1987, 98 Min. / Directed by Mark Goldblatt
HK Top Ten Media / Region 0 NTSC / 1.33:1 / DD 4.1

 

Roger Mortis (Treat William) and Doug Bigelow (Joe Piscopo) are two wisecracking detectives assigned to the case of a ring of jewel thieves who seem impervious to gunshots or any other kind of physical trauma. After the autopsy of one thief proves that the guy was already dead before the cops killed him, Mortis and Bigelow are led to a mysterous medical corporation and a special device which can bring the dead to life. After investigation of the company proves fatal for Mortis, he's brought back using the machine but with one catch; re-animation only lasts for 24 hours, after which the re-animated subject degenerates into a pile of goo. Mortis must race to find his killer, ultimately involving a suspicious doctor (Darren McGavin) and a deceased billionaire (Vincent Price) who may have plans beyond the grave.

This late-eighties horror thriller plays like a combination gore film, buddie movie with a dash of D.O.A. thrown in for good dramatic measure. Director Goldblatt, a well-known editor of films such as The Terminator and Pearl Harbor, crafts a workable b-movie elevated by wild makeup effects courtesy of Steve Johnson and a thrilling (if slightly generic) soundtrack by Enerst Troost. Treat is excellent as decaying policeman Mortis, while Piscopo works well as the spastic Bigelow. TV and Film veteran McGavin fits in as the conniving Dr. Morris, while a frail-looking Price show up in a cameo consisting of a couple small scenes, similar to his brief appearance in Dennis Hopper's Backtrack, another New World project made around same time as Dead Heat.

HK Top Ten Media is a company which has recently flooded the American DVD market with cheapo DVD releases, primarily of films produced by the New World Pictures. Top Ten's DVD is currently the only Dead Heat DVD available. The 1.33:1 video transfer doesn't appear to be badly cropped but it's still a soft, inconsistant load of problems just in the same ways as all of their other releases. There's a weird interlacing defect where fields seemed to be blended together in a weird fashion causing motion artifacts and difficulty in obtaining good still images. Combined with what appears to be a higher-pitched audio indicates that a possible PAL source was used to make the DVD. Every Top Ten DVD advertises "Dolby Digital 5.1" on that packaging but in reality the track is 4.1 and quite a disaster. I'm even sure how they created this new surround track since it sounds practically monophic, with very little separation and this tinny quality to which sounds like a bad resampling job. Ultimately, it all these HK Top Ten DVDs are a bit of a mystery as to their video sources, so let's just put it this way: it's not pretty. The only extras included are a simple menu of 9 chapter stops. For some reason, the main menu is letterboxed.

In addition to the bad transfer and grating audio track, the packaging of the film just has a very cheap look to it. The front cover is a basic reproduction of the original VHS artwork, a shame given Dead Heat's wonderful theatrical artwork of Williams and Piscopo positioned on top of the gigantic regeneration machine. The back cover contains a basic synopsis and technical specifications but it's so poorly-printed that's it's practially unreadable. Only rabid fans of the film (such as me) will be able to overlook the defincies and focus on the movie.

 

 

 

1988, 98 Min. / Directed by Mark Goldblatt / Anchor Bay
NTSC Reg. 1 DVD / 1.85:1 (16:9) / DD 2.0 / Rel. 1-27-2004 / $19.98

 

Roger Mortis (Treat William) and Doug Bigelow (Joe Piscopo) are two wisecracking detectives assigned to the case of a ring of jewel thieves who seem impervious to gunshots or any other kind of physical trauma. After the autopsy of one thief proves that the guy was already dead before the cops killed him, Mortis and Bigelow are led to a mysterous medical corporation and a special device which can bring the dead to life. After investigation of the company proves fatal for Mortis, he's brought back using the machine but with one catch; re-animation only lasts for 24 hours, after which the re-animated subject degenerates into a pile of goo. Mortis must race to find his killer, ultimately involving a suspicious doctor (Darren McGavin) and a deceased billionaire (Vincent Price) who may have plans beyond the grave.

This late-eighties horror thriller plays like a combination gore film, buddie movie with a dash of D.O.A. thrown in for good dramatic measure. Director Goldblatt, a well-known editor of films such as The Terminator and Pearl Harbor, crafts a workable b-movie elevated by wild makeup effects courtesy of Steve Johnson and a thrilling (if slightly generic) soundtrack by Enerst Troost. Treat is excellent as decaying policeman Mortis, while Piscopo works well as the spastic Bigelow. TV and Film veteran McGavin fits in as the conniving Dr. Morris, while a frail-looking Price show up in a cameo consisting of a couple small scenes, similar to his brief appearance in Dennis Hopper's Backtrack which was made around the same time as Dead Heat.

After a disasterous debut on DVD courtesy of HK Top Ten Media, the dead finally get some respect in the form of Anchor Bay's feature-filled special edition release which had the ful participation of the films director and producer. Even thought the new anamorphically-enhanced transfer isn't as colorful and dynamic as larger-budget features made around the same time it's still miles ahead of Top Ten's poor video quality. It's a shame that full 5.1 remix of this film could'nt be achieved but the Dolby 2.0 stereo surround track is miles ahead of the echoey fake multichannel audio featured on the former release. Dead Heat apparently suffered through rigorous sessions with the MPAA where it lost many of gory bits and unfortunately this release contains the standard R-rated cut that we've always known because the trims have been lost in the collapse of New World Pictures. It's a shame but I guess nothing could be done to correct this injustice.

Anchor Bay has made up for any editorial disappointments with a gaggle of extras, most importantly there's a breezy commentary by Director Goldblatt, Producers David Helpern and Michael T. Meltzerr and Writer Terry Black. It's not the most detailed track but their discussion of the film's production and New World's living dead Bevery Hills Cop marketing spin makes for an enjoyable listen. Along with Anchor Bay's standard outlay of exhaustive still, storyboard and poster galleries there's also an electronic press kit featurette, a promo reel produced for Milan's MIFED Film Market and a series of deleted scenes from a rough-looking video workprint which include the infamous "Deathday Party" dream sequence. Rouding out the disc is the film's catchy trailer and a PDF version of the screenplay accessable through DVD-ROM.

After years of filthy home video presentations of this film crawling with more decay than the cadavers featured in the movie, it's a real joy to finally experience a clean and fresh presentation of such a cherished cinema classic. It's sure to sastisfy the hordes of crazy fans who read all those lurid articles about the movie that Fangoria published long ago and it might just inspire a few new lost and lonely children to join the cult of the Piscopo and bow down before this sacred shrine of a comedic buddy movie horror.

 

 

2005 John Hand. All rights Reserved.