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John’s Horror Corner: Dead Heat (1988), an 80s hidden gem of a zombedy “buddy cop” movie.

March 19, 2022

MY CALL:  This is more of a hard-R cop movie with healthy doses of humor than a horror movie… but there are zombies… and it does get gory and gross. This gets a pretty strong recommendation from me. It’s a lot of fun.  MORE MOVIES LIKE Dead HeatFor more scientifically reanimated zombie movies, I’d recommend Re-Animator (1985) and sequels. This delightful 80s zombie oddity also makes me appreciate others of its kind like The Boneyard (1991), The Rejuvenator (1988) and The Vineyard (1989). Also, for more “modified” cop fare, consider The Hidden (1987).

Director Mark Goldblatt (The Punisher) opens this film in the classic trappings of a lower budget Lethal Weapon (1987) as we meet stylish cop Roger Mortis (Treat Williams; Deep Rising, Night of the Sharks) and his loose cannon partner Doug (Joe Piscopo). Despite their differences, they get along and share a propensity for mean street violence.

What’s nice about this movie is that it feels like a gritty, buddy cop movie first and a horror movie second, such that the writing and characters are richer and better written. When our cops look into a recent diamond heist in which the robbers seem immune to bullets, it is discovered that they had received autopsies at the local morgue prior to committing crime! Following a lead on some chemical traces, Roger and Doug look into a pharmaceutical company with a few undead secrets. Daughter to a recently deceased pharmaceutical business mogul (Vincent Price; From a Whisper to a Scream), Randi (Lindsay Frost; The Ring) handles PR for this zombie company.

Our first zombie encounter is with a monstrous, split-faced mongoloid which makes for an entertaining (even if clunky) fight scene in the pharmaceutical lab. Subsequent encounters with gun-toting zombie criminals bring more gunplay than brain-eating. I quite enjoyed the re-animated butcher shop creatures, with some action smacking hard of Re-Animator (1985). We also see a rapid decomposition before our eyes, and it is delightfully gross and full of flesh melty goodness! The best effect of the movie!

After dying and being resurrected himself, Roger degenerates more and more, and by the end of the movie he looks worse than Bill Paxton from Near Dark (1987). And with this look, we find some good humor as well.

Not sure how this movie evaded my attention for so many decades. I always knew it existed, but just never got around to it. And now that I have, I find it to be a pleasantly surprising forgotten gem of the 80s. So to fans of the 80s, this is strongly recommended.

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