The Dead Zone
It seems that for a while every Stephen King novel was destined to be adapted for the screen regardless of suitability. Luckily The Dead Zone is a rare example of one that works; featuring an excellent cast which includes Christopher Walken and effective direction from David Cronenberg this is a chilling tale about a man who can see the future and feels compelled to change it.
Central character Johnny Smith is a school teacher and we open with him in his classroom reciting The Raven, it sets the scene beautifully for this haunting supernatural thriller. Later he takes his fiancÚ to the local fairground but on his way home he is involved in a terrible car wreck and ends up in a coma for five years. This is only the start of his nightmare as he learns that his fiancÚ has married someone else and he begins to fall prey to terrifying visions, when he touches people he can see their futures and even their pasts.
Being a nice guy Johnny tries to use his unexplainable gift for good and first reveals it to a nurse in the hospital who is able to save her daughter from a fire as a result. His kindly old doctor, played by Herbert Lom, is unable to provide an explanation. The local sheriff, played by Tom Skerritt, hears of his gift and appeals to Johnny for help in tracking down a serial killer.
This is quite a sad film and the loneliness and isolation that Johnny feels is echoed in the wintry landscape. It is a slow and absorbing character study which never relies on gore or cheap tricks to scare the audience preferring to build a chillingly atmospheric mood. Walken draws you in with one of his best performances and is ably assisted by an excellent supporting cast.
Cronenberg's direction is very stylish and really elevates the film, giving it a frightening sense of reality. This marked something of a departure for him as his horror films from the years leading up to this, films like Rabid, The Brood, Scanners and Videodrome were all self-penned whereas the skilled Jeffrey Boam adapted King's novel to produce the screenplay for this. Boam himself was a talented writer and went on to pen the screenplays for The Lost Boys and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
Johnny manages to carve out a life for himself as a tutor working out of his home but he is unable to suppress his gift. When he takes a job tutoring a millionaire's son he comes into contact with the slimy politician Greg Stillson, played by Martin Sheen. Johnny has a terrible vision about Stillson and is faced with an agonised decision about what he should do. Sheen turns in a brilliant performance as the villainous Stillson and the film builds towards a nerve shredding finale.
The Dead Zone was a big success at the box office and deservedly so. It is a deeply affecting, thoughtful and powerful piece of work and with the exception of The Shining it is the best adaptation of a Stephen King novel ever made.Short Review
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