The Dead Zone (1983)

Steven King wrote the story, David Cronenberg directed, Christopher Walken and Herbert Lom star. So what do you think it might be?

A really creepy, off-beat, unsubtle story which bears no resemblance to the world we live in, right?

Wrong. It's a suprisingly everyday human story about a man with an exaggerated version of the "go blind, sharpen other senses" syndrome.

Walken is a mild-mannered and compassionate English teacher who has a terrible auto accident which puts him in a coma for five years. He wakes up, his mom is dying, his fiancee is married to someone else, he has no job, no life.

But he has picked up something else - a sixth sense - a power that allows him to "feel" certain things about people from touching them. Perhaps he sees their future, or their past, or even something happening in their lives elsewhere at that moment.

Should he ignore the gift? Exploit it? Use it to help others? As time goes on, he learns more about how he may answer these questions in a way that gives him satisfaction.

And then he also finds "The Dead Zone" - a mysterious part of his visions of the future - a gap, if you will, that he can't quite see. He eventually deduces that this is the part of the future that is not fixed. It is the part that can be changed. Then he has to determine what he should try to change, if anything. Should he help the people he loves? Should he help mankind?

The entire film is marked with a gentleness and humanity that you would never expect, and is marred only by an over-the-top Senate candidate played by Martin Sheen. Sheen must have needed serious dental work after the scenery-chewing he did here, but I don't believe he was to blame. The character is intentionally one-dimensional to focus us in on the clear decision that Walken has to make. (They liken the Senator character to Hitler when they discuss changing history). King wrote this a long time ago, and as time went on, he learned more about constructing real heroes and villains in shades of grey.

Anyway, this is one of the best movies ever made from a Stephen King book. Walken is neither menacing nor creepy, just spooky and lonely. Cronenberg directed with surprising restraint. (And with some beauty - there is a particularly good shot of Anthony Zerbe inside on a winter's day, watching his son and Walken talking outside. The interior colors are warm and vivid, and the room is filled with healthy live plants, contrasting starkly to the sterility of the outside white-blue hues and lifeless vegetation. Great shot in both concept and execution.)

My top King flicks would include this film, The Shining, The Running Man, The Shawshank Redemption, Stand by Me, and The Green Mile. Many people like Misery, Delores Claiborne, and Carrie, as well. Among the pure horror fantasy stories, this one is probably the most human, the most accessible.

My Big Steve wall of shame would include Firestarter, all the Children of the Corn movies, all the Sometimes they Come Back movies, Pet Semetary, Cujo and Christine. And did I mention Firestarter yet?

Boy , that's quite a range when you think about it. From Shawshank to Sometimes They Come Back ... For More. "Shawshank" is rated 9.0 by IMDb voters, the second highest of any movie ever. "Sometimes .. For More" is rated 3.5 - Ed Wood territory. And in my opinion, Firestarter is even worse - a legit candidate for the worst ever. So how many other guys can you name who have written a candidate for the worst movie ever made as well as the best?

Here is a really excellent essay on "The Dead Zone"

The only nudity came from a small role. Roberta Weiss played a victim of a serial killer whom Walken helps to catch.

IMDB summary: 7.1 out of 10.

DVD info from Amazon. No special features worth noting. A good rental, but no special reason to own it.

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