DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: THE DEAD ZONE

Thursday 8 March 2007


The Dead Zone (1983) dir. David Cronenberg
Starring Christopher Walken, Brooke Adams, Martin Sheen


“The Dead Zone” was Cronenberg’s first venture into mainstream films. After a series of uniquely gruesome horror films (“The Brood,” “Shivers,” “Scanners”), in 1983 Cronenberg took on Stephen King’s bestseller.

Despite the auspicious pairing of King and Cronenberg, the film is cerebral and brooding as opposed to a gorefest which one might expect. Bloodletting is kept to a minimum, instead the psychological impact of predicting someone’s own death keeps up the intensity.

Christopher Walken plays Johnny Smith (one’s cinema’s lamest screen names), plays a schoolteacher, with a good career, and burgeoning relationship with his girlfriend, when suddenly all that topples down when he’s involved in a near fatal car accident. He wakes up from a coma to discover, not only has been under for 5 years and his girlfriend remarried, but he’s developed an extra sensory perception. When Johnny physically touches someone he’s able to see their future, pasts and darkest secrets.

Johnny’s ability is more a curse than a gift. Not only does he see their secrets, he also experiences it. Therefore his premonitions are painful and utterly frightening for him. Johnny knows he will never be the same person he was before – he will forever be exploited, abused and misunderstood. And he can never have a true relationship with another woman. The physical intimacy would be a little frightening for him.

So Johnny’s new life progresses toward an selfless act of sacrifice he chooses to make in order to save the world. The ending is tragic considering the investment the audience makes in this unique hero.

“The Dead Zone” is one of Christopher Walken’s definitive roles. His twitches, pauses and voice cadence are in peak form. And this is before he became a parody of himself, and so it’s a job to see Walken in a serious role. Cronenberg gets great emotion and intensity from him in this film. Rumours have it that Cronenberg would actually fire a pistol during some of his lines to keep Walken on edge. Also watch for Martin Sheen’s comically over-the-top performance as the southern Republican Senate candidate, Greg Stillson.

Cronenberg tells the story plainly without his trademark sex and flesh. It’s a simple progression of scenes and events that lead up to Johnny’s fateful decision at the end. If it means anything, apparently it’s Stephen King’s favourite adaptation of his novels. Enjoy.

Buy it here: The Dead Zone

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