The Dead Zone (1983) – David Cronenberg

Christopher Walken stars as Johnny Smith, a school teacher who ends up in an accident that gives him second sight, allowing him glimpses into the past, present and future in the Jeffrey Boam scripted adaptation of Stephen King’s classic novel. Directed by famed director David Cronenberg, the film is packed with recognisable names in front of and behind the camera, Michael Kamen delivers a score, Debra Hill produces, the cast includes Brooke Adams, Martin Sheen, Tom Skerritt, Herbert Lom, Anthony Zerbe, and Nicholas Campbell.

While King has carved a name as a horror icon, Cronenberg delivers a moody, human driven piece that has Walken delivering a restrained performance as he struggles with the loss of five years to a coma, the world changing around him, losing the love his life, Sarah (Adams) to another man, and the realisation that his new gift is slowly killing him.

As the film progresses, Johnny is drawn into the hunt for a killer in the iconic King town of Castle Rock (shot partially at Niagara-on-the-Lake), asked to do so by the local sheriff (Skerritt), but the fame that comes with drives him into hiding, where he works as a tutor, until his gift comes to the fore again, and shows him a horrifying future brought about by a driven, and dangerous senator, Stillson (Sheen) whose ultimate goal is the White House.

He’s driven to a desperate act, even as Sarah attempts to reconcile her feelings and relationship with him.

I love the transition to and from the visions, there’s no special effects, it’s all in the cuts, and camera moves as he slides back and forth between his reality and whatever vision he is embroiled in. The murder sequence stands out most brilliantly for this, and it’s sad that he’s appearance is lacking in a couple of the other visions he has, because it would have added a sense of continuity to his abilities, as well as the visual storytelling being used.

Cronenberg delivers an engaging film, one that never loses sight of the human characters at its heart, and also delivers a thought provoking conversation about the malleability of the future, and the actions one would take to prevent the possibility of future horrors, a theme that has been explored a number of times in science fiction.

Amazingly enough, this is one of the few King novels I haven’t read yet, so I may have to dig it up in short order to see how similar, or different it is. But I loved this entire cast, so the novel may have a lot ot overcome. What is your favourite King adaptation and why?

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