The Dead Zone (1983) Movie Review
Written By: Angela DiLella
Edited By: Grave Reviews Staff
Director: David Cronenburg
Producers: Debra Hill
Writers: Jeffrey Boam, based on the novel of the same name by Stephen King
Date Released: October 21, 1983
Christopher Walken as Johnny Smith
Brooke Adams as Sarah Bracknell
Tom Skerritt as Sheriff Bannerman
Herbert Lom as Dr. Sam Weizak
Martin Sheen as Greg Stillson
Nicholas Campbell as Frank Dodd
Rating = 3/5 Graves
***May contain some spoilers***
An average, everyday schoolteacher wakes up from an accident to find that he can see the future or past of anyone he touches. Horrified by his visions, he becomes determined to change the terrible futures he sees in any way he can.
Although this movie rarely shows the exact moments of violence, the implied action is chilling. The aftermath of violence is chilling and rates high on the gore scale, though this movie’s focus is not on the gore or other traditional horror movie trappings.
The Grave Review
The Dead Zone presents a chilling story of a man who can see the future or important past events in the lives of anyone he touches. As you watch the movie or read the book, though, you eventually realize that Johnny Smith’s (Christopher Walken) power may be creepy, but the real horror comes in what his power reveals: a law enforcer who is covering up his own heinous crimes, and a politician who will stop at nothing to rise to the peak, no matter how many people are harmed, are just the two biggest examples. In some ways, the film adaptation outshines the book, especially during the law enforcer’s arc in the story, and in others, the book seems to have a better hold on the suspense and horror in the main narrative strand. All in all, the source material and the adaptation complement each other nicely.
Almost the entire cast does a fine job in their roles, delivering as expected. Walken stands out particularly, though it is a little hard to buy him as a schoolteacher in the very beginning of the film. Once he wakes up from his accident-induced coma and starts having eerie visions, there are no more problems with that! I think the only two members of the cast who fall a bit short are Jackie Burroughs, who plays Johnny’s mother, and Martin Sheen, who plays Greg Stillson, the slimy megalomaniac politician. In Burroughs’s case, her character just seems extraneous, and in Sheen’s case, his portrayal of a nutty politician just doesn’t seem to go far enough. Sheen’s villain doesn’t seem to have the intensity needed to reach the future that Smith and the audience are made privy to. There are hints at it, but no real development. The last decade or so of international politics have also shown us much scarier versions of Stillson in real life that makes the character pale in comparison.
The Dead Zone’s biggest weakness is that it meanders its way through its telling. Sometimes it feels less like a true horror movie and more like a drama with a supernatural twist. It’s never boring, but I couldn’t help but wonder if this story wouldn’t have been better as a miniseries, as it feels fairly episodic anyways. More time could definitely be spent building up the character of Stillson, perhaps by seeding him throughout the rest of the story consistently, since he’s meant to be the big bad but doesn’t feel like much more than just another interlude in Johnny’s life in this adaptation of the story. Still, The Dead Zone is worth a watch for an interesting premise and some striking, horrific moments that will stay with you long after the movie itself has ended.
For the foregoing reasons, Grave Reviews gives The Dead Zone (1983) three graves out of five graves.
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