Directed by | David Cronenberg
Produced by | Debra Hill, Dino de Laurentis
Screenplay by | Jeffrey Boam
Based on | The Dead Zone by Stephen King
Starring | Christopher Walken, Brooke Adams, Tom Skerritt, Herbert Lom, Anthony Zerbe, Colleen Dewhurst, Martin Sheen
Run Time | 103 minutes
Certificate | 15
Plot | After waking from a five year coma, school teacher Johnny (Walken) discovers that he has an extrasensory gift; he can visualise past and future events connected to a person, simply by holding their hand.
Review | Despite some slightly below par editing in places, The Dead Zone is a cracking supernatural thriller that otherwise stands up to scrutiny today.
Leading off with such a minor quibble should probably signpost that is going to be quite a positive review. Indeed, for all the small niggles that crop up, the final delivery (the performances, the pacing, the directing, the score) works so well as a combined piece that they matter little.
Walken is fantastic in the lead role. There is a likeable yet sombre earnestness to the lines he delivers that makes him easy to root for and quite believable (despite the plot’s supernatural elements). Tom Skerritt (Alien), Herbert Lom (The Ladykillers, The Pink Panther series) and Anthony Zerbe (Star Trek: Insurrection, The Omega Man) all put in solid turns, while Brooke Adams (1978s Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Days of Heaven) and the incomparable Martin Sheen are even better as Johnny’s ex and a charismatic, nefarious politician respectively.
Though the run time is 103 minutes, it feels considerably shorter. While some of this is down to the storytelling and acting, it’s also down to the fact that the plot is very much pared down compared to the novel. Sheen’s Greg Stillson is fleetingly mentioned in media clips and pressings throughout, but only really appears on film in the final third.
Indeed, with so much material to work with, the team were quite selective with the events they chose to include from the source material. In some ways, this leads to The Dead Zone almost feeling like a play. There’s the prologue, where we see Johnny’s pre-coma life. Act one follows the discovery of Johnny’s powers, and the effects they have on him (with every use, he becomes progressively weaker). Act two is a sort of murder mystery, and act three focuses on Greg Stillson’s drive to become senator. Anything that doesn’t explicitly fit into those three plot strands was cut – though this is no bad thing.
Ultimately, through the strength of the cast and crew, and this slimmed down approach to the story, David Cronenberg (The Fly, Videodrome) managed to create what is simply one of the better Stephen King adaptations to date.
The Verdict | Walken shines in this memorable Stephen King adaptation.