New World Pictures was a production company originally founded by Movie mogul Roger Corman in 1970. Between 1970 and the late 1990's New World Pictures brought out a lot of the type of stuff that made a name for Corman (although with a bigger budget than was the norm during his earlier stint in Hollywood). Whether Corman had a hand in the day to day production of the movies his company put out or not, the list of movies is a goldmine for great ideas for future reviews. I got the idea to look at their output after reviewing Hell Comes to Frogtown.
One of the first ones that caught my eye was this one. Mainly because we recently lost Treat Williams, but also because his co-star, Joe Piscopo, is one I had been thinking about because of my review of Johnny Dangerously.
Dead Heat is typical of the kinds of drive-in type movies that appeal to someone of my particular bent. Lots of action interspersed with some witty (and sometimes snarky) comedy. And to add a little zest, zombies.
Also showing up in this movie is Vincent Price. Price was reaching the end of his career by this time, but he still brings it to the table (as he always did). He only made two more movies after this, including his final role in Edward Scissorhands. His role here, as a secondary villain (and recently deceased benefactor) is not his best, but seeing Price in any film is always a treat.
Dead Heat (1988):
The movie opens with a bang. Two guys (somewhat inept) are attempting to rob a jewelry store. Meanwhile, every cop in the city has converged on the store, ready to pounce on them as they exit the building. This includes undercover cops (why undercover cops, hell, I don't know), Roger Mortis (Treat Williams) and Doug Bigelow (Joe Piscopo).
|Mortis and Bigelow|
As the thieves exit the building a shootout ensues, with bullets flying everywhere. The thieves themselves are shot something like 50 times but keep on fighting. It takes a grenade to blow up one and the other gets trashed when Mortis pins him forcefully between the car he is driving and another car.
The two get called on the carpet by their superior, Captain Mayberry (Mel Stewart). They have committed numerous infractions of department policy including "unauthorized use of a city vehicle, reckless endangerment of property and lives, use of a non-regulation firearm, disrespectful conduct", and, as if that wasn't enough, "18 parking tickets" (and that's just THIS month... Ye Gods!)
Mortis and Bigelow are called to the city morgue by resident coroner Rebecca Smythers (Claire Kirkconnell). Rebecca and Roger had a previous intimate relationship, so they know each other.
|Smythers (with Mortis and Bigelow)|
It seems that the two recently "deceased" criminals had been in her care before. That's right. They had already been declared dead by her from a previous autopsy. The surgical scars on their bodies were from the previous autopsy. OK, now we're getting somewhere...
So, rather quickly, it comes to light that the corpses have some synthetic compound in their system called Sulfathiozole (which is actually a real drug used in surgeries to combat infection.) It turns out that a local research company called Dante Laboratories has purchased bulk amounts of this drug, so the two go to investigate.
Where they meet a public relations rep named Randi James (Lindsay Frost), who introduces them Dr. McNab (Darren McGavin) the head of the research facility.
In the process they are shown a special room that they use to euthanize lab animals, and a secret room that has some high tech gadget they can't figure out. But someone doesn't want them snooping around and sends a couple of zombies to kill them.
In the process, Mortis ends up in the euthanizing chamber and gets locked in and killed by the secret enemy. Rebecca shows up after hearing that Roger has died (over police dispatch radio, yeah right...) Not only is she able to figure out that the contraption in the secret room can revitalize dead bodies, she also has the knowledge of how to operate the thing, just on seeing the computer layout.
Roger is revived, although at the beginning he thinks he just blacked out. It takes some serious convincing to make him aware that he died and is now a zombie. With only 10 or 12 hours to live...again.) So Mortis and Bigelow, like the main character in D.O.A. have a limited time to get to the bottom of the mystery as to who killed Roger before Roger is really dead for good.
Of course, the bad guys don't want the pair to be successful, so several zombie assassins are put in their path. This coupled with Mortis' rapid deterioration (he is still a dead man, after all) hinders them somewhat.
Along the way, a few more people are killed by the zombies (including Bigelow, but he is revived by the same process that revived Mortis). That's right, now we have TWO zombie cops on the trail of the zombies and the zombie master, as it were.
It turns out that Arthur Loudermilk (Vincent Price), the benefactor of Dante Laboratories has been behind the development of this contraption for extending lives, although his only motive was to keep rich people (people who could afford his process) alive. Is he behind the plot to kill Mortis and Bigelow or is he just an innocent bystander?
This movie is really good, despite it's rather negative reception by critics and the box office. I imagine, like the previous review I did for Hell Comes to Frogtown, this one was only in theaters for a limited run, but I honestly did not know it even existed until a couple of weeks ago. But in retrospect it was well worth seeking out.
Time to fire up the old Plymouth and head home. Stay safe from the zombies, folks!