The Dead Zone (1983)

The Dead Zone (1983)

A characteristically unsettling Stephen King adaptation given a poignant edge by Christopher Walken



Canada, United States of America
English, Russian
Horror, Science Fiction, Thriller
Anthony Zerbe, Barry Flatman, Brooke Adams
103 min


The real horror might actually be Christopher Walken’s bowl cut at the beginning of this movie.

What it's about

Five years after being involved in a car accident, a man wakes up from a coma to find he has a supernatural ability to see into the future.

The take

The shiver-inducing talents of Stephen King, David Cronenberg, and Christopher Walken meld to produce this supremely chilly supernatural thriller adaptation. Schoolteacher Johnny’s (Walken) perfect life is overturned when a horrific car accident puts him in a coma that robs him of five years of his life — and with them, his job and girlfriend Sarah (Brooke Adams), who moves on with someone else.

For anyone familiar with Cronenberg’s films, the director’s involvement might lead you to expect results from this premise as idiosyncratic as Crash or Videodrome’s, but The Dead Zone takes a decidedly more mainstream path than those works. In the place of graphic body horror is more palatable — but no less affecting — emotional bleakness, as Johnny contends with losing Sarah and a reality-warping new ability: he now has the power to see into the future of anyone he touches. While being forewarned about house fires and nuclear war might be a blessing for those whose lives he saves, Johnny struggles with the emotional burden of being responsible for preventing these future tragedies. More than any of the chilling setpieces — a frantic hunt for a serial killer, the attempted assassination of a demagogue — it’s Johnny’s grappling with this gift-slash-curse that gives The Dead Zone its fierce intensity.

What stands out

Christopher Walken’s haunted performance. He fully immerses us into Johnny’s fraught emotional journey, from his initial eagerness to help everyone he can to his complete social withdrawal amid a reluctance to shoulder such heavy burdens — and finally, a late realization of what he owes his fellow citizens. Even considering the doomsday-averting potential of his actions, Walken’s layered performance and Cronenberg’s sensitive direction mean we never lose sight of the personal sacrifice he’s making — giving The Dead Zone an acutely bittersweet edge.

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