4K UHD Review: Dead Heat

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The buddy cop film became extra hot in the ’70s and ’80s. Movies did their best to try to pair up two police officers with completely different backgrounds to create a bit of comic energy in their investigation. They paired up the brainiac with the dofus, the male chauvinist with the woman breaking boundaries, the country guy with the city slicker. If they could figure out two different characters, they’d slam them in an unmarked police car and set them investigating a tricky homicide case. Dead Heat mixed up the formula by having a live cop partnered up with an undead detective. That’s a pretty opposite pairing.

Detectives Roger Mortis (1941‘s Treat Williams) and Doug Bigelow (Johnny Dangerously‘s Joe Piscopo) get called in on a jewelry store robbery. But there’s something wrong since the robbers have no problem taking dozens of bullets from the police officers already at the scene. Roger’s drastic action finally puts an end to the robbers. Things get tricky when they drop by the morgue and speak with a medical examiner. Turns out she already had the robbers on her slab earlier. They just killed two dead guys. The head coroner Dr. McNab (Dr. Ernest McNab (Kolchak: The Night Stalker‘s Darren McGavin) doesn’t want to be much of a help. The two detectives track down a clue to a company that might have something to do with the undead robbers. They get a tour from Randi James (The Ring‘s Lindsay Frost), but decide that she’s holding back. When they poke around the corporate headquarters on their own, they find a strange invention and a biker thug with three faces. This might explain a bit of what’s going on. Before the detectives can investigate further, things go horribly wrong for Roger. This leads to him being brought back to life by the invention and puts on the trail of the people behind the company. The place originally owned by the inventor Arthur P. Laudermilk (Edward Scissorhands‘ Vincent Price). But is Arthur really gone from the boardroom? Roger has to solve this case fast since he’s decomposing in his undead state.

Normally I don’t recommend movies featuring Joe Piscopo. We had barely survived him from his time as Eddie Murphy’s buddy on Saturday Night Live. His comedy centered around people from New Jersey such as Sinatra, Bruce Springsteen and “Are you from Jersey” guy. His routines and sketches didn’t age well. There’s a reason why Tom Petty sang, “Take back Joe Piscopo” in “Jammin’ Me.” Dead Heat is the only movie Piscopo made that you should see. Most of what makes him a bit funny is Treat Williams putting in a fine semi-serious performance as a decaying detective. He gives a bit of gravity to a character that’s decaying. There’s also the joy of seeing Vinent Price and Darren McGavin on the screen. Price links Dead Heat back to Roger Corman origins before he started New World Pictures (although Roger had sold the company by this point). McGavin almost make this like a lost episode of Kolchak except he’s on the other side of the supernatural here. They also give us wrestling great Professor Toru Tanaka and Keye Luke (Gremlins) in a resurrection madness. Dead Heat revives quite a few careers.

Dead Heat works with the blend of buddy cop, science fiction, horror with a touch of comedy. The short running time of 84 minutes keeps the action from dying down. The gun totting zombies don’t stop. The film has quite a few memorable moments including the jewelry heist shoot out and a visit to a butcher shop where the meat comes alive. Dead Heat wasn’t a big hit back in 1988. Over the decades, the film has gained a cult audience on VHS. Now with the 4K-Ultra HD disc, you can see it as if you were in the theater on opening night. This is the right way to revive a film.

The video is 1.85:1 anamorphic. The new 4K transfer is rock solid resolution. You feel the ’80s coming through the TV screen. The audio is DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo mix like you heard in the theater on opening night. The movie is subtitled.

Archival commentary track has director Mark Goldblatt and screenwriter Terry Black alongside producers Michael L. Meltzer and David Helpern. They explain the budget was $5.4 million. They point out which actor was Arnold’s body double. Darren Starr worked on the movie to punch up the script. They also point out Martha Quinn’s part and mention her being one of the original VJs on MTV.

Blu-ray with everything on the 4K-UHD disc.

“The Building Blocks of Movies” (25:55) catches up with director Mark Goldblatt. His first job was at New World when Roger Corman created the studio in the early ’70s. Goldblatt is mostly known as an editor as he cut Pirahna, The Terminator, Commando, Showgirls and more. The only other film he directed was The Punisher before heading back to the editing room suite. He was thrilled to work with Vincent Price.

“A Thousand Feet of Lightning” (15:51) gets secrets from the set with visual effects artist Ernest Farino. He was into animation and visual effects as a kid and moved to California to work on the Pillsbury Doughboy. He worked on Galaxy of Terror where he hooked up with James Cameron. This led to him working on The Terminator including the main title animation. This is how he met up with director Mark Goldblatt.

“Seizing the Opportunity” (6:12) gets set up with second unit director Patrick Read Johnson. He owned a Ford Pinto and a Thomas Guide. He had gotten his start at a miniature company in a fast way. He learned his way up until they trusted him directing effects scenes. He was responsible for the butcher shop scene. Besides becoming a director, he also wrote Dragonheart.

“How to Edit For An Editor” (12:06) deals with how editor Harvey Rosenstock worked with Goldblatt. This was his first big film as the main editor in Hollywood after working in New York City for years. He started at Cannon films doing sound editing on Goldblatt’s editing projects. He was promoted up with Dead Heat.

“Happy Accidents Happen” (7:56) hits the notes with composer Ernest Troost. He was doing animated shorts in New York and gave his demo tapes to Roger Corman’s New World. He got recommended for Dead Heat after Corman left, but a few creative executives were left. Troost goes into how he wrote the score in four weeks. There’s a bit of comedy when he arrived at the studio with more musicians that the place expected. He went on to score Tremors.

“Dead and Alive” (19:00) is an archival interview with makeup effects creator Steve Johnson. He talks about getting to do a bunch of gore effects on the film. The producers didn’t haggle him on his price and trusted that he’d show up on the set with cool effects. He did. Steve explains how certain effects were done with life-size marionettes. He says Joe Piscopo had a truck filled with his weightlifting equipment.

Still gallery (4:37) has numerous promotional shots, international posters, soundtrack cover and home video packages.

Original theatrical trailer (1:35) promises something weird is happening on this police investigation.

TV spot (0:33) sells the outlandish nature of the film.

Deleted scenes (16:54) has a bunch of snipped moments in a low resolution. There’s a dream sequence involving a zombie popping out of a birthday cake. You also get to see Dick Miller’s deleted scene.

Archival EPK featurette (5:32) has interviews and behind the scenes action from the shoot. Treat swears Joe made him laugh on the set.

MIFED promotional piece (2:21) was used to try to sell that film at a market.

Vinegar Syndrome presents Dead Heat. Directed by Mark Goldblatt. Screenplay by Terry Black. Starring Treat Williams, Joe Piscopo, Darren McGavin, Darren McGavin, Lindsay Frost, Keye Luke, Vincent Price and Martha Quinn. Running Time: 84 minutes. Rating: Rated R. Release Date: February 22, 2022.

Joe Corey is the writer and director of "Danger! Health Films" currently streaming on Night Flight and Amazon Prime. He's the author of "The Seven Secrets of Great Walmart People Greeters." This is the last how to get a job book you'll ever need. He was Associate Producer of the documentary "Moving Midway." He's worked as local crew on several reality shows including Candid Camera, American's Most Wanted, Extreme Makeover Home Edition and ESPN's Gaters. He's been featured on The Today Show and CBS's 48 Hours. Dom DeLuise once said, "Joe, you look like an axe murderer." He was in charge of research and programming at the Moving Image Archive.