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Retro Review: The Dead Zone

It’s funny, but the premise behind The Dead Zone almost seems like a cliché now, but back in the day, 1983 really, it seemed an original and intriguing concept. Based on the novel by Stephen King, and directed by David Cronenberg, this has winner written all over it. On top of that, there is a great cast including Christopher Walken and Tom Skerritt. 

Walken is a mild mannered school teacher that enjoys reading Edgar Allen Poe to his pupils, then has a terrible car crash that sends him into a coma for 5 years. When he awakens, the love of his life has moved on but Johnny has acquired strange psychic abilities. When Johnny makes contact with people, he can see visions of their life, important visions, but the gift becomes a curse, as Johnny’s life starts to spin out of control.

The Dead Zone is possibly one of the better adaptations of King’s work. It manages to keep the premise of the book, not deviating too far away from King’s vision, like other productions would do, and the tight and reserved direction from an incredibly restrained Cronenberg manages to keep everything grounded in a world we recognise. Johnny is never a “superhero”, and from the very first act, we see him vulnerable and confused about what is happening to him. If this film was to be made today, I am pretty sure that by the third act he would have had a leather costume and a code name such as “Mentallo” or something.

Johnny’s visions add spectacle to the ordinary world that the film is set in, and you can see the studio had enough faith in the project to spend a decent sized budget, it was around $10 million, to carry the audience through the screenplay. The film is even brave enough to bring Johnny’s story to a definite conclusion, something that again, a modern studio would probably not do. Indeed, the premise was so strong, that a TV spin off hit the screens in 2002 and ran for 6 seasons.

Elevated by great performances that make us believe in the story, The Dead Zone is an honest and human film, despite it’s fantastic backdrop. Cronenberg proves he can do a mainstream studio picture with the focus on a conventional storyline, as opposed to the more body horror orientated shockers that critics were used to. The Dead Zone often gets relegated to the lower end of the league table, but it is a supernatural story with an A-list cast that deserves to be included with The Exorcist and The Omen, in a list of great Hollywood horror flicks.

Available now on Amazon Prime Video.