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Well before the days of the zombie craze, before the World War Z movie and before the Dawn Of The Dead remake, back in the golden age of cinema there was a buddy cop movie about zombies. Except it's not the way you think. Instead of having two cops fight zombies, we have two cops *becoming* zombies and *then* fighting other zombies. It is called Dead Heat, and if you think it takes itself seriously you're dead wrong.
Treat Williams stars as detective Roger Mortis, a police officer who dies in the line of duty while investigating a strange murder case. He is reanimated by a device that looks like a Devil-possessed MRI machine, and he and his partner Doug (played by Joe Piscopo) try solving the case before his body decomposes. Hilarity ensues as the pair face off with zombie gunmen and zombie secretaries on their way to the epic finale that easily blows every 21st century zombie flick out of the water. This may not be the most large scale and most spectacular zombie film ever made, but it certainly is one of the most entertaining ones.
Not for those of you who prefer their zombie flicks serious and dramatic, Dead Heat entertains with outrageous dark humor from start to finish. It's as campy as Crystal Lake and as cheesy as a pizza, and just oozes the 80s vibe in its characters. Roger is easy to root for and the plot of the villains to build a business around their so-called resurrection machine is despicable enough to warrant having Roger turn into an undead Dirty Harry to take them down. Vincent Price's appearance as the man who funded the creation of the zombie making machine increases the entertainment value even further. The movie's action scenes are fun, especially a rather famous one near the end which features two zombies emptying an entire clip of a machine gun into each other with both left standing as if nothing had happened.
Dead Heat was ahead of its time in a sense as it did not do well at the box office and the critics hated it also, while audiences had a mixed reaction to it. Yet it is a profoundly entertaining film if you go into it with the right mindset. This is not a film with a complex plot, nor was it meant to be. It's a turn off your brain type of movie, littered with cliches and bad puns, but enough humor to warrant forgiving all its flaws. It's a cheesy dark comedy for those of us who like that sort of thing. Fans of Brain Dead and Army of Darkness should appreciate it nicely.
As for the legacy of Dead Heat, here's something noteworthy. Later this year a film called R.I.P.D. is due to hit cinemas, a film about a police officer who dies and joins the Rest In Peace Department after his death. By the trailer it feels like a cross between Dead Heat and Men In Black, which means it has the chance to be very good. A shame it's PG-13, but it still looks like a fun movie. If Dead Heat scares you with its levels of violence (although in that case you probably stopped reading long ago), this might be the movie for you. Likewise, if you want to warm up for R.I.P.D, watch Dead Heat first. It's always good to see the original before the remake.
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