Roger Mortis and Doug Bigelow are cops for the Los Angeles Police Department. One day, they’re getting called to the robbery of a jewelry store. A shootout starts, and the bank-robbers get perforated with bullets. They don’t die, however, and it takes some creativity from Mortis and Bigelow to take them out. The bodies of the robbers are are brought to the morgue, and coroner Rebecca mentions that these two corpses have been brought to the morgue before, also dead. A rare substance that can used as a preservative is found in the bodies, and the two cops pay a visit the chemical company that recently bought large quantities of it. They discover a device to perform twisted experiments as their investigation progresses. Things escalate rapidly, as many people are getting killed and brought back from the dead, and vice versa, as Mortis and Bigelow try to uncover a fiendish conspiracy
The 1980s were the decade of buddy action movies (such as Lethal Weapon and 48 Hours). It was also the time when blends between horror and comedy (such as Re-Animator and Return of the Living Dead) became more popular with a wider public. Dead Heat took the next step and mashed all of these genres into one goofy hybrid. Even though Dead Heat certainly does not score points for a clever or even consistent plot, the attempt of such a genre cross-over was fairly original at the time.
Dead Heat supposedly was a vehicle for comedy star Joe Piscopo of Saturday Night Live fame. His character is an exaggeration of the macho-type cop, and his fairly impressive physical stature actually makes him well suited for the role. The jokes he’s pulling off in this movie are so low and borderline demented, though, that occasionally I wanted to hide behind my couch out of embarrassment. Despite this, it’s a fairly likable performance from Piscopo. Treat Williams’ character Roger Mortis is really the main driving force of the movie, however. Williams delivers a very funny performance, as re-animated and slowly decaying undead cop that tries to process his transformation and reflects on his impending demise. Overall, the movie is a fairly light-hearted and tongue-in-cheek affair, also as almost every character in the movie exhibits a fairly laid back attitude towards death.
The action scenes are not spectacular, there are no large set pieces being blown up, but everything is professionally executed. There’s plenty of very bloody shootouts with people getting full magazines emptied into their bodies. I guess this was done to emphasize the point that almost nobody in the movie ever dies from bullets. It’s certainly funny to watch an undead cop beating up a bunch of undead goons, as it takes an extra effort to kill anyone in this movie. Extra credits also go to the practical special effects by mastermind Steve Johnson, which are top notch. There’s plenty of get decaying and melting bodies, burned faces, and reanimated zombie ducks and pigs. All the graphic scenes are delivered with plenty of comic relief, however, and there’s not a single scary scene in Dead Heat.
Dead Heat is a likable blend of horror, action and comedy that delivers plenty of jokes, bullets and gore. Even though it does nothing spectacular by today’s standards, it has aged well, and is certainly worth a watch.