This is King of Horror week. All of the films will be based on the works of Stephen King. The Dead Zone is currently available on instant Netflix.
WATCH: The Dead Zone (1983) – Rated R.
Christopher Walken gives an eerie, memorable performance as Johnny Smith, a man who awakens from a five-year coma blessed with second sight: the ability to see a persons past, present and future simply through physical contact. When he shakes hands with an up-and-coming political candidate (Martin Sheen), Smith foresees nuclear war. Horror veteran David Cronenberg directs this supernatural thriller, adapted from a novel by Stephen King.
“”Bless me”? Do you know what God did for me? He threw an 18-wheeled truck at me and bounced me into nowhere for five years! When I woke up, my girl was gone, my job was gone, my legs are just about useless… Blessed me? God has been a real sport to me! “
David Cronenberg crafts a wonderful movie here. He abandons his usual body horror motifs (mostly – he does manage to slip a few in) in favor of adapting a book by Stephen King. Cronenberg crafted a lot of wonderful visual imagery for this film.
The overall feel of the film is melancholy. Almost all of the characters are tragic in some fashion. It is unusual for a genre film (it is not quite horror) to be so depressing in tone.
The script by Jeffrey Boam makes mention of The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving. Not only are these works that inspired King but they are both certainly melancholy as well.
Cronenberg usually uses Howard Shore for his music but the executives made him use Michael Kamen for this film. Howard Shore is most famous for his Oscar-winning scores for The Lord of the Rings trilogy. In spite of that, the score Kamen used here is absolutely haunting and really fits the tone of the film.
Christopher Walken does a fantastic job of playing the doomed Johnny Smith. He is one of my favorite character actors and it is really nice to see him in the lead role for a change.
Herbert Lom has a nice weighty part as Dr. Weizak who helps Johnny after his coma. While it is nice to see him play a serious role, I kept waiting for his eye to start twitching as it did when he was Inspector Dreyfus in the Pink Panther series of movies.
Brooke Adams plays our requisite love interest and gets to actually emote. Not only does her character Sarah get to be in love but she also gets to suffer anguish and heartbreak on more than one level.
Martin Sheen plays Greg Stillson, a man whose ultimate ambition is to be President of the United States. Martin Sheen would go on to play President Kennedy in the miniseries “Kennedy”, The President in “Medusas Child”, and President Bartlet on “The West Wing”. He is a little over the top here but fun to watch.
Many other wonderful actors have brief parts here as well. Tom Skerritt, Anthony Zerbe, and Colleen Dewhurst all have meaty roles here.
I rarely comment on the endings of movies in order to avoid spoiling the ending (even a 27-year-old movie like this one) but I feel that I have to mention that this film has one of the most satisfactory endings to a movie that I have ever seen.
I highly recommend this horror film for the feel more than the content. The atmosphere that Cronenberg creates outweighs the narrative that King created.
The Dead Zone is presented in HD for those with set top boxes.
Oh and for purists there is quite a bit that is changed from the novel and the major reporter subplot is mostly jettisoned.
The Dead Zone TV series is entertaining but really misses the point of the story.
People Watch: Look for William B. Davis in a brief role as an ambulance driver. Davis is better known as the cigarette smoking man from the X-Files.