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Dead Zone
2 reviews

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Movie Details

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Directed By
David Cronenberg

Written By:
Jeffrey Boam

Christopher Walken, Brooke Adams, Tom Skerritt, Martin Sheen, Herbert Lom, Anthony Zerbe, Colleen Dewhurst

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Dead Zone (1983)
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Movie Review by Eric Somer
May 27th, 2006

Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg went mainstream in 1983 with his rendition of Stephen King's The Dead Zone. It was the first major film Cronenberg directed without having a hand in the script. Unimpressed with King's original screenplay, which basically amounted to a slasher film, Cronenberg ultimately worked from a more melancholy adaptation by Jeffrey Boam. The result was one of Cronenberg's best realized films, and a fitting one to revisit following A History of Violence (2005), another subdued Cronenberg film about a small-town man who is something other than what he seems.

Set in New England (though shot in Canada), ordinary schoolteacher Johnny Smith (Walken) decides to drive home on a rainy night (foolishly, it turns out), even though his willing fiancée Sarah (Brooke Adams) offers to put him up for the night. Johnny is rewarded for his puritanical values with near death when a sleepy truck driver loses control of his vehicle and leaves Johnny in a coma. Johnny awakes to find his life radically changed. He has aged five years and can barely walk due to muscle atrophy, Sarah has married someone else, his home town is being terrorized by the "Castle Rock Killer," and ambitious but devious politician Greg Stillson (Martin Sheen is perfectly cast) plans to use his "plain folks" image as a stairway to the Senate. However, Johnny's accident somehow left him with a second sight that allows him to see the past, present and future of those he touches. After becoming a recluse, Johnny eventually decides to use his premonitions for the benefit of mankind.

Although Johnny learns to accept his "gift," he must first come to terms with the fact that his visionary power is killing him slowly. Each episode is stronger than the last, but he loses physical strength in the process. Many of the film's standout sequences are Johnny's premonitions, including a child about to be consumed by flames, a hockey game gone horribly wrong, and a disturbing preview of what type of leader Stillson would be. Perhaps the most atmospheric scene is Johnny's search for a premonition in a long tunnel, where the local sheriff (Tom Skerritt) hopes to find a lead through Johnny's assistance.

The usual Cronenbergian concerns, especially the horrific thought of our bodies revolting against us, make a strong impression in this absurdist story of a man forced to live as an outcast. Interestingly, Cronenberg films up to this point had linked sex with disease and death, but the tortured protagonist in The Dead Zone is punished for abstinence. The film features one of the great Walken performances of the eighties, ranking favorably with his memorable rural criminal in At Close Range (1986) and quirky drill sergeant in Biloxi Blues (1988). The strong supporting cast includes Herbert Lom, Anthony Zerbe, Colleen Dewhurst, and Cronenberg regular Nicholas Campbell.

Paramount's serviceable anamorphic widescreen DVD interpretation of the 103 minute film is on moratorium but still available through various retailers at the time of this writing. Snap it up while you can; it's a must for any serious film fan's movie collection.
--Eric Somer, 5/27/2006

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