English teacher Johnny Smith (an electric Christopher Walken) is involved in a car accident that puts him in a coma. He awakes five years later to a changed world, he’s lost his job and the woman he loves, but he also has changed gifts. He can now see into the future (and past) of individuals he comes into contact with and touches, using it for good he can make a difference but can he change the course of history that has yet to be written?
Less horror and more tragi-supernatural thriller, The Dead Zone, for me, is my favourite Stephen King adaptation. I loved the poster and VHS box for it as well, it always intrigued me, both design and title. It’s a firm favourite.
The restrained direction of David Cronenberg plays a huge part in that, as does the script by the late Jeffrey Boam (who also penned The Lost Boys, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Lethal Weapon 2) and the score by Michael Kamen.
It never fails to hook you and Christopher Walken, in my favourite screen role of his, is utterly compelling and heartbreaking. I’m surprised that there wasn’t an Oscar nomination in the offing for his portrayal, perhaps it is more to do with the genre he was acting in? In many ways he is as cursed as David Kessler in An American Werewolf on London, an ordinary man changed by circumstances not of his choosing, then put in an extraordinary situation and having to make a choice.
The Dead Zone has always been gripping, full of one man’s sadness and of intrigue with flashes of horror. That horror and sadness is perfectly etched on Walken’s face and delivery. When we see his visions we feel his pain, the fire, the fall under the ice – “the ice is gonna break” scene is a powerhouse delivery – and the serial killer.
You could almost say that Walken is something of a superhero, a mutant, think of M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable with Bruce Willis and Samuel L Jackson as something of a distant cousin.
With his pale granite white face, Walken is a picture of loss and sadness, still carrying a limp from his accident its a physical echo of his continual mental pain and suffering ultimately knows his own destiny and cuts a pained figure of sadness, lost love and genuinely heartbreaking. You really feel for him and want to save him like he saves others, in many ways his disability is akin to say the film version of The Elephant Man and so is the rapport he has with Herbert Lom, like Hurt did with Hopkins.
Walkman may chew the scenery but it is with real vigour and senselessness, he is a man who can see into the future and past yet not change either his past or future. And that scenery of snow and bleakness and of dark tunnels only adds to the feeling of loneliness.
It’s a powerful film that long lingers after the credits have rolled and although some at the time claimed Cronenberg had deserted the strangeness of Scanners and Videodrome and gone mainstream. In his other mainstream horror, The Fly, that was also very much a tragic love story as well.
The Dead Zone still packs a memorable, powerful punch, especially when it comes to the visions. If you are going to watch this ensure it is the unedited version and the special edition DVD has a great commentary by Kim Newman.
Some would call his second sight as blessing, others a curse. It’s a great moral tale of a man who once had everything but lost it now has the power to forte the future even though he does not have one. He and his ‘gift’ is given purpose however when he discovers he must stop Presidential Candidate Gregg Stillson, played with great zeal by Martin Sheen.
He had of course previously played Kennedy so had presidential down to pay, and would of course go onto hold office in The West Wing. You can’t help thinking he’s a little too Donald Trump though – talk about eerie premonitions. His vision sees Stillson flying the nukes, a madman in the Whitehouse.
As well as Sheen there is excellent support from Brooke Adams, the former girlfriend, Tom Skerritt as a local sheriff investigating a murder, Anthony Zerbe and the fine Herbert Lom as Smith’s Doctor.
If you haven’t seen The Dead Zone, or only the TV series with Anthony Michael Hall, make sure you catch this classic, still one of the top Steven King adaptations and certainly an interesting and absorbing take from Director David Cronenberg. I predict you’ll love it.
Of course it does also have one other curious foretelling of the future, at the start of the film Christopher Walken is taking his English class and asks them to read ‘The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow’. Perhaps he knew he would go onto to play the Headless Horseman in Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow?