Directed by: David Cronenberg
Starring: Christopher Walken, Brooke Adams, Tom Skerritt, Herbert Lom, Anthony Zerbe, Colleen Dewhurst, Martin Sheen
Let’s be honest about it. There are only three film adaptations of Stephen King’s horror stories that seriously qualify as really good movies: Brian DePalma’s Carrie (1976), Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980) and this film, David Cronenberg’s The Dead Zone (1983). (There are quite a few other film adaptations that are entertaining enough, but…) And, yes, Cronenberg’s film is the least of the three. It breaks no new ground. It isn’t open to multiple interpretations — and apart from the truly disturbing sequence involving the Castle Rock killer, the film is fairly straightforward for Cronenberg. But it’s still a solid, intelligent, effective horror movie — and, even better perhaps, it’s persuasively adult. The story is surprisingly complex in its development. It starts slowly, leading up to the accident (a splendidly achieved sequence) that leaves school teacher Johnny Smith (Christopher Walken) in a coma for five years. Not surprisingly, he finds things have changed when he comes to — and not just that his girlfriend (Brooke Adams) has married someone else. He soon realizes that he has developed psychic abilities — that he can “read” a person (including the person’s future) by touching them. This quickly becomes as much — or more — a burden as a blessing. Where all this takes the story is frequently surprising and always compelling.
The Thursday Horror Picture Show will screen The Dead Zone Thursday, Jan. 10 at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge of The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.
In Brief: It may come in third place for truly good horror movies made from Stephen King’s novels, and it may come across as a little on the “normal” side for a David Cronenberg picture, but The Dead Zone (1983) is still a beautifully crafted horror film any way you look at it. The story —of a man (Christopher Walken) who awakens after years in a coma only to discover that he has psychic abilities — is a strong one and it goes places that few horror pictures do in terms of complexity of plot and characterization. Except for the fact that it won’t get you as high as the Cronenberg films that flank it, there’s really no cause for complaint.