The Dead Zone Review
Written by: Tim Hannigan
If you collect horror films on DVD, it is inevitable that you will end up owning more than one DVD version of your favorite films. Night of the Living Dead, Evil Dead, Halloween – if the DVD sells well, some time after you’ve dropped you hard earned dollars on it you will stumble across a "new edition" with some additional features never before released and you will once again find yourself separated from those hard earned bucks.
The big question of course, is whether or not it is worth buying another version of the film, if you already have one in your collection. If you are a fan of "The Dead Zone", then the new Collector’s Edition is definitely worth adding to your collection.
Directed by Canadian-great David Cronenberg, "The Dead Zone" is an adaptation of the Stephen King novel of the same name. The film tells the story of John Smith (the always amazing Christopher Walken) – an East Coast everyman with loving parents, a beautiful girlfriend, and a job he loves – teaching English at the local high school. Of course, being based on a Stephen King novel, you know that all of that goes to hell in a hand basket.
Driving home from his girlfriend Sarah’s place after a trip to the carnival, Johnny crashes his car into an eighteen wheeler. Severely injured, Johnny is rushed to intensive care, where he is left in a deep coma. Five years later, he wakes up from his coma to find his girlfriend married to another man, and to find that he has the ability of second sight. When Johnny touches someone’s hand, he is able to see tragic events in their lives – past, present and future. The visions feel like death to Johnny – he finds himself in the midst of terrible situations as a passive observer – completely unable to help the people who suffer. For Johnny the new found ability is not a blessing but a curse. When Johnny helps a nurse save her daughter, stories of his abilities spread like wildfire. He is dogged by people seeking assistance, and is forced into social isolation.
The Dead Zone is equal parts horror, drama, love story, political thriller, and has the feeling of a modern-day Greek tragedy. Despite Johnny’s desire to be left alone, he ends up involved in a serial killer investigation. The press from his involvement forces him further into isolation. He attempts to find a normal life again tutoring students, but his powers interfere when he has visions of one of his student’s deaths.
The interesting moral dilemma of the film emerges when Johnny shakes hands with Greg Stillson, a slime-bag politician running for Senate with hopes of one day being President. The vision of Stillson’s future leaves Johnny with one question – if you could go back in time, knowing what you know now, would you kill Hitler? If Greg Stillson will one day be responsible for the deaths of millions of people, should Johnny kill him knowing that he would never get away with it, and knowing that no one would understand why he did it.
The Dead Zone is hands down the greatest film adaptation of a Stephen King novel. The success of the film lies in two key components – Cronenberg’s direction, and the performance of Walken. There are some roles that you see in film and you can never imagine anyone else pulling it off. This is one of those films. Walken is mesmerizing as Smith, and is capable of displaying the deep emotion and dark turmoil inside Smith without even saying a word. Walken conveys the pain of the visions and the despair that Smith lives with – waking up to find that the things he cherished most – Sarah, and his job, have been taken away from him. Feeling like a monster with an inconceivable gift, and a terrible burden. Contemplating a decision to sacrifice himself, while believing that no one will ever understand why.
The other performances are excellent, although Martin Sheen’s performance as Stillson is a little bit over the top in a few places.
Cronenberg is one of the genre’s greatest directors. He is very restrained in this film in comparison to the other films he was making at the time. While there are a few shocking visuals (this film has the most shocking suicide you will see), Cronenberg focuses more on the characters and their journey.
The film was released by Paramount Pictures and the earlier DVD release was bare-bones, which is common for Paramount’s genre films. The new DVD release features four featurettes, each about ten minutes in length. It includes interviews with Cronenberg, Brooke Adams as well as literary experts well versed in Stephen King’s books and their Hollywood-versions. There is a great featurette that examines the look of the film, and discusses many of the great locations which can be found in and around Niagara-on-the-Lake in Ontario Canada [the locations are worth checking out if you’re in the Niagara area – the scene in the tunnel where Johnny visits the location where the Castle Rock Killer had murdered someone was filmed in the real-life haunted tunnel known locally as ‘the Screaming Tunnel’; the gazebo erected by the film crew for the other murder scene is still standing in the park in Niagara-on-the-Lake].
The two big things lacking on the DVD is a commentary from Cronenberg, and interviews with Walken. Who knows – maybe if this DVD sells well we will see those on a future disc (start setting aside those hard earned dollars now)! In any event, the film looks great, and it is nice to see Paramount provide some extras to celebrate such a fantastic film.