Walken in a winter wonderland. The Dead Zone could not only give Die Hard a run for its money in terms of holiday Christmas cheer, but it’s one of the finest (if not the finest) adaptations of a Stephen King novel. True, that’s a bit like being the sveltest member of the shot-put team, but still. Credit where credit’s due.
We meet inspiring English teacher Johnny Smith, who rocks an uninspiring blonde basin haircut (the otherwise inspiring Christopher Walken), whose ride careens into the back of a milk truck in the dead of winter, rendering him comatose for five long years.
When he eventually comes to, he’s got no job (guessing teachers’ union lawyers gave up on him in oh, year 2?), no fiance (she’s since married), no prospects, and faces a long road to recovery in terms of painful rehab, therapy and crutches. He’s well enough to wax poetic about his predicament, via The Legend of Sleepy Hollow: “As he was a bachelor, and in nobody’s debt, nobody troubled their head about him anymore…”
However he suffers a worse fate: he has awakened with painful psychic visions which can only be set off through touch.
In one of the film’s intriguing and terrifying scenes, he clasps the hand of an attending nurse, which stirs up visions of the woman’s daughter burning to death in the family home. The RN rushes off to call 911, and the little’s girl’s life is saved. This was pre-CG, and the boiling over of the little girl’s goldfish tank while she cowers in the corner is chilling, not to mention hyper-realistic.
Soon, Smith’s powers of prognostication have sent the media into a frenzy, and his closet fills with written requests to be a personal oracle to the townsfolk.
He can only pick and choose so many projects as he’s only one man, but also because of a little touch that David Cronenberg added: Smith’s visions are so intense, they actually have a debilitative effect on him, taking years off his life.
Eventually, Smith becomes embroiled in political intrigue (wingnut Senator Stillson, who’s got eyes on the presidency) as well as a police whodunit to untangle the identity of the “Castle Rock Killer,” which sounds like a perp who’d use draft beer in his MO.
The performances are off-the-charts — not just Walken — but his love interest Brooke Adams, the perpetually great Tom Skerritt as the sheriff and Martin Sheen as the slimy vote-buying politico.
The Dead Zone is a worthy, creepy and unsettling follow-up to Videodrome.
Keen-eyed Torontonians will spot local theme park, Canada’s Wonderland during the rip-roaring roller coaster scene.
**** (out of 5)
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