Saturday, February 10, 2007

Weekly Movie Night #5

Zombies make everything better. I think I've said this before. Several times. But they do, usually. As crappy as a movie is, zombies would instantly make it better. That's not to say there aren't shitty zombie movies. There are. But with very few exceptions(Tombs of the Blind Dead 1&2, Zombie Lake) I've enjoyed them immensely on one level or another. Even Hell of the Living Dead, which is widely regarded one of the worst zombie movies ever, still fills me with glee when I recall some of it's absurdly silly scenes of zombie gore. Yes, zombies make even the worst movie tolerable. So it is with Dead Heat, which may not qualify as one of the worst movies ever, but it's certainly not one of the pinnacles of quality cinema. Not that a movie needs to be in order to be a success.

Dead Heat came out in 1988, and is a prime example of that decade's genre film making. It's a decade that usually gets written off for it's cheesy fashions and synth-laden pop music, it's neon-colors and valley girl lingo, but the 80's is a goldmine of forgotten cinematic treasure. I'm not saying that horror cinema has died, or that the quality has gone down since the 80s, but certainly the level of inventiveness isn't there in the mainstream film making anymore. They Live? Big Trouble In Little China? Buckaroo Bonzai? Can you imagine these films getting a green light today? Dead Heat lives up to this tradition in spirit, at least, with a Frankenstein's script cobbled together out of a variety of genres; The buddy-cop-action-comedy-zombie movie.

Treat Williams And Joe Piscopo play two mismatched cops/best friends. The generic odd-couple of action movies. Treat Williams plays the by-the-book suit wearing cop with a car no honest policemen could afford, and Joe Piscopo basically plays Joe Piscopo. Slovenly, prone to violence, and not really as funny as he thinks he is. I've never seen the appeal of Joe Piscopo as a comedic talent, other than his ridiculously muscular arms. He always comes across as that loud uncle who probably drinks too much and has appointed himself the family fool. These two are investigating a series of high profile 'smash and grab' robberies that seem to be committed by one gang of individuals. After pumping an insane amount of lead into two of these gang members, and finally having to off them with a grenade and a moving car, they are told by the coroner that the two men had been dead much longer than they know to be true.

Following the trail of these two men leads them to a pharmaceutical company that seems a bit shady. And rightfully so; during this visit Treat Williams and Joe Piscopo are attacked by a hideously deformed giant of a man, and Treat Williams is killed. That's not as much of a spoiler as you might think; Treat Williams' character is named 'Roger Mortis'. What does the distraught Joe Piscopo do? Well, he finds a machine that can reanimate dead tissue, and sticks his friend into it, who comes out good as new. Almost. The process is still imperfect, and he has only 12 hours to solve his own murder before Roger's tissue degenerates into a puddle of steaming bile. Speaking of which, some note should be paid to the effects in this movie, which are better than you would expect from a movie of this perceived quality. The effects were done by, among others, Nick Benson, who had a whole string of great work in movies of varying quality in the late 80s, including the Blob remake, Tremors, Bride of Re-Animator, and one of the most disgusting movies you've never seen; Society. The highlight set piece is set in a Chinese butcher shop where all of the dead animals on display are reanimated. It's delightfully queasy, and you'll be laughing at the silliness of it while holding back disgust at how gross it all looks.

So, the big question; Does the movie work? As a buddy-cop movie? No, not really, even if the chemistry between the two leads seems more genuine than other, more standard buddy-cop films. As a zombie movie? Well, as has been evidenced I'm very lenient in how I judge a good zombie film. Certainly this isn't your typical zombie film, since the reanimated dead keep much, if not all, of their intelligence and personality, and there's no flesh eating at all. The biggest mistake this movie makes is criminally underusing Vincent Price in a role he could have slept through, and, at times, that's just what he appears to be doing.
So, maybe this doesn't work as a zombie film per se, but I'd still say it works overall. The film is goofy, and I wouldn't rank it nearly as high as An American Werewolf in London or the Evil Dead movies when it comes to horror comedies, but it's overall pretty damn fun.

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