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Summer of ’88: Dead Heat – Public Relations Meltdowns and Zombie Cops

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Summer of ‘88: Dead Heat - Public Relations Meltdowns and Zombie Cops

Believe it or not, there’s an interesting idea lurking inside Dead Heat. It arrives too late to save the viewer, but it should have been the pitch that got this film made. Rather than focus on the one-sentence plot description (“It’s a buddy cop picture where one of the buddies is D-E-D-Dead!”), writer Terry Black should have lead with the reason the machine that reanimates corpses exists. During the climax, mad-scientist Vincent Price explains to his rich investors that his machine will reanimate them after death so they can live forever and screw their heirs out of their inheritance. The machine will also perform maintenance on them so they can look their best, while those greedy bastards they sired wither away and die. “That’s a great idea!” I thought. “This is Death Becomes Her before Death Becomes Her became Death Becomes Her!”

Unfortunately, this development comes out of left field and is quickly discarded in the ensuing climactic carnage. Until this point, the machine was being used to create an indestructible race of jewel thieves. Two of these creatures are seen in the opening of the film, appearing just as a snooty rich woman utters, “I was hoping for a little more suspense.” She’s talking about jewelry, but she’s also echoing the audience’s sentiment. Dead Heat bills itself as a horror-comedy, but it’s not gruesome enough to satisfy gorehounds, and it isn’t intentionally funny at all. It keeps the sad promises offered by the familiar red New World Pictures logo that graced similar ‘80s output: sober people with little time on their hands need not apply, as this one’s for bored drunks on lonely Saturday nights.

As the zombie robbers smash and grab, detectives Roger Mortis (Treat Williams) and Doug Bigelow (Joe Piscopo) appear on the scene…along with half the police department. The criminals are shot 40,000 times but will…not…die. Mortis, Bigelow, and their cop brethren respond to this far too calmly. “Maybe they’re on PCP,” says one cop. Nobody thinks to shoot them in the head, though one is blown up by a grenade. “You have the right to remain…disgusting!” says Bigelow to the exploded corpse.

It also has the right to be reanimated. Dr. Rebecca Smythers (Clare Kirkconnell, who’s actually decent here) informs our heroes that the thieves had been to her morgue before. “I did them myself,” the coroner says. Her boss, Dr. Ernest McNab (Darren McGavin), thinks she’s bonkers, but the guys follow a lead to a company that ordered tons of the predominant chemical that’s present in the dead bodies. They’re met by the company’s PR director, Randi James (Lindsay Frost), who’s evasive in the ways all hot, blond PR directors are. She deflects his questions with her gorgeousness, but that doesn’t stop Bigelow from sneaking behind a metal door to investigate. He’s met by a huge three-faced creature that will…not…die. While Bigelow’s fighting Tri-Face, his partner gets trapped in a room that sucks all the air out of him. This kills him, of course.

Williams must have owed loan sharks when he agreed to take this movie. But he appears to get an early exit, so his dignity remains intact—until his character is reanimated using the machine Bigelow conveniently found before his near fatal face-off. Did I mention that Williams’s character is named Roger Mortis? There’s also a Lieutenant Herzog and a Captain Mayberry, and screenwriter Terry Black’s more famous brother, Shane Black, appears in a mercifully unnamed part. Maybe Joe Piscopo’s character is named after Katherine Bigelow, but I won’t give the filmmakers that much credit.

Now that Roger Mortis has, you know, that thing that sounds like his name, he can go after the undead zombie robbers. According to Dr. Rebecca, a reanimated corpse will disintegrate in about 12 hours, which leaves little time for the guys to solve the case. As indestructible as the other corpses, Mortis takes a shitload of bullets, but not before director Mark Goldblatt gives him a very short scene where he contemplates how wasted his life was. It’s not Prince of the City, but at least Williams has a moment to show his chops. Alas, there’s little time for introspection when you have people to shoot and blond PR people to screw.

Speaking of which, 90% of Dead Heat’s special-effects budget goes to Little Miss Perky Blonde, and not for something like boob implants, either. Randi James turns out not to be what she seems at all: Regarding the evil reanimator company, Randi’s not only the PR person, she’s also a client. This revoltin’ development leads to her rather spectacular demise, and as her pretty features melt into goop, my thoughts of “OOH! YUCKY!” gave way to choke-inducing laughter. She continues to apologize to Mortis even after her head falls off and turns upside down. This is worth the rental price alone, though I do suggest you fast-forward to it.

Everybody dies Dead Heat. I mean, every single main character does. Whether they stay dead is another story, but I found that a tad refreshing. Black’s script ensures that there’s no sequel potential; the other 10% of the F/X budget goes to the splattery demise of both the main villain and the reanimation machine. Even so, death doesn’t stop our heroes from walking off into the 1980s explosion smoke that replaced the sunsets of old movies.

Today, Piscopo’s career could use a reanimation machine, but the director of Dead Heat needs no such device. Mark Goldblatt continues to have one hell of a career as an editor, having edited or co-edited movies for Paul Verhoeven (Showgirls, Starship Troopers, Hollow Man), James Cameron (both Terminator films, True Lies), and Joe Dante (Piranha, The Howling). He’s also at least partly responsible for the Cuisinart-endorsed editing styles of Michael Bay and Tony Scott. That’s a far bigger sin than anything I saw in Dead Heat.

Odie “Odienator” Henderson is a contributor to RogerEbert.com and runs the blog Tales of Odienary Madness. He’s the troublemaker responsible for the annual Black History Mumf series at his other blog, Big Media Vandalism. His work has appeared at Movies Without Pity, Salon, and, of course, here at The House Next Door.

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Let Your Sanity Go on Vacation with a Trip to the Moons of Madness

If you dare, ascend into the horrors of the Martian mind and check out the trailer for yourself.

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Moons of Madness
Photo: Rock Pocket Games

The announcement trailer for Moons of Madness opens with an empty shot of the Invictus, a research installation that’s been established on Mars. The camera lingers over well-lit but equally abandoned corridors, drifting over a picture of a family left millions of kilometers behind on Earth before finally settling on the first-person perspective of Shane Newehart, an engineer working for the Orochi Group. Fans of a different Funcom series, The Secret World, will instantly know that something’s wrong. And sure enough, in what may be the understatement of the year, Newehart is soon talking about how he “seems to have a situation here”—you know, what with all the antiquated Gothic hallways, glitching cameras, and tentacled creatures that start appearing before him.

As with Dead Space, it’s not long before the station is running on emergency power, with eerie whispers echoing through the station and bloody, cryptic symbols being scrawled on the walls. Did we mention tentacles? Though the gameplay hasn’t officially been revealed, this brief teaser suggests that players will have to find ways both to survive the physical pressures of this lifeless planet and all sorts of sanity-challenging supernatural occurrences, with at least a soupçon of H.P. Lovecraft’s cosmicism thrown in for good measure.

If you dare, ascend into the horrors of the Martian mind and check out the trailer for yourself.

Rock Pocket Games will release Moons of Madness later this year.

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Watch: Two Episode Trailers for Jordan Peele’s The Twilight Zone Reboot

Ahead of next week’s premiere of the series, CBS All Access has released trailers for the first two episodes.

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The Twilight Zone
Photo: CBS All Access

Jordan Peele is sitting on top of the world—or, at least, at the top of the box office, with his sophomore film, Us, having delivered (and then some) on the promise of his Get Out. Next up for the filmmaker is the much-anticipated reboot of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone, which the filmmaker executive produced and hosts. Ahead of next week’s premiere of the series, CBS All Access has released trailers for the first two episodes, “The Comedian” and “Nightmare at 30,000 Feet.” In the former, Kumail Nanjiani stars as the eponymous comedian, who agonizingly wrestles with how far he will go for a laugh. And in the other, a spin on the classic “Nightmare at 20,0000 Feet” episode of the original series starring William Shatner, Adam Scott plays a man locked in a battle with his paranoid psyche. Watch both trailers below:

The Twilight Zone premieres on April 1.

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Scott Walker Dead at 76

Walker’s solo work moved away from the pop leanings of the Walker Brothers and increasingly toward the avant-garde.

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Scott Walker
Photo: 4AD

American-born British singer-songwriter, composer, and record producer Scott Walker, who began his career as a 1950s-style chanteur in an old-fashioned vocal trio, has died at 76. In a statement from his label 4AD, the musician, born Noel Scott Engel, is celebrated for having “enriched the lives of thousands, first as one third of the Walker Brothers, and later as a solo artist, producer and composer of uncompromising originality.”

Walker was born in Hamilton, Ohio on January 9, 1943 and earned his reputation very early on for his distinctive baritone. He changed his name after joining the Walker Brothers in the early 1960s, during which time the pop group enjoyed much success with such number one chart hits as “Make It Easy on Yourself” and “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine (Anymore).”

The reclusive Walker’s solo work moved away from the pop leanings of the Walker Brothers and increasingly toward the avant-garde. Walker, who was making music until his death, received much critical acclaim with 2006’s Drift and 2012’s Bish Bosch, as well as with 2014’s Soused, his collaboration with Sunn O))). He also produced the soundtrack to Leos Carax’s 1999 romantic drama Pola X and composed the scores for Brady Corbet’s first two films as a director, 2016’s The Childhood of a Leader and last year’s Vox Lux.

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