The Dead Zone (1983) is a thriller/fantasy/horror film, which is based on the novel of the same name by Stephen King.
Directed by David Cronenberg (Shivers (1975), Cosmopolis (2012)).
Written by Jeffrey Boam (Straight Time (1978), The Phantom (1996)).
Starring: Christopher Walken, Brooke Adams, Tom Skerrit, Martin Sheen, Herbert Lom, Sean Sullivan, Anthony Zerbe and others.
So here’s another one of the four thousand movies based on a Stephen King novel. When I watched the film I had just finished reading the book and my interest level for it couldn’t be higher. So it was hard avoiding comparisons, which is both good and bad as it always is when you’re watching adaptations of literary works you’ve read.
A young Christopher Walken plays the protagonist John Smith, who in the novel is a very normal guy, which is something you can’t say about any character played by Walken ever. He doesn’t look as sinister as when he got older, but his speech pattern alone makes him a more odd and arguably interesting character to follow. Yes, he might be miscast, but I never complain about seeing Christopher Walken in a movie, because he as always gives an excellent performance.
I can’t tell you how much I love this clip.
The story concerns an English teacher who gets into an accident, goes into a coma and then wakes up with a psychic ability. Of course this is half the book, because King likes to set up every character and its mother before something starts happening, here it is all the first act. A lot of character lack the depth, but you can’t do that in a movie and have a sensible running time.
They change around the way the accident happens and other details to shortcut between the main plot points and I have to admit that mostly they do a good job, since it would really slow the movie down, had they left all the extraneous shit in. Where I wished they had spent a little more time is the exposition, because it feels rushed and establishes neither the relationship John had before the accident or the lengthy period he spent in coma very well.
One aspect, which I wish they had included as it was, is the implications on the moral level, with Johnny’s mother’s obsession with god and insistence on Johnny being on a mission from god. They do allude to this, but the connection with his mother is left out. But at least the theme of Johnny being a messianic character still clearly shines through.
The movie builds suspense pretty well and it is basically a supernatural thriller and not really a horror movie. One of the best aspects is how the movie moves past the supernatural element, because it is important only as a set-up and for the plot points, which themselves illustrate. Also the plot is polished and structured better and with more sense. For example a section of the book which was just a serial killer murder mystery out of the blue, here doesn’t get so much attention and just advances Johnny’s character, is cool and moves on.
Another performance worthy of notice is Martin Sheen as a two-faced politician, who has a big ominous role in the future of the world. He is great and unlike Walken is perfectly cast as this despicable character.
From the direction stand point, it is a bit cold and detached, doesn’t seem David Cronenberg really was all that into making this movie, since there’s very little of his signature style.
Overall, definitely one of the better Stephen King adaptations, both in quality and faithfulness. I really liked it. Recommended.