That Time Vincent Price and Joe Piscopo Were Colleagues

September 20, 2012 — I know it seems like we’ve just about exited the current zombie fad that peaked in the 00s, but the truth is, zombies won’t stop being popular. You see, they were never not popular. Take the 1980s. According to this Wikipedia list, which I’m sure isn’t comprehensive at all, that decade averaged 7.5 zombie movies a year. That’s more than one every other month for ten years. This was the decade that gave us all those awesome Italian zombie movies, the decade that gave us the Return of the Living Dead series and The Serpent and the Rainbow. Heck, Romero didn’t even finish the original Living Dead trilogy until 1985.

And while back then the desire for shuffling flesheaters wasn’t so high as to achieve a spot on prime time television like we have today with The Walking Dead, at no time did the most recent zombie spike rise to the level of, well, Dead Heat.

That’s right. We’re using a 1988 film starring Treat Williams and Joe Piscopo to give us some perspective on zombies in pop culture. In the movie, Williams and Piscopo are cops who Don’t Play by the Rules™ and wait just a beat too long to deliver their one-liners in the alternate dimension that was 1980s Los Angeles.

The basic premise is that they’re investigating a series of thefts by virtually indestructible thieves, which they learn are actually resurrected corpses by, well, more or less becoming resurrected corpses themselves. Right, I’m going to be spoiling every bit of this movie by the time I’m done here. But I don’t care about the movie as a movie, per se, as much as I like it as accumulation of crazy parts. And here they are:

Joe Piscopo’s guns aren’t kept in a holster.

You can tell how desperate a Hollywood actor is getting by the size of his biceps. According to Joe’s, who rose to fame through his comedic talent on SNL and not by how many Trapper Keepers he could rip in half at one time, he was only one or two flexes away from voice acting.

Vengeance is zombie Treat Williams.

Treat’s part of the story doesn’t even really start until his death. From that point on, he gets shot, drowned, lit on fire, beat up, suffocated by an animal liver (more on that later), and trapped in an ambulance to decay. Finally, near the end, he just gets pissed. With his splotchy skin, spiky hairdo, and black body bag shreds melted to the side of his face like an earring, he looks like the lovechild of Lost Boys-style Keifer Sutherland and that Zuul chick from Ghostbusters. I want zombie Treat in action figure form.

Vincent Price classes up every movie.

It’s hard to believe that this was one of Price’s last movies, although his part is small and he doesn’t really show up until the end of the film. But in his wonderful ice cream suit and with his maniacal monologue, he seemed spry enough to act for another few decades. When I die and God asks me why I spent an hour and a half watching this movie instead of contributing that time to trying to alleviate suffering in this world, I will say two words: Vincent Price.

The Resurrection Chamber belongs on the Death Star.

In a movie full of the cliché 1980s Los Angles tropes…rows of palm trees, convertibles, pools, modern architecture, neon, and China Town jaunts, the Resurrection Chamber set was a real shock…because it meant that this movie actually had a budget. Or they got their hands on a cast-off Death Star set.

The 1980s weren’t all about sex.

When Treat Williams walks in on a pretty girl in a towel whom he’s been getting to know over the course of the movie, he ends up getting a whole different kind of action than what we expect from what I assumed was a specimen of the “at least I saw boobs” genre of film. She just ends up decaying right in front of him. In fact, there was no sex-type content at all in this film. Just a lot of Piscopo leering. AIDS hit us all pretty hard.

You can’t grab a zombie bull by the horns.

Like I mentioned, this was a cop movie set in L.A., so there was an obligatory trip to China Town. So far, I’ve been painting the picture of a cheesy flick, but if the makers of Dead Heat took me to court over the matter, they might just win just because of this one scene. Because it's amazing. Amazing, I say. All the dead food at this Chinese butcher starts attacking the cops. That’s right…zombie Chinese food.

Treat Williams barely fends off a liver and Piscopo fights numerous duck heads with his bulging arms. But then one of the most awesome cinematic creations in special effects history bursts dramatically onto the scene: Headless Zombie Beef Flanks. Make that Zombie Treat Williams action figure a two-pack, please.

Darren McGavin wants a real leg for a lamp.

Darren McGavin plays a coroner with car plates that read “Body Doc.” Unfortunately he doesn’t get too many scenes, but it just feels right to have the old Night Stalker around with all those zombies running loose. Good death scene, too.

Joe Piscopo dies like he lived, upside down in a fish tank.

Piscopo is one of the main stars of this blurry firmament of a movie, but he doesn’t even get a death scene. He and his partner nonchalantly split up to cover more ground on their case, and then a couple of edits later we come across his body upside down in a small fish tank like one of those high divers who jump into glasses of water in the old cartoons. Where are your arms now?

Zombies aren’t the only things full of holes.

I’d need a list longer than the closing credits to list all the plot holes, but the largest and most pervasive was that they establish early on that guns don’t take down these zombies…and then they spend the rest of the movie blazing Uzis at them, who in turn fire back with their own machine guns. No biting, no shambling, just massive, impotent firefights.

Everybody dies.

The stars, the villains, the love interests, the random guys, half of the crew behind the camera, nobody survives this movie. And I don’t mean they all die in an explosion at the end…although there is, of course, an explosion at the end. They just die. Instead of plot points, they just mark the passage of the three-act structure with dead characters. And that’s why we never got Dead Heat 2: Deader and Hotter.

So, in conclusion, watch this movie.