In the Melrose Place area of Los Angeles, a robbery is being staged by two large and masked men who take great delight in shooting up the place as they raid the shop for its jewellery. It doesn't take long for the police to be called, and two cops who are driving nearby are drawn in, and drive up to find a full-on gun battle in progress, but the strange thing is, no matter how often the criminals are shot by the law’s gunfire, it does not slow them down one iota. What's their secret? They're unlikely to share, as the two cops, Roger Mortis (Treat Williams) and Doug Bigelow (Joe Piscopo), think up a way of stopping them in their tracks by, in turn, blowing one up and squashing the other with the front of a car...
"Roger Mortis"?! Buddy movies were big business in the eighties, even for those Hollywood stars who did not appear to need a buddy to carry their movie with, so New World, that ambitious but not exactly rolling in cash outfit that was a step above Cannon at least, devised their own variation. You know the drill by now, one's black and one's white, or one's a human and one's a dog, or one's a zombie and one's alive… what? Well, that last choice is what they went with, and though there have been productions since with the title Zombie Cop, nothing was as high profile as this, assuming you could call something that limped into selected theatres and wound up straight to video pretty much everywhere else high profile.
Our stars were a leading man on the way down, Williams who after a big fanfare was struggling to consolidate that image of the next big thing, and a comedian who was cashing in on Saturday Night Live fame, Piscopo, the sort of funnyman who gets jokes made about him on The Simpsons. That series was not on air when Dead Heat was out, but at the time the most criticism it received was when horror fans realised they had been sold a pig in a poke as far as Vincent Price was concerned: he was prominently billed in the publicity, but his entire role amounted to a five minute bit at the end, aside from a video tape deathbed clip scene on TV. Not the way his followers wished to see his talents squandered.
Darren McGavin, who had become a fan favourite with his seventies television character Kolchak, fared rather better as a morbidly cheerful coroner, but what of our central premise, which of them got to be the zombie? It was Williams, who after getting trapped in a decompression chamber (though he doesn't explode or anything, it would be difficult for Piscopo to trade quips with a blob) expires and is resurrected by the special machine that brings the dead back to life for about a day. This was the secret of the bank robbers, and it would appear there is a lot of experimentation with these developments going on, as Bigelow discovers when he battles a morbidly obese zombie with three noses just as his partner is seeing the life slipping out of him. This takes place at a swanky corporate lab, which is where they meet scientist Lindsay Frost.
She was the leading lady, though had a rival for that position in Mortis's ex Clare Kirkconnell, but in the end nobody really took that role, for thanks to the gimmick this film wound up with (spoiler!) every main character dead, one supposes you could get away with that when if one of them was bumped off you could simply stick them in the machine and give them more material to run through. It was meant to be funny, and in a broad, hacky kind of way it did raise a titter or two, with Piscopo doing his darnedest to keep the mood upbeat in spite of the grim subject matter that the film as a whole never got to grips with, preferring flippancy. What it looked like was a pilot for an eighties TV show that had somehow been allowed to swear and make rude jokes; there was no nudity, but the violence was suitably over the top, so just take out the gore and away you could go with the brand new season of Williams and Piscopo: undead cops. If you had a taste for cheese that didn't take itself remotely seriously, you could do worse - the sequence in the animated Chinese butcher's was a definite one-off. Music by Ernest Troost, with a rawk title number for the end credits, natch.