The Dead Zone

(David Cronenberg, 21 October 1983)

“Blessed me? Oh, God’s been a real sport to me!”  

On this day in 1983, Cronenberg finds his initial taste of mainstream success through one of his first explorations of complex, three-dimensional characters. THE DEAD ZONE sees Cronenberg channel King’s haunting novel via Jeffrey Boam’s screenplay and the haunted face of Walken’s Johnny Smith. 

This film is best described, as icy–frigid, almost, as it’s images are often harrowing and emotionally glacial — and yet, it retains a tragic warmth somewhere in its core. We overtly feel the loss of John Smith, a man whose universe sees fit to move on without him, leaving him behind while also leaving him with an inexplicable curse. Put simply, Walken is magnetic at every turn, his black pea-coat drawn about him like a broken bat’s wing as he hobbles about each scene, every step closer to someone else’s pain. The performance is a riveting one, for sure, as are the supporting roles of Tom Skerritt, Herbert Lom, and Brooke Adams.

Cronenberg’s film leaves us with lasting questions of what we might choose given Smith’s situation, adding to how well this material has aged; given the current political climate, Martin Sheen’s populist huckster hellbent on appearance and illusion feels shocking familiar; it is impossible to read the original source novel or revisit this film in the context of the, sadly, popular and (thankfully) polarizing “Make America Great Again” platform and not see damningly chilling parallels. And who can forget the fact that we also get the cinematic debut of ol’ Frank “Clothespin” Dodd, the cop-turned-serial-strangler with the slickest rain slicker in Castle Rock — chillingly portrayed by Nicholas Campbell. (Be careful with those scissors, Frank!) Michael Kamen’s epic score is worth mentioning, too — multi-faceted, dramatic, tragic. If it’s been awhile, dip back into this melancholic tale of unwanted gifts, star-crossed lovers, and lives brutally intertwined by gossamer threads. 

Back in 1983, Roger Ebert sang its praises, arguing that “THE DEAD ZONE does what only a good supernatural thriller can do: It makes us forget it is supernatural…[and it] tells its story so strongly through the lives of sympathetic, believable people that we not only forgive the gimmicks, we accept them.” So if you find yourselves at the county fair, Fiends, take heed when spinning that wheel of fortune.

Ebert, Roger. “Review: The Dead Zone.”, Accessed 3 Feb. 2018.