Dead Heat (1988)

Dead Heat (1988) ReviewTagline: You can’t keep a good cop dead.

Director: Mark Goldblatt

Writer: Terry Black

Starring: Treat Williams, Joe Piscopo, Lindsay Frost, Darren McGavin, Vincent Price, Clare Kirkconnell, Keye Luke, Robert Picardo, Mel Stewart, Professor Toru Tanaka, Martha Quinn, Ben Mittleman, Peter Kent, Cate Caplin, Monica Lewis

18 | 1hr 26min | Action, Horror, Comedy

Budget: $5,000,000


As genre crossovers go, Dead Heat is about as bold and as ridiculous as they come.

It begins like any run-of-the-mill action movie and evolves into something else entirely, wryly taking the mantle of tried-and-tested before turning it around and rubbing your face in the punchline. On the surface of things, it is a movie about two cop buddies, one straight-edged and acerbic, the other a randy meathead with a penchant for the reckless and lowbrow. We have a disgruntled ex-wife, an exasperated police Captain, a fiendish villain in cahoots with the Chinese Mafia – just about every genre trope you would expect from lazy B-movie tripe.

But this is so much more than it ever had the right to be. With undead hitmen, zombie ducks and reanimated cow livers thrown into the mix, it quickly becomes a heady delight, not to mention the camp spectacle of an ageing Vincent Price, who hams it up as a Dr Frankenstein beset on bringing immortality to the wealthy elite of America. The action is laughable, the quips exquisite in their ineptitude, and the off-colour chemistry of the movie’s leading men is a cutely grinning portrait of cult tomfoolery. 

Dead Heat (1990) Review

Here, let me fasten your zipper for you.

Following a stint of robberies by a seemingly invincible gang of thieves, Detectives Roger Mortis (Williams) and Doug Bigelow (Piscopo) head to the morgue where they discover that the criminals in question have in fact been dead before, undergoing full autopsies before rising to head into the night. According to Roger’s ex-wife and resident coroner Rebecca (Kirkconnell), the returning undead are full of Sulfathiazole, an organosulfur compound which has been ordered in massive quantities by Dante Pharmaceuticals, and which may be a source of human reanimation – something she presumably learned at a medical school for the criminally insane. 

Armed with the kind of radical suspicions that would have any cop committed in a heartbeat, the two crime fighters begin snooping around Dante headquarters, and after Roger is killed in a decompression chamber he is quickly brought back to life by the corporation’s Resurrection Machine, a contraption which, with no previous knowledge of its uses or functions, Rebecca manages to understand and operate in a matter of seconds.

Dead Heat (1988) Review

And this will bring him back , you say?

Awakening with a smile, Roger has never felt better. The only problem is he has no pulse. Nor does he bleed after accidentally severing his artery – although he bleeds at every opportunity thereafter. This blaring oversight notwithstanding, these characteristics lead the trio to deduce that Roger is still dead, and although undertaking no further research regarding a completely new scientific phenomena, Rebecca manages to further diagnose her former spouse, coldly informing him that he has approximately twelve hours until total decomposition, a time when his body will dissolve into a kind of organic stew.

Unfazed by this groundless diagnosis, detective Mortis is instead interested in using his final hours to nail whoever landed him in this mess, shrewdly using lipstick to conceal his paling kisser while in search of the truth. First on his list is the surreptitious Randi James (Frost), the supposed daughter of Arthur P. Loudermilk (Price) a recently deceased millionaire who had used the Dante research facility as his own personal plaything.

Dead Heat (1988) Review

What is it? I have something in my hair, don’t I?

After breaking into Loudermilk’s abandoned mansion, Roger finds a series of random numbers painted on the inside of a lampshade, and with pure Scooby-doo convenience decodes the digits by swapping them for their corresponding letters in the alphabet. The kindergarten code spells ‘bodydoc’, and with no room for further interpretation Roger points the finger squarely at head coroner Dr Ernest McNab, who prior to this vague revelation he had loved and respected beyond suspicion, in spite of the fact that he spends the entire movie making excuses for the missing bodies and is clearly guilty.  

After finding Doug dead in a fish tank (yes, a fish tank), a rapidly decomposing Roger goes in search of a confession, and with a series of highly improbable assumptions concludes that McNab has been burying the wealthy alive and claiming the spoils. Not only that, he and the Chinese mafia have been resurrecting criminals and putting their corpses to work. But is McNab working alone, or is the delightfully nefarious Loudermilk behind a new technique which promises to provide eternal life for the affluent residents of Beverly Hills, and perhaps even our recently deceased heroes?

Dead Heat

Riggs and Murtaugh had seen better days.

Best Kill

After revealing that she too is a zombie who had been promised eternal life, Randi begins to wither and melt into a lip-dripping stew. Wracked with guilt following her constant lies and misleading tactics, her decaying skull even manages to repent, unhindered by the fact that it possesses neither a tongue nor vocal chords – or even a brain for that matter.

Most Absurd Moment

Pressing the Chinese mafia for details about their mass purchase of sulfathiazole, our heroes are set upon by a whole host of dead animals, including fried ducks, split pigs and a giant, headless cow. Not to worry! Bumbling musclehead Doug has a cunning plan: to drown the cow in A1 sauce.

Doug, it has no head!

Most Absurd Dialogue

After attaching a duck head to a battery and marvelling at its quack concerto, detectives Mortis and Bigelow are left befuddled.

Roger Mortis: Zombie duck heads: what a concept!

Doug Bigelow: This could replace the whoopee cushion!


rtape rtape rtape rtape rtape

A zany treat which delights in its own silliness, Dead Heat flips one off to the joyless bad movie cynics, while teaching a valuable lesson to those who are quick to condemn. Perhaps the greatest buddy cop/zombie crossover ever put to celluloid, and almost certainly the only one. 

Cedric Smarts

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2 responses to “Dead Heat (1988)

  1. I actually saw this. It was pretty terrible. Not unwatchable or regret-terrible, but I couldn’t resist the title and synopsis. It was weird to see Piscopo roided out, trying to play an action guy. Downfall of his career.


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