Director – David Cronenberg
Cast – Christopher Walken, Brooke Adams, Tom Skerritt, Herbert Lom, Martin Sheen, Anthony Zerbe, Nicholas Campbell, Colleen Dewhurst
Release Year – 1983
Reviewed by John of the Dead
Horror director David Cronenberg had just recently made his name in the community with the success of Scanners in 1981 and Videodrome in 1983. After these flicks he finally took on mainstream filmmaking and also in 1983(after Videodrome) gave us what is most likely the best Stephen King adaptation to date, The Dead Zone. Cronenberg showed that he could not only provide great horror films to his fans, but provide a nice horror film to the masses.
This flick stars Christopher Walken as Johnny Smith(a name Cronenberg hated, but could not get changed), a man who enjoys his life as a school teacher and plans on marrying his sweetheart Sarah(Brooke Adams) very soon. One night while driving home from her place he suffers an auto accident that leaves him in a coma for five years. When he awakes, he learns that Sarah has moved on and married another man, but that is the least of his problems. The crash and subsequent coma has given Johnny the ability to see into someone’s future just by any type of physical contact with the person. At first this is a good thing, as Johnny manages to save the lives of several people and aid officers in catching a serial killer. However, things turn traumatic for Johnny when his visions not only affect him negatively, but give him insight into a catastrophic event that only he can prevent.
Some might consider this flick more thriller than horror, but with the horrific conflict that Johnny goes through, I will always consider this to be included in the horror genre. The horror of seeing people dying, and only having a short amount of time to assist them is great conflict, and this is only furthered when Johnny tries to aid the authorities in catching a serial killer, someone whom he cannot physically touch, which is what he must do to have a vision. So story-wise this film gets the job done as far as conflict goes, although I did find the use of his former-lover Sarah to be a bit cheezy and underwhelming at certain times. We get what I like to refer to as a “two part” story with this one, meaning the first half of the film is somewhat of a film in itself and the second half of the story plays off of the first half but with its own conflict, new characters, and new development. Personally, I enjoy these flicks so I had no problem with this usage of story.
Cronenberg’s direction is top-notch as usual and he does a fantastic job setting the mood and atmosphere for this film. The gloomy and snow-covered landscapes in a small and sequestered town was perfect for the feel of this film, very reminiscent of the life and mindset that has taken over Johnny. To compliment Cronenberg’s direction he got very great performances out of Christopher Walken and the always excellent Martin Sheen. Martin Sheen’s performance did not surprise me, as he was cast as a political character and he tends to do those well as you should know by now. Christopher Walken, however, surprised me with a very dramatic performance free of any cheap laughs or badassery. He was simply a simple man going through a very complicated series of events, and I really enjoyed that he took the role as such and gave me something great to watch.
Overall, this is a great watch that I recommend to all fans of the horror and thriller genres. Given to us by one of horror’s finest directors, this flick comes with great performances, an interesting story, awesome conflict, and very engaging execution in all elements.