Night 25: ‘The Dead Zone’ (1983)

This is part of the ‘31 Nights of Horror Classics’ series, which I’ll be doing for Halloween 2017. Every night of this month, I’ll be watching a horror film made before the 90s and I’ll be posting a short review here.

Knowing too much can sometimes be a curse rather than a gift. Especially when you can know the future of the people around you.

After a car accident, Johnny Smith (Christopher Walken) goes into a coma that lasts five years. When he wakes up, he discovers the woman he loved has married someone else, the political panorama has changed, and he gets odd visions when he touches someone. As he learns to cope with this power, he finally decides to retire from the world, until the knowledge of a terrible fate spurs him to take action.

With David Cronenberg as director, Christopher Walken in the lead role, and Stephen King as the author of the original story, I knew I was in for a ride! The Dead Zone is one of those King books I haven’t read yet, but after watching the film I’m convinced I’ve found my next read of the upcoming month.

The story is simple, candid, and it feels both very intimate, yet also large in scope, as the consequences of Johnny’s actions expand far beyond his inner circle.

Christopher Walken is especially entertaining and surprisingly emotional as Johnny. You feel for him, and lament his fate almost as much as he does. Despite some ‘Walken-isms’ we can now recognize after years of watching his work, he is truly fascinating and embodies the character wonderfully.

The rest of the cast is excellent as well. Brooke Adams as Sarah in particular, as she gives a very heartfelt and honest performance that made me sympathize with her easily.

The movie is wonderfully shot as well, and some really great and interesting choices were made in order to transfer Johnny’s visions to the big screen in a way that doesn’t feel either tired nor phony. Each moment is surprising, full of tension, and it also furthers the development of the character’s understanding of his own responsibility in the world. When it pays off by the end, it’s simply too entertaining to watch.

Regarding the horror element, there are a couple of creepy and even gory scenes. But the terror comes mostly from Johnny’s eerie power, as well as his brushes with death. It’s more about atmosphere than jumpscares or shocking images.

If there was anything at all that I didn’t like, it was the stereotypical villain portrayed by Martin Sheen. Although he is barely there, when he is, it felt like I was watching a different film. He’s a large personality with no layers to him. I think a more sophisticated, unruffled antagonist would have been a better and more interesting choice. It was hard to believe that anyone would buy either his public or private persona, since he was anything but imposing or interesting to begin with.

Still, Walken and Cronenberg definitely make it worth your while. If you want a more thought-provoking horror movie, definitely give this one a try!

Grade: 9/10. An excellent, tension-filled character journey.

Scare Factor: some chilling scenes.

Gore/Violence: a bit of gore. Some violence.

Nudity/Sexual Situations: none.

Previous Night: Werewolf of London (‘35)

Next up:The Invisible Man (‘33)