The Dead Zone
It doesn’t take wood-paneled console TVs and visions of the future that include handprint-recognition security for us to know how dated David Cronenberg’s The Dead Zone actually is; the back-of-box billing of Christopher Walken as “(from) Wedding Crashers” takes care of that. But despite its wizened stature, this 1983 shocker remains pertinent in the face of gore-fests like Saw, thanks to its smooth pacing, assured delivery and inherently horrific concepts.
Johnny Smith (Christopher Walken) had everything going right for him, especially that whole beautiful-and-adoring-fiancée thing. But his idyllic romance was quickly wiped out by an unfortunate encounter with an overturned 18-wheeler, and, subsequently, a five-year coma. When Smith finally does wake up, it’s with the ability—a gift, maybe, or a curse—to see the future. Soon enough, our hero finds himself in increasingly tense predicaments, including a mutually reluctant alliance with the local cops, desperate to thwart a serial killer’s next gruesome move.
Sharing a deliberate and dread-heavy structure with other Stephen King novel adaptations like The Shining and Carrie, The Dead Zone is perhaps even more effective thanks to Michael Kamen’s music—the most unsettling string-filled score since Bernard Herrmann’s work on Psycho. Also of note, and inspired in a satisfyingly B-movie way, is the outrageous final-act doomsday vision for Martin Sheen’s power-mad politician.
Otherwise, Walken’s strong, monologue-laden performance shows what this master of intensity was really like before he became a parody of himself. The extra features are four brief insights into the thinking behind various aspects of the film, most notable for revealing that Walken insisted Cronenberg fire off a .357 Magnum without warning to inspire his shocked reaction shots. Yeah, there’s a bit more to this guy than the clueless dad in a raunchy romantic comedy.