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Dead Heat (1988) Revisited

Updated on July 28, 2020
Noel Penaflor7 profile image

Hey you. I wrote this Review Just for You because I like you.I also like pizza.

MPAA Rating
Running Time
86 minutes
Mark Goldblatt
Terry Black

Happy 3rd of July weekend, everybody!

While you’ll be outside in the warm summer sun celebrating the holiday with a group of your closest friends, here’s hoping you’ll drink and firework responsibly while you’re all clustered in a condensed space.

How can you be outside and clustered in a condensed space?

I’m sure some of you will figure something out. What could possibly go wrong?

But if you can somehow find the will power to fight off the almost lethal boredom of staying at home to save your life and/or possibly save the lives of others –

I’m so bored and feel so oppressed. They can’t make me stay at home AND wear a mask!

--Possibly save the lives of others, maybe you’d like to hit the pause on that white privilege, dial it back 3 decades and revisit the 1988 VHS classic Dead Heat.

Okay, “classic” is too strong of a word. How about “movie it’s been years since you’ve seen that really isn’t too bad and may be worth a rewatch if you’ve got nothing better to do".

I’m quite sure I still owe late fees on that movie. I’m also sure the video store I owe it to has been out of business for decades.

I know it’s been years since you’ve seen this movie.

If you’re wondering if you’ve seen this movie or not I can guarantee that you haven’t because anybody who’s seen it deems it unforgettable, seared into their memories like the births of their children.

If you were alive during the late 80s, there was no way you could have missed the box-office powerhouse of Treat Williams and Joe Piscopo.

*crickets chirp*

*10 more minutes of awkward silence as you try to remember who Joe Piscopo is*

*You kind of remember Treat Williams in other things but not in anything you could name right now*

*You try to check your phone but even the internet is asking you, “Who the f*ck is Joe Piscopo?*

If you can’t remember Joe Piscopo and Treat Williams, just know they were box-office gold in their day.

Okay, box-office bronze or whatever is two steps down from bronze.

I remember Joe Piscopo from that one thing he did. He was good.

He was good. Maybe too good. Like a comet. Because after Dead Heat there is nowhere to go but down. Maybe that’s why no one saw him in anything else.

Yes. I’m sure that’s why.

Now treat (Williams) yourself to the review.


Dead Heat opens in the 80s because it was actually made in the 80s and not some shallow piece of nostalgia porn.

We see a pretty swanky jewelry store. Rich white people are in it with giant hair and shoulder pads as large as Emmanuel Lewis. It’s a sunny afternoon in Los Angeles. Let’s hope they’ve enjoyed the day so far because that peace is about to be shattered.

Shattered? Yes. By two large men carrying semiautomatic weapons. Seems like overkill for a jewelry store, but this is the 80s. You realize there’s something off about the men, and not just because they both decided to stick automatic weapons down their pants as holsters.

Luckily, a clerk sounds the silent alarm.

Good thing police officers Roger Mortis (box-office juggernaut Treat Williams) and Doug Bigelow (0-time Oscar nominee Joe Piscopo) are on duty. With them on the case, the one-liners and the bullets are going to fly.

The perps are leaving the jewelry store and begin to open fire. Random nameless cops are caught in the crossfire. Bigelow and Mortis are knee deep in bullets and blood. The robbers have been hit with multiple rounds but they’re still standing.

It’s only after some quick thinking and even more reckless driving that Roger Mortis halts the fracas. The robbers are finally dead.

Or are they?

According to the local coroner Rebecca Smythers (Clare Kirkconnell) there’s something familiar about these 2 corpses. In that she’s seen them before because she declared them dead weeks ago. Smythers may be new and spell “Smithers” with a ‘Y’, but she’s not in the habit in signing off on dead bodies that really aren’t dead.

Her not suspicious boss Dr. McNab (Darren McGavin) dismisses it as a rookie mistake and there’s totally nothing unusual about the corpses and nobody should worry about anything and everything will be fine if we can just let this go.

People riddled with bullets don’t usually stay upright and keep fighting. Unless there’s something bizarre going on. There’s been a string of violent robberies lately, most of them involving near-invincible thieves like the ones the other day.

Mortis and Bigelow are led to a local research facility (“Sorry to interrupt your erection”) where they’re taken on a tour by the head of PR Randi James (Lindsay Frost). Nothing seems to be out of the ordinary except Doug enters a couple of restricted doors on his own and finds himself in a fight with a rather large monster/man hybrid.

So we’ve got a Randy with an ‘I’ and a Smithers with a ‘Y’. Got it.

He/it has the same capabilities and immunities as the jewelry store thieves except this monster looks a lot…gorier.

Mortis hears gunshots and helps Doug in the fight but ends up dead in the process.

Roger is dead, but only for about 3 minutes of screen time because in the bowels of the facility there’s a resurrection machine. Within moments Roger is brought back to life. But with a price.

Roger’s body will start to decay and after about 12 hours Mortis’s body will start to disintegrate and Roger will be dead. Again.

Doug and Roger now have half a day to find out who’s behind all this, bring the heat and make the criminals dead. If they aren’t already.

What Works With Dead Heat

  • A Vincent Price cameo alone makes Dead Heat worth another watch. If only to see the late great Vincent Price onscreen again.
  • Even if it’s been a while since you’ve seen Dead Heat, no doubt you remember the scene in the restaurant. The special effects hold up remarkably well over 30 years and some of the um, menu items, are genuinely shocking. You’re guessing most of the movie’s budget went to this lone sequence.
  • While Treat Williams plays the straight man, Joe Piscopo gets the movie’s best one-liners and for the most part doesn’t blow it. Wonder if Piscopo is holding his breath for a sequel.

What Doesn’t Work With Dead Heat

  • For a scant running time of just over 80 minutes, there are more than a couple of dead spots that minorly stall but never grind the movie to a halt. Just when you begin to lose focus, there’s a monster or a well-timed quip to keep the proceedings moving forward.

Joe Piscopo has no idea what to do with his hands.
Joe Piscopo has no idea what to do with his hands.


Say Pisco-Yes, not Pisco-No to this late 80s horror comedy that you haven’t seen in forever. Then Google “What happened to Joe Piscopo?” and for the first time ever, the internet will be silent.

3 stars for Dead Heat


What’s Your Favorite Movie With Dead Or Dead In the Title?

See results


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    Post Comment
    • Noel Penaflor7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Noel Penaflor 

      5 weeks ago from California

      Or ZombieLAnd, but that might have been to cerebral.

    • FatFreddysCat profile image

      Keith Abt 

      5 weeks ago from The Garden State

      They really missed a bet by not calling this movie "Beverly Hills Zombie."


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