Dead Heat (1988) – A Review


A review of the 1988 cop-action-zombie-comedy Dead Heat starring Treat Williams and Joe Piscopo

Treat Williams Joe Piscopo Dead Heat 1988

It’s 1988 and cop buddies rule movie screens. This time we watch LAPD detectives Roger Mortis (Treat Williams) and Doug Bigelow (Joe Piscopo) investigate a very unusual case where crimes are being committed by dead criminals! What is going on???

Their case gets even more complicated and creepy when Roger is killed, but is miraculously brought back to life by some wild tech being used by the bad guys. The only downside to going through this Resurrection Machine is the limited life it will give Roger. He’ll have only twelve hours to use as a decaying dead cop to solve the case, engage in some action scenes against un-killable bad guys and trade jokes with his partner.

Dead Heat is said to be a cult favorite by many. It’s a silly, schlocky flick that doesn’t take itself seriously and tries to have some goofy fun with its infusion of zombies, comedy and action. It’s an admirable goal.

Although it might sound like a fun unique drive-in entertainment, I never thought much of it. Yeah, it’s got a fun sounding premise, but it’s executed poorly, doesn’t deliver on its promised ingredients and instead of being a hoot ends up as a yawn. It’s a great idea for a movie, but it loses steam long before the end.

Let me get the good out of the way first, since there’s really barely any good in this. Some of the special effects, animatronics and makeup are pretty cool.

Dead Heat 1988 action zombie cult comedy movieA standout scene are the guys at a Chinese restaurant and all the dead animals and dishes come to life and must be fought off. It’s kinda fun and it gets the closest to the level of goofy, bizarre action to what Dead Heat could have been.

As Williams goes through his day without a heartbeat he begins to decay, and some of the makeup on him during the last quarter of the movie is pretty good. I’ll also give the movie some kudos for some fun shootouts with relentless zombie bad guys who can take multiple bullets and will not go down. It’s amusing to see the shocked look on the cops trying to figure out how to kill these guys. It results in a few off-hand quips and sight gags worthy of a chuckle.

Darren McGavin comes off the best out of the cast. He’s the arrogant bad guy and seems to be one of the few who’s getting into the spirit of this outlandish B-movie. He plays an entertaining villain.

Other than that handful of things Dead Heat is a washout.

Williams and Piscopo don’t click onscreen. Williams is a very mundane lead, even after he turns into a zombie. I think he becomes a bit too deadpan with his role throughout most of the movie. He does get to unleash and get a bit more energetic at the end, but by then I was already long gone.

Piscopo spouts out obnoxious, unfunny jokes and doesn’t offer much comedy with his part. This might be Piscopo’s most popular movie, but I don’t think he’s funny in this at all. His role in Johnny Dangerously eclipses this easily in my eyes.

Joe Piscopo Treat Williams Dead Heat 1988 zombie comedyThe supporting cast (not counting McGavin) are either completely forgettable, like the leading ladies (who I don’t even remember their names) to just being wasted. Vincent Price might show up and that sounds like a fun casting coup, but he only arrives at the tail-end and is underutilized.

The story itself is nothing special and it’s not anything to get engaged by. That was probably a good thing – keep things relatively simple and focus more on the nuttiness of having living corpses robbing banks. Who cares how or why it’s happening, let’s just watch these 80’s cops have to try to stop them. But the majority of scenes with the guys unraveling the mystery and encountering their undead adversaries aren’t very exciting or memorable – other than that Chinese restaurant scene.

I can see why the concept of Dead Heat would make it branded as a ‘cult favorite’ by some. The idea of an 80’s action cop comedy with zombies is an awfully appealing one when you read the VHS box. But the fun really ends from there. Reading the description and envisioning all the possibilities that the movie might have and you’re already way ahead of what the film delivers.

Instead of it being a type of B-movie I would end up revisiting many times over to enjoy, it’s one where I watched nearly thirty years ago. After re-watching again and I quickly remembered why I thought watching it once was enough for me.


1 thought on “Dead Heat (1988) – A Review

  1. I strongly disagree with your opinion of Dead Heat I think that Treat Williams and Joe Piscopo both work well off each other I love how Treat Williams is more character is more straight laced and more conservative than Joe Piscopo’s character But he’s not afraid to break the rules. A perfect example is when he steals The Lieutenants Car and crashes it into one of The Zombie Robbers at The beginning of the movie I love at The Ebd how he looks just like The Terminator when goes on a shooting spree in The Lab Dead Heat is REALLY AWESOME In my humble opinion it’s a B MOVIE MASTERPIECE

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