After five years in a coma following a car crash, schoolteacher Johnny Smith discovers he has the gift of second sight, and is able to prevent several fatal accidents. However, every time he uses this power, he becomes closer to death himself.
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The quiet suffering of Walken's Johnny Smith (Stephen King always has fun with names) is established without melodrama. Waking up after five years in coma, he asks about his lover. His religious mother responds simply: "She left you for someone else, Johnny". There's a no-bullshit directness to how information is revealed. Which is germane to Cronenberg's filmmaking style that places a very high value on credibility.
Did Stephen King invent some 35 years ago the TGIF (Thank God It's Friday) term? W o W. Sheen's Stillson looks like an insane cross between Trump and Jong-un -> s c a r y. (So nice to see "Days of Heaven" Brooke Adams: those eyes are oh so sad and nostalgic).
After the early body horror films culminating in 'Scanners' and 'Videodrome' this adaptation of the Stephen King novel heralded a move into the mainstream for Cronenberg and yielded rich rewards. Walken was perfectly cast as 'Johnny Smith' and by scaling back the horror element and concentrating on the personal cost to the character Cronenberg made a film to be remembered.
TV, re-rating. How i didn't see in this extraordinary film a metaphor for the power to create images and editing them according to fiction's variations? The visionary is the filmmaker who dies by the images (see René Vautier's "Mourir pour des Images") and through it elaborates an architecture of the world. Walken is the most vurnerable of the tormented ones that recent cinema has given us (also with Ferrara).
Cronenberg doesn’t mess around in The Dead Zone. Boam’s adaptation of Stephen King’s novel starts off with despair, but shifts to pure evil as Johnny (Walken) wakes from a five year coma. At one point he describes a dream and gets asked “is that what you’re afraid of?”, “it’s what I want” he replies. The film takes some big leaps, but blends the horror into very high quality drama and is definitely a thrill to watch.
Profoundly appealing in a melodramatic way, the events of the narrative feel more like a series of random small fireworks leading up to a final larger firework, than akin to a grand finale, as the story often lacks a set path. Parts could be longer for anticipation/suspense reasons, too. However, it admirably has a feeling of suffocating dire ominousness, as one knows it won't end well for this well-meaning hero.
***1/2. I remember well the cinema and the seat I sat on back in 1984 when I first saw this film and I could have sworn yesterday that The DEAD ZONE was a blockbuster filled with fury and colours. How wrong was I ! The DEAD ZONE is a piece of chamber music filmed in a snowy country with a Christopher WALKEN managing to persuade us that what's happening to him is just bad luck. Nothing else. Highly recommended.
I tend to think that Cronenberg is not the most sympathetic handler of actors, but he, Walken and Brooke Adams do a good job here. Sheen is also hammily terrifying, as the politician who is left holding the baby at the end, in all the wrong ways for his career. Its belief in the input of normal people into changing the world is oddly touching, even quaint, whereas Sheen's demagoguery still seems chillingly relevant.