Dead Zone, The (1983)
“That is your dead zone — the possibility of altering the outcome.”
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary notes that the “film’s theme is that a man should face up to his moral responsibilities”: in this case, while Walken originally “feels that he should live as an outcast”, he eventually realizes he “must come out of his self-imposed exile and use his rare power to help humanity” — first by exposing “the identity of the Castle Rock Killer”, and later in outing a politician (Martin Sheen) with diabolical intentions.
Peary writes that “both sequences are extremely atmospheric and build to gripping conclusions”, and that the picture as a whole “is strongly acted… and full of unusual moments — including a great, inspired, tasteful scene which has Adams and Walken finally consummating their love.”
Peary ultimately argues that this is “Cronenberg’s best film” and “also the best screen adaptation of Stephen King” — assertions which many fans of both Cronenberg and King will likely take issue with, but he’s right in naming what a satisfying tale this remains.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
2 thoughts on “Dead Zone, The (1983)”
⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2 out of ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
One of Cronenberg’s best films. This is a visually icy, cool adaptation of Stephen King’s 1979 book but with a glowing emotional centre embodied by the Oscar worthy performance of Walken. All of the cast are excellent, the visions with their “dead zones” chilling and Micheal Kamen’s score is one of his best. A quiet, somewhat forgotten classic.
However, not must see for FFs.
Yes, a once-must – as a still-powerful standout in the thriller genre. (Peary’s book stops with 1987 films so that’s perhaps a little early in Cronenberg’s career to designate ‘TDZ’ as his best film – though a strong case could certainly be made. Cronenberg went on to a rather spotty filmography but it does, of course, include such masterful works as ‘Naked Lunch’, ‘Spider’ and ‘A Dangerous Method’.)
As per my 12/20/20 post in ‘Film Junkie’ (fb):
“Bless me? You know what *God* did for me?! He threw an 18-wheel truck at me! 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. Bless me?! God’s been a real sport to me.”
‘The Dead Zone’: Not that I would ever want to debate the issue, but I’m sure Stephen King fans do become vocal on the subject of which of his books became the best of the movie versions. It could never be a matter of which one is the most faithful to the book – because a film must first be successful as a film, whether it takes liberties or not. I would imagine that a large number of King fans would put ‘The Shining’ near or at the top. I wouldn’t. Aside from a few effective sequences, I’ve never much cared for ‘The Shining’ as a film.
But, having just rewatched it, I do think I would put Cronenberg’s ‘The Dead Zone’ at #1. I know I read the book but offhand I don’t now know how true the film is as an adaptation. And, in a way, it was a bizarre sort of inspiration for whoever was responsible for offering the film to David Cronenberg. After his giving us a series of off-the-wall flicks (‘Shivers’, ‘Rabid’, ‘The Brood’, ‘Scanners’ and ‘Videodrome’), why would someone think that the director was appropriate for something so relatively (traditionally) horror-free and so relatively… well, normal?
But now I can’t think of who might have done a better job with ‘The Dead Zone’. It’s not only a unique spin on the supernatural but it nicely defines the protagonist’s ability (it’s not that Johnny Smith is psychic whenever he touches someone’s hand; the touch has to be timed / mixed with one of his ‘spells’). Although Cronenberg handles the ‘spells’ effectively, there are sequences which stand out in a way that keep the film memorable – perhaps the best of which is the entire dead-of-winter sequence involving the gazebo.
What makes the film even better are the performances. Christopher Walken is the true personification of a tragic figure. (I happen to love Walken in general but I think this is among his best work.) And he is ably supported by an immensely sympathetic Brooke Adams, a suitably nutzoid Martin Sheen and a warmly underplaying Herbert Lom.
For the record, here are my top fave King-based films:
1: ‘The Dead Zone’
3: ‘Dolores Claiborne’
Honorable Mention: ‘Misery’
Guilty Pleasure: ‘Christine’