THE DEAD ZONE

1983; directed by David Cronenberg; adapted by Jeffrey Boam; 103 mins

[Sorry for the clip but the trailer gives away loads of plot details!]

No zombies! Ah, shame. Still! We’re jumping past Fast Company, The Brood and Scanners to this 80s Stephen King adaptation about an ordinary, headache suffering teacher called Johnny Smith who is involved in a car crash and wakes up from a coma five years later to discover that he has psychic powers! By touching other peoples’* hands, he can see into their past and their future!

When this film started, I didn’t think it was gonna really wow me. The early scenes seemed stilted and slightly cheesy with Walken and sweetheart, Sarah (played by Brooke Adams) as lovebirds having a happy jolly time and being all in love ‘n’ shit. As soon as Johnny wakes up from his coma, though, the schmaltz gives way to brooding, broiling psychological disharmony. Hooray! Actually, it does make you wonder if, like the prologue to Oliver Stone’s Born on the Fourth of July, it is deliberately cheesy so as to contrast against the ensuing torment.

Surprisingly, the film itself, is not so much an A to B to C narrative as it is a character piece that details episodes in the downfall of a happy man afflicted by a potentially world-saving condition. From that premise, it’s easy to see why they cast Christopher Walken who plays crazed better than he does contented, I think. Johnny’s back-and-forth journey of advance and retreat is a fascinating one. At first, freaked out by his powers and the media attention, he withdraws but is compelled to help out when he realises that he could help find a serial killer but then the fallout from that leads him to flee town and lead a private existence tutoring kids again. Through all this runs the question of what would you do if you had these God-like abilities? Thankfully, though, the film refrains from any heavy-handed Jesus symbolism…

… bollocks! Where was I? Sorry, had to leave halfway through this review and now, almost 24 hours later, can’t remember what I had to say…

… Oh yeah! So, divine parallels are out the window and it grounds itself firmly in the mould of the everyman and this new relationship with the world around him. If there is a missed opportunity at all, I did wonder why there was no weird psychic link when [MILD SPOILER] Johnny and Sarah hook up again. Some hand holding (at the very least) could’ve yielded an interesting scene of uncovered truths. C’est la vie.

Interestingly, these three Cronenberg films I’ve reviewed are the only three not scored by Howard Shore, although, it has to be said that Michael Kamen‘s musical stylings sound very much like a Shore score so we’re in familiar territory (not that that’s a bad thing). Jeffrey Boam‘s screenplay, adapted from the Stephen King original, really has the plot and the themes interweaving with one another quite nicely and Mark Irwin‘s cinematography switches seamlessly between freezing cold reality and lurid sensationalism whenever the story demands, topping off a terrific bit of 80s psychodrama.

*I really don’t know where that apostrophe was supposed to go. Sorry, grammar Nazis. Actually, fuck you!

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