For the last four years, Alamo Drafthouse programmer Zack Carlson has hosted a late-night horror movie celebration called Terror Tuesday and if you are a lover of horror, both esoterically brilliantly and obscurely awful, this night was invented just for you. The Terror Tuesday Report will dissect the movie shown as well as provide a barometer for the audience's reaction; as many of these films demand to be seen with an audience, this proves a vital component to the evening.
This week's film: Dead Heat, directed by Mark Goldblatt, 1988
Detectives Doug Bigelow and Roger Mortis are two cops who have an unconventional approach to police work. While putting a dramatic end to a jewelry store heist, Bigelow and Mortis discover the crooks they iced...were already dead. Digging deeper into the mystery leads them to a research facility with an unusual electrical device hidden in a restricted laboratory. Before they have the chance to so much as turn it on, Det. Mortis is tragically killed. But on a hunch, his partner props him onto the strange machine and like magic, he's walking and talking again. Only problem is, Roger has no pulse, no heartbeat, and he's decaying fast. Now the two detectives must solve Roger's murder before he rots away and dies...again.
After seeing it for the first time tonight, I have to say I am a big fan of Dead Heat. It is a horror comedy, but it works on an entirely different, clearly unintentional level. It's clear they were going for a horror twist on the buddy cop comedy, but the film tends to be more ironically funny than delivering on the quality punchlines. The horror elements are a lot of fun and seem reminiscent of Big Trouble in Little China which is something that obviously pleases this guy. I love the plethora of gags related to Det. Mortis' ability to withstand boatloads of gunshots; turning every cops' worst nightmare into delightful shtick. If there is one major misstep to this comedy, it's the comic relief they hired.
Joe Piscopo is an 80's trainwreck. He was, I'm told, a comedian and did make regular appearances on Saturday Night Live. He was a also bodybuilder who used steroids with the same frequency that most people use doorknobs. This combination amounted to a walking mass of veins and muscle with all the comedic timing of...a walking mass of veins and muscle. I have never in my life seen a comedian with less of an understanding of comedy. With every bad one-liner he delivers, he has this self-satisfied smirk on his face that brazenly belies his talentless-ness. He sweats and cheeses through this film like a macho casserole before ultimately being so unbearable, that you pray for even his briefest absence from the screen.
As a soothing relief for the itching and burning of Piscopoitis, Dead Heat does offer Treat Williams. I love this guy, he's a damn good actor, and watching him integrating the various stages of necrosis into his performance was awesome. As unlikely as it sounds, these two do have chemistry on screen. But it's less the type of chemistry that made the likes of Paul Newman and Robert Redford household names and more the type of chemistry employed to make meth. It is violently unpredictable and, again, doesn't go according to plan but somehow it gets results. For every decidedly uncool thing Piscopo does, Williams is there to be smooth and collected to balance it out. If Treat Williams doesn't adequately wash the taste of Piscopo out of your mouth, Dead Heat also offers Darren "A Christmas Story" McGavin and horror legend Vincent Price.
The film has incredible entertainment value from beginning to end. It is more fun than eating an entire bag of birthday cake all in one sitting. The scene in the butcher shop is deliciously bizarre and fits the rest of the movie like a disgusting glove. If you've lived your entirely life without seeing reanimated sides of beef and severed duck heads attacking police officers, you are truly missing out. There are also some really impressive effects that pop up sporadically throughout. My favorite being the woman who goes from zero to completed rotted in seconds. The shot right at the end of that sequence wherein all the skin crawls off of her face is phenomenal.
Dead Heat rocked the Alamo Drafthouse. As much as people seemed to really enjoy the film, I don't feel I was alone in my distaste for Mr. Piscopo. There were audible groans after more than a few of his jokes. Not only that, but when the character returns from apparent death, I watched people grimace and squirm in their chairs. Nevertheless, the audience devoured every second of the film.