So say what you like about the 80s, the music was mostly awful, the fashion preposterous, the politics was a corporate gang-bang nightmare and the decade started with the gunning down of John Lennon and ended with the world domination of New Kids on the Block, something was clearly amiss.
Yet, despite the cold war, AIDS, Thatcher and Reagan, Exxon Valdeze and neon yellow leg warmers, there is one thing that means I will always have fondest for, what could quite easily be described as, the worst decade in the history of hair and, no, it isn't the sodding Rubik's cube or the collected hits of Spandau Ballet.
To put it simply, movies and the advent of video (although Betamax and VHS both debuted in the 70s, it wasn't till the 80s that these video formats took hold).
Ok, so the Oscar winners of the decade weren't anything to write home about, unless you're an insomniac who has grown immune to strong pills when would you ever sit down to watch The Last Emperor, Ghandi, Chariots of Fire or Driving Miss Daisy?
Looking at the top earners of the decade starts to reveal more of what I am talking about with the likes of Empire Strikes Back (the best Star Wars movie), The Indiana Jones films, Back to the future and Beverly Hills Cop but as great as these pictures are it's not entirely what makes me nostalgic for the era.
Firstly there was the fairly mainstream stuff, such as the best comedy films from the late 70s SNL crew, Stallone, Schwartzenegger & Willis at the top of their game, John Hughes flicks & the brat pack, the classic horrors of The Evil Deads, Nightmare on Elm Streets & Friday 13ths, John Carpenter genius such as Escape from NY, The Thing & Big Trouble in Little China, the good Muppet movies, the not-really-kid-friendly kids movies like Flight of the Navigator, Short Circuit, Labyrinth & the Young Sherlock Homes, American Werewolf in London, the Long Good Friday, Time Bandits, Brazil and Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton as awesome Bonds (I like them!).
I know I am missing so much but I think this list illustrates my point.
Then there were the other films, the weird ones, the creative ones, the ones you would discover on video's distributed by such companies as Vestron Video, Embassy Home Entertainment and New World Pictures. Falling into this category would usually be random stuff like Shogun Assassin, Toy Soldiers or Volunteers and horror/comedy stuff like The Burbs, Maniac Cop, Scanners, The Howling, Wacko, Return to Horror High, Ghoulies, Tremors, Re-Animator and, tonight's choice, Dead Heat.
In fact, looking at those two hefty, yet still fairly incomplete, lists, I wouldn't just say the 80s was good for movies, I would say they were damn near perfect, not a Michael Bay or a Tyler Perry in sight!
The films themselves have an indescribable quality, an inventiveness and a creativity that seems to be fairly lacking in today's CGI heavy, by-the-book, predictable re-treads of previous, better ideas. That may, of course, have a lot to do with the fact I viewed them all first on video.
I don't want to sound like an old fart and I don't have too much against modern home-viewing technology on the whole but video just had something special about it. They also had a weight to them, a certain feel, a pleasing aesthetic and they had a noise to them, the pop of the video case, the rattle of the tape and the whirr and click as you slid it into the machine, to say nothing of the frantic grinding you would hear as you fast forwarded or rewinded them. On the tapes would be loud, bright, neon logos, funny looking warnings and the sometimes lined or blurred picture quality, if watching the right film, would actually add to and enhance the picture. I don't care what anyone says Raiders of the Lost Arc looks better on VHS any day of the week, I don't know why, but it just does and horror films like Evil Dead, Nightmare on Elm Street etc. benefit hugely from video's lesser quality because it adds to the feeling that you're watching something you shouldn't, that the tape itself is evil or haunted.
Say what you like but there is nothing scary or interesting about modern slim, shiny technology, you think the Poltergeist would come out of your big 50 inch plasma or the girl in the Ring possess a blu-ray disc? just sounds crap doesn't it and I would go as far as to say that any film that uses a mobile phone or the internet as a plot device is a big pile of steaming dung.
I mention all of this because it all applies to the enjoyment and somewhat unique brilliance of the film Dead Heat which is an 80s zombie cops & robbers horror/comedy written by the writer of Lethal Weapons' brother Terry Black, starring Treat Williams and the guy nobody talks about or remembers from the not very funny series of SNL in the 80s, Joe Piscopo, it features one of the last screen appearances of Vincent Price and a fantastical, hysterical and disturbing scene in the back of a Chinese takeaway that includes re-animated duck heads.
I first saw this back on video, way back when and thankfully the DVD transfer isn't so pristine that it spoils this rare and bizarre film which definitely falls firmly into the category of films that people just don't seem to have the sense of humour or fun to make anymore.
Ok, firstly and quickly, the things that are semi-wrong with it are that it's not as funny as it could be or thinks it is, which is mostly down to the distractingly weird looking Joe Piscopo, some of the film lacks pacing, there isn't that great 80s synth-pop soundtrack it so desperately craves and, apart from the toupee sporting, hand ringing and suitably manic villain who is excellent, most of the supporting cast are spectacularly wooden and bland looking. Oh and it could do with a lot more zombies.
Apart from those fairly typical B-Movie style complaints, this movie does everything else right. It spends all its money on the over-the-top set pieces which include a street shoot out at the beginning, the previously mentioned, infamous and rather gooey dinner-comes-alive sequence, a clever make-up and special effects piece in which a human decays and the ambulance sequence that leads to the big climatic action scene.
Treat Williams has more and more of a blast as the film continues, including a tremendous tour-de-force revealing-the-villain scene that harks cleverly back to the style of Bogart detective films and the more make-up he's wearing, towards the end of the film, the more he hams it up to great effect behind it.
The film is also directed simply but suitably well with good editing and, apart from the odd joke falling flat and while it's no Lethal Weapon, the script keeps its tongue firmly and pleasantly in it's cheek and never resorts to commenting on or trying to make too much sense of what's going on and instead opts to just go happily with the flow. It, also, isn't afraid to stop the wackiness for a minute and have genuine, serious character moments.
Yes it is ultimately throw away and it's no Maniac Cop but it's an interesting, creative and well intentioned attempt to make something exciting, crazy in the best way, weird, wonderful, different and fun.
If you can, find it in the back of an old junk shop selling VHS, take it home, invite a few like minded friends over, pop it into the old creaky player, switch on your ancient, large, CRT television and sit back to watch a film, the likes of which we may never see again.
6 out of 10 still quacking duck wraps
Points from The Misses 6 out of 10 still quacking duck wraps