that in its 84 minutes, Dead Heat tries to pack in as much as it can from all of the genres it wants to be. There are a couple of jump scares, and we’re going to be fighting zombies throughout, so the horror genre is certainly covered, and there are some pretty good make-up effects at one point. In fact, the film went through heavy edits to get down to an R-rating from an X. It’s also very much a buddy cop movie. It’s a fairly solid procedural as the cops track down the bad guys.

Where it fails is the comedy, which is essentially what I expected was going to be the case. The problem with the comedy is that virtually all of it is being handed to Joe Piscopo, and virtually all of it from his end is going to come in the form of attempted one-liners, a lot of which fall flat. It’s also filled to the gills with late-80s comedy, so you can expect a solid amount of mild misogyny.

You don’t really need to look past the movie poster to see what you’re getting yourself into. On the poster, Treat Williams looks serious, even mildly intense. Piscopo, however, is gurning at the camera, pulling a face and trying to be funny.

The tragedy of Dead Heat is that this is actually a workable movie for what it wants to be. Put someone else in the Joe Piscopo role, someone with mild action cred (Tom Berringer would work) and get rid of the bad one-liners, and you’d end up with a solid horror-noir with some fun plot points. Instead, we have this.

Why to watch Dead Heat: How often are you going to find a zombie buddy cop horror comedy?
Why not to watch: If Joe Piscopo is your leading man, you have problems.


  1. Piscobo is back? *grabs nightstick*... I really don't like that guy. I found out what he was really famous for in the 80s after SNL and... no wonder people hated him.

    1. Nah, he's not back. This is from the late 1980s. He's still essentially forgotten.

    2. That "Piscobo is back" line is from an episode of Married... with Children in the 90s in an episode in which Kelly talks about her family to some TV show producers and they created a show that mirrors the lives of the Bundys and D'Arcys called Peas in a Pod. That episode is hilarious. Al is the only one that liked the show but gets upset when it cancelled in favor of a new sitcom from FOX.... starring Don Rickles.

  2. Geez this was weak and stupid! I remember when this came out. I was managing a movie theatre at the time and it was dumped into theatres in early May to get whatever it could make before being yanked to make room for the big summer films come Memorial Day. Even though I saw it for free by the time it ended I still felt overcharged! I'll admit there were elements to it that had they been properly used could have made, if not a great at least an entertaining picture but that sure wasn't the case. It wasted Treat, Darren McGavin and Vincent Price, those three alone should have been enough to turn out something better. Piscopo was a major mark against the flick but the director is just as much to blame.