The Dead Zone (1983)
In his mind, he has the power to see the future. In his hands, he has the power to change it.
Year of Release: 1983
Running Time: 103 minutes (1:43)
Director: David Cronenberg
Christopher Walken ... Johnny Smith
Brooke Adams ... Sarah Bracknell
Tom Skerritt ... Sheriff Bannerman
Herbert Lom ... Dr. Sam Weizak
Anthony Zerbe ... Roger Stuart
Simon Craig ... Chris Stuart
Martin Sheen ... Greg Stillson
Nicholas Campbell ... Frank Dodd
Colleen Dewhurst ... Henrietta Dodd
The Dead Zone is the first in a series of reviews I've chosen to write as a tribute to Joe Bob Briggs for his lifetime of dedication to B, Drive-In and Exploitation movies. It was his Joe Bob Goes to the Drive-In column and host segments on Joe Bob's Drive-In Theater and Monstervision that inspired me to write with what limited ability I have. Thanks for everything Joe Bob, we all 'preciate what you do.
Regarding the ordering of these 12 tribute reviews, I'll be counting down the first 12 horror movies that Joe Bob reviewed back in '82 and '83. Less the titles I've already done up to this point. By the time I decided to do this, I'd already done some of those first 12 titles, so call that a blunder on my part. The Dead Zone, technically speaking, was the 20th horror movie Joe Bob reviewed in his Joe Bob Goes to the Drive-In column, and the 54th overall.
For anyone that might be curious, the non horror titles (or titles that I may have done previously) between The Dead Zone and my next review were: The Evil Dead (#53) and Revenge of the Ninja (#52).
School teacher Johnny Smith had a beautiful fiancee, rewarding career and a fortunate life. Until one tragic accident changed everything. After slamming into an 18-wheeler, Johnny is plunged into a five-year coma. When he awakens, he finds his true collision was with destiny - he now has the remarkable gift (or curse) of seeing into the future. From horror master Stephen King and director David Cronenberg, this supernatural thriller turns an everyday guy into a reluctant hero... saving children in danger, helping the police and capturing serial killers. But Johnny's next vision may be his most terrifying yet, and gives him a once-in-a-lifetime chance to save the world... at what may be the ultimate price.
The Dead Zone, the movie that reminds us that milk does a body good... provided it doesn't happen to be inside an overturned tanker in the middle of the road on a rainy night. That's a good scene for all the kiddies to see, that way when their mamas tell 'em to drink their milk so they'll grow up big an strong they can rebut with "you mean big an strong as in; comatose, an with enough skin missin' off my face that it looks like a student from the 'Leatherface Academy of Fabulous Skin Care' was givin' me a make over?", no thanks. Now I know what you're thinkin' based on the title, but this is not a documentary on the space between Mitch McConnell's ears, so don't abandon ship just yet. Anybody that's ever been through physical therapy can really identify with Chris Walken in this one. You know how these physical therapists are, they're so afraid of gettin' fat an havin' to rely on their complete lack of personality to get by that when their client can't take another step as a result of some life altering trauma involvin' intense pain an bodily mutilation, they just up an ditch the person an finish the walk without 'em. Some of you well meanin' types out there might be thinkin' to yourselves that they just love what they do, but then you're so deep into the world of illusion I'd need a couple dozen mushrooms just so we could begin to communicate, so the heck with you guys. These therapists're complete jerkolas. Walken's muscles are so atrophied he's liable to Gerald Ford 'imself down the track if he overexerts an this guy just runs off without 'im. He's mockin' Walken, without a moments balkin'. Lets hope he gets a good sockin', or at bare minimum a stern talkin'. An this is all, of course, not even takin' into account that the man who's been in the hospital for five years, who's on crutches for the first time, is out in the snow an ice where he's unable to do a god damn thing until the tool comes back. Oh that's professional, good thinkin' ya dickbag. It's unfortunate that we have to look at it from this perspective, but it's probably the only way to make these selfie takin' microcephalics understand. What, oh great healer, do you suppose happens to you if Walken takes a header into the snowbank an loses his sixth sense? Martin Sheen gets elected president an the world goes up quicker'n a tube top at Mardi Gras. Nobody ever THINKS about these things, where is this man's sense of responsibility? We know it's not up his ass cause his head's occupyin' most of that space. I dunno, I guess this is what we're all gonna have to expect from a private health care system. But anyway, as the finest movie ever to feature Martin Sheen usin' a baby as a human shield... well actually, here's the real selling point: Cronenberg. You know he'll teach us things that nobody else has the guts to, like exactly how far you aughta go in your movies to be considered "cutting edge," so you don't go too far an end up like David Lynch who's completely cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs.
First, while it's a well established fact that you don't have sex in a horror film if you wanna survive til the end credits so you can demand to be paid above scale for the sequel, thrillers are just the opposite. In a thriller, it's not havin' sex that gets you an your VW bug smashed into the shape of a Borg ship. The punishment makes sense when you think about it, Thrillers lack the gore of a horror film, so if you're not gonna make the sign of the double humped aardvark as compensation, expect reprisal. Second, it's important to remember if you ever end up goin' on TV that your mama's prolly watchin' an that you really don't wanna go doin' things that might cause her brain to start performin' a contortionist demonstration til she's twerkin' around on the floor like an epileptic tree sloth. An third, if you're the sheriff an you couldn't figure out for three years that your deputy has been the local serial killer, you may wanna consider another career path. I've helpfully prepared a brief list of professions that may be better suited to your mental abilities: burger flipper, ditch digger, road kill scooper, TSA screener, United States congressman. You may find that you're a little over qualified for the first three, but a job's a job, an these days none of us can afford to be too picky. So lets all thank Dave for those helpful tidbits. We're now all the better for his hard work an dedication to not just the entertainment of the world, but also the education of it. I've got an observation I'd like to add here as well. When I first saw the scene where Nick Campbell props up a pair of sewing scissors an misses the mark on his attempted tracheotomy, it got me thinkin'. How dumb is this guy? You mean the cop can't just use his gun to commit suicide? Then it hit me, I mean, how cliche is it to kill yourself with a gun? That happens countless times a day. You don't wanna look hackneyed an be remembered as a weenie with no imagination, do you? Nobody wants that. These days it is of the utmost importance to be as eye catching as possible, every moment of every day. And equally important, to be remembered after your death. You wanna go out in style, right? Well, it's gonna be awhile before anybody forgets the guy that said "AH" an jammed his face onto a pair of scissors. Now sure, prolly hurts a little, an you've only got one shot at it, but that's what it's gonna take if you wanna be a stand-out suicider. You wanna be a star, don't you? You don't wanna be the last guy on a long train of conventional suicides, do you? They'll carve "committed suicide in the most BORING way possible" on your headstone, an that's who you'll be for the rest of your natural death. Now, because the scissor into brain shish-kabob's already been done, you can't very well do that or you'll be a copy cat, which is even more pathetic than a boring suicider cause it makes it clear you WANTED that attention but ultimately failed to obtain it due to a lack of research. So try to be creative, an think of the poor, hungry journalist for whom your death could be just the springboard they need to rocket to the next level.
The movie begins with Chris Walken readin' "The Raven" to his class of dead eyed kids who're all a little surprised that Chris ain't been sued outta existence by Bill Gates for stealin' his haircut. Once the bell rings he heads out to meet up with his girlfriend (Sarah) so he can take her to the roller coaster, only once the ride gets goin' his brain gets all queasy an pretty quick he's seein' the world the same way Fabio was the last time he rode a roller coaster. Once the ride stops an his brain finally stops sloshin' around like the inside of a slushie machine he takes Sarah home an has to fend off her sexual advances so Jerry Falwell won't come to his house an start yellin' at 'im. But on the way home, a semi driver's radio dial gets stuck on the new age station an pretty quick he drifts off an jackknifes his milk tanker in the middle of the road an before long Chris ends up plowin' into it an when it's all said an done he's in the hospital lookin' like Fred Krueger tried to pop a buncha zits on his face. Eventually he wakes up to find Inspector Clouseau's boss (the doctor) lookin' at 'im an he explains to Chris that he was in a nasty wreck, but on the plus side he's been unconscious long enough that the statute of limitations ran out on the lawsuit that Darigold brought against 'im while he was out of it. Then his parents come in an his Mom tells 'im that Jesus saved his sorry butt an that Sarah was out scoutin' replacements for 'im before he'd even filled his pee bag an Chris gets sad face. The next day, the nurse notices Chris's sweatin' like Rush Limbaugh when customs starts riflin' through his luggage an goes to wipe his brow. Only when she tries, Chris bolts up in bed an grabs ahold of the nurse's arm an starts havin' visions of a little girl who left the cookies in her easy bake oven too long an caught her house on fire. So Chris tells the woman to get her ass home before her kid gets fried up like a sausage link, but to come straight back when she's done so he can get his bedpan emptied. Then the doc comes in an tells Chris his legs are so atrophied that if he was a horse they'd have to take 'im out back an shoot 'im, but since he's not, an because he does have health insurance, they're willin' to give 'im physical therapy. So Chris grabs the doctor's hand to thank 'im an within seconds he's flashin' back to Hitler invadin' Poland an he sees a little boy bein' shoved onto an evacuation stagecoach an when he tries to get up he collapses like the American steel industry. After the doc helps 'im back into his chair Chris tells 'im what he saw an that the doc's Mom escaped Hitler an that he owes her a whole lotta belated Mother's Day gifts. So that evening the doc calls up his Mom an once he realizes it's actually her, hangs up before she can start askin' 'im about when he's gonna give her grandbabies an why he never calls.
The next day, the doc tells Chris the coma must've given 'im scary voodoo powers an that he's not allowed to touch his hand ever again. Then Chris goes outside for some physical therapy an when he gets tired the therapist ditches 'im so he can get sweaty an run past the nurses. About that time, Sarah shows up an once they go back inside she tells Chris that she's married an gave up her teachin' career so she could stay home an change diapers. She's real guilty about ditchin' Chris before they even got 'im hooked up to the EKG machine but hides it by makin' small talk about how the media's interested in his creepy fortune tellin' prowess an that he might wanna lie low for a while cause Sylvia Brown an John Edward have a hit out on 'im. Eventually, Chris regains his footing, an after a rousing chorus of "I'm Walken, yes indeed I'm Walken", Chris tells the doc about how the media won't leave 'im alone an since doctor/patient confidentiality apparently means NOTHING around here, he's gonna have to have a press conference. So he holds the press conference an after a battery of inane questions some douchenozzle asks for a demonstration, at which point Chris grabs ahold of his hand an starts bringin' up real delicate subject matter an pretty quick the guy don't wanna talk no more. Unfortunately, Chris's Mom's watchin' at home while Murder, She Wrote's on commercial an when she sees 'im talkin' about the douche's sister killin' herself the left side of her body starts becomin' over sensitive to gravity an pretty quick she hits the floor harder'n Ike hit Tina. Chris goes to see her in the hospital but her brain's turned to gruel by the time he gets there an when he lays his head on her stomach to listen for signs of indigestion she expires. The next day, Tom Skerritt shows up at Chris's Dad's place an asks Chris if he could help 'im track down the guy that's been reverse suturin' a buncha women around town. But when Tom suggests that maybe Chris was given this gift by God Chris flips out on 'im an tells 'im that if God did give 'im this nightmare he'd like to regift it cause he feels like God's really stuck it to 'im. Suffice it to say, Chris'll pass. A little while later, Sarah shows up to collect on that nookie she didn't get the night Chris squished his VW Bug an after they roll around on the floor an get shag carpet stuck in their butt cracks Sarah cooks Chris an his Dad dinner. Now that's service. Afterwards, as Sarah's leavin', Chris asks if they can do that again sometime an she says no way cause she's a married woman. Apparently she wasn't a few hours before. But anyway, Chris heads back inside an clicks on the news where he sees Tom talkin' about the latest bloodletting committed by the serial killer an Chris decides he'd better help since Tom's got about as much chance of catchin' this killer as Caitlin Upton has passin' a speech class.
So Tom an Chris go out Walken after midnight, out in the moonlight to the latest crime scene but Chris ain't gettin' any psychic signals even after Tom lets 'im get his fingerprints all over the one piece of evidence they have. But about that time the sheriff's dispatch calls 'im up an tells 'im they've got another corpsicle, so Chris an Tom head over to the site of the latest murderin' an after they crosscheck their way through the media circus Tom steps back an tells Chris to do his thing. So Chris grabs the corpse's hand an pretty quick he's watchin' the scenario unfold in his mind. He sees a man in the gazebo invitin' the girl up so he can show 'er somethin', only once she does he deblouses 'er an jams a pair of scissors into her midsection an leaves 'er layin' there in the cold til her nipples become lethal weapons. While all that was goin' on, Tom's deputy took off in his police cruiser on account of 'im lookin' a lot like the guy Chris saw in his vision an when Tom an Chris head over to his house the guy's mama tells 'em he can't come out an play. So Tom kicks the door in an Chris ends up grabbin' ahold of the deputy's Mom when she tries to intercede an he sees what a bad, justice obstructin' mother she's been. Meanwhile, upstairs, the deputy's propped the tools of his trade up on the bathroom counter, an when he hears Tom an Chris headin' his way he slams his face down onto 'im like a fat guy in a pie eatin' contest. By the time Tom an Chris get there the deputy's twitchin' around in the bathtub like a meth addict an has bloodied the place so bad it looks like the can at the National Organization of Women's headquarters. Then the crazy bitch grabs her son's gun an caps Chris right in the kidney an Tom has to issue a receipt in slow motion. Later, though just how much is unclear, the doc goes to see Chris who's since moved out of town an asks 'im how he's doin', an if his brain's still threatenin' to bust outta his skull. Chris says it's gettin' worse, so the doc tells 'im he's done some research an that he can fix it if he'll just come back to the hospital with 'im, only Chris don't wanna go cause anytime he leaves the house he gets mobbed with requests for the winning Keno numbers. Later on, Chris's doin' some tutorin' work so he can afford the elephant tranquilizers to keep his brain pain from causin' 'im to head bang into a pair of scissors 'imself, when a guy (Stuart) comes to the door an asks 'im to help his son. Seems the kid has a debilitatin' case of introversion so the guy thinks the kid must be retarded an wants Chris to get 'im to act normal so he won't have to be embarrassed in front of his friends when they're talkin' about their kids. So Chris goes to see the kid, but when he enters the house Martin Sheen's over there talkin' about how when he's elected to the senate the country's gonna get so bootstrappy even the women'll have 'em pulled up so high they can pass through their ear piercins. Once Chris gets up to the kid's room the kid tells 'im there's nothin' wrong with 'im an that his Dad's just a blithering extrovert that gets scared when other people aren't talkin' every moment of every day.
Later on, Chris heads back downstairs where Stuart's watchin' Martin on TV talkin' about how we're a nation of pathetic marshmallows an how if you can't work 80 hours a week in 150 degree weather with no lunch break you're part of the problem. While they're watchin' Stuart tells Chris the guy's a tool, but he sticks by 'im cause he might want somethin' from 'im someday, which is actually very refreshing when you consider how truthful that kinda revelation is from someone in politics. That evening, Martin an his hired goon head over to the home of a journalist who's got a rather unflattering story about Martin that's about to run in the paper the following morning, so Martin has to show the guy the equally unflattering pictures they've got of him cheatin' on his wife so the guy'll start workin' on a retraction like right now. Once Martin's finished up playin' Monty Hall in the latest episode of Lets Make a Deal, he an the goon split an the journalist has impotent rage face. The next day, Chris' tutorin' Stuart's kid when there's a knock at the door. It's one of Martin's door to door propaganda agents an he wants a moment of Chris's time to talk about his lord an savior, Martin Sheen. But before the guy can say anything Sarah comes strollin' up the walkway, seems this is the guy she married. Awkward. Chris'd like to chuckle at how badly she traded down, but he's still hung up on 'er an has to get the kid to console 'im while he has a manly blubber. Course when he embraces the kid he starts seein' images of 'im an some other JV hockey punks breakin' through the ice on a lake an drownin' like ugly kittens in a burlap sack. So Chris tells Stuart to cancel the hockey crap or his kid's gonna be floatin' belly up like a condom in the toilet an eventually has to bust one of the guy's Ming dynasty vases so he'll get the picture. Stuart agrees to cancel the game but tells Chris that vase's comin' outta his check, an since Chris works as an educator that means Chris doesn't get a check at all and now owes Stuart approximately $152,000. Later that day, Stuart tells the kid to get ready for the hockey game. Oh Stuart, you sneaky devil. Seems he just told Chris he wouldn't do it to get 'im to go away. But by now the kid's scared shitless an won't go, so Stuart leaves in a huff tryin' to figure out an excuse he can tell all the other Dads about why his bitch of a son couldn't play. The next day, Chris grabs a paper an sees that he's been bamboozled an calls up Stuart who's too bummed an stressed from the impending lawsuits to pick up the phone, but the kid does an once Chris ascertains the kid's alright he hangs up an heads over to Martin's big pep rally in the park. Martin's suckin' up to the voters, an in usual fashion, is shakin' hands, but when he shakes Chris's hand Chris gets a vision of Martin' becomin' president an demonstratin' what he learned at the Harry Truman School of Diplomacy an after consultin' the doc, decides he's gonna have to make like Lee Harvey Oswald an loads up his nuclear holocaust prevention kit an heads for the town hall.
Alrighty well, after close examination, this one's not thriller enough to leave the "/Horror" off of the genre designation, but it's pushing it. In fact it's probably saved entirely by the bathtub sequence with Tom Skerritt and Nick Campbell. That's a little too gruesome to categorize it as a straight thriller, but it's unfortunate that that's the only thing holding it back. So, as you might have deduced from that bit of information, this is the kind of movie that's accessible to the general public. And with a couple mainstream stars in it, it's got a pretty decent chance for mainstream success. The IMDB rating is criminally high, by IMDB rating standards, at least comparatively speaking. I can name a hundred movies I like better, but with that said, the 7.2 that the IMDB has it currently sitting at, is pretty accurate. Though, for a Cronenberg movie, it's pretty tame. Not really the kind of movie I'd prefer to watch, but when it comes right down to brass tacks, it succeeds at what it sets out to accomplish, and that's the bit of information people who like the concept need to take away from this review. Further proof of that statement exists in the form of the USA TV series, also based off of the Stephen King novel used to fashion the movie, which ran for a respectable six seasons. What I saw of the series was less likable than the movie, but then I've not read the book either so I'm not sure which is the better representation. And Anthony Michael Hall is no Chris Walken. But, the point is that people eat this stuff up. The plot, for many people, is not only interesting to a large swath of the population, but it also comes across as hauntingly believable. People want to believe in the possibility of these sorts of things, and when a movie's plotline is solidly behind an idea that's unproven, but that's one which they themselves subscribe to (or are at least open to the possibility of), they can't help but enjoy it. Particularly when it's well produced by a talented cast and crew, which is certainly not something anyone can argue in regards to The Dead Zone. I don't intend for that to be taken in a condescending fashion, there's certainly subject matter that's not been proven as yet that I enjoy seeing in movies as well, but it's important to make sure that your personal enjoyment of the subject doesn't distort your rating of the movie. Be that because you like, or dislike the subject matter. My big problem with it, is that it's a thinking man's horror movie. I personally find these psychological case studies to be a bit boring, as I'm not the type that likes to dwell on the ramifications of each revelation, what they mean, and the significance of it all. To me, that's what reading is for. If I want that kind of stimulation, I'll pick up the book.
Well then, lets grab ahold of this sucker an Vulcan mind meld it til we know all there is to know about it. The plot is pretty decent, if a little cryptic as far as the causation of Walken's new found ability. That personally doesn't bother me much, although I suspect it might dig into the craw of the target demographic. The five Ws and the H, are pretty important for fans of psychological horror, and the fact that you never find out why Walken turns into the star employee for the Psychic Hotline probably bugs some people. Don't bother me though, and the plot is probably the high point. The problem is, with a plot like this, you're never going to be able to get gory or slashy, it's just not structured in a way that'd allow it. The acting is great, Martin Sheen is really entertaining as the gung-ho, bootstrappy politician that's gonna whip this country into shape or die from a cardiac event trying. Chris Walken is Chris Walken, which is to say weird. And unfortunately, he doesn't act in a lot of movies I'm inclined to watch, but he's great as the psychologically damaged protagonist, particularly in the scene with the vase where he's just about had it with Anthony Zerbe's inability to get with the program. Tom Skerritt's another favorite of mine, even though he doesn't dabble in the genres I like as much as I'd like. The guy's got a lot of range when you consider his role in this one versus his role in say, Fighting Back.
Suffice it to say, the movie's got a great cast, and since those three shouldn't require any kind of resume, here's who else matters and why: Brooke Adams (Sometimes they Come Back, The Unborn, The Stuff, Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1978, Shock Waves, Song of the Succubus), Herbert Lom (Masque of the Red Death 1989, And Now the Screaming Starts, Dark Places, Asylum, Count Dracula, Mark of the Devil, Journey to the far Side of the Sun, The Phantom of the Opera 1962), Anthony Zerbe (The Matrix Reloaded, The Matrix Revolutions, Star Trek: Insurrection, Asteroid 1997, The Omega Man), Colleen Dewhurst (The Exorcist III, When a Stranger Calls), Nicholas Campbell (Naked Lunch, The Brood, The Shape of Things to Come, The Omen), Sean Sullivan (Deadly Harvest, Dr. Frankenstein on Campus, 2001: A Space Odyssey), Jackie Burroughs (Willard 2003, Food of the Gods II, The Intruder 1981, Heavy Metal), Geza Kovacs (The Lost World 1992, Return to the Lost World, The Psychic, Mephisto, Scanners), Peter Dvorsky (Videodrome), Barry Flatman (Saw III, Spasms), Ken Pogue (The 6th Day, Bad Moon, The Neptune Factor), Jack Messinger (Scanners, Rabid), Chapelle Jaffe (The Butterfly Effect), Cindy Hinds (Deadline, Tales of the Haunted, The Brood), Helene Udy (Witches of the Caribbean, Pin, The Incubus, My Bloody Valentine), Ramon Estevez (Alligator II), Roger Dunn (Prom Night III, Deadly Eyes), Wally Bondarenko (Murder by Phone), Leslie Carlson (Anonymous Rex, The Girl from Mars, The Fly 1986, Videodrome, Deadly Harvest, Black Christmas, The Neptune Factory), James Bearden (The Incubus), Hardee Lineham (Survival of the Dead, Top of the Food Chain), William Davis (Snakehead Terror, Stephen King's IT), David Rigby (Scanners II). William Davis, would later go on to portray the Cigarette Smoking Man in The X-Files, and for you normal people out there, Herbert Lom played Inspector Clouseau's boss, Dreyfuss, in the Pink Panther movies.
The special effects are pretty good, so the problem lies not with the quality, but the quantity. With the exception of the bathtub scene where Nick Campbell tries to see what it's like to be a fish that's swallowed the hook, there isn't all that much, though that scene is rather memorable. Other than that, you've got one stabbing, the crash and burn with Chris Walken's VW Bug and the jackknifed milk truck, Walken's mangled face when he's rolled into the hospital and a little more towards the climax that I won't spoil, but it's nothing significant. I suppose when you consider that it's a psychological thriller, I should be happy that the bathtub scene is even included, but for me, it's lacking in this area. The shooting locations aren't really my thing either. Settings in general, for these types of movies, are often in drab, mundane places. Not all thrillers have boring shooting locations, in fact, a lot of them choose locations that I'm rather fond of, but they do it out of a desire to be different than all others that came before and you come to find out that they do things like that because the part of the movie that REALLY matters is lacking and the location is nothing more than a plot device. That's not the case here, but, well, I just don't care for them. That said, they're not the least bit relevant to the plot, nor do they really play a part in relation to whether the movie succeeds or not. The soundtrack is pretty good, very suspenseful, it's actually got a more subdued, less shrill Friday the 13th quality to it that is rather effective. Movies like this one tend to rely heavily on their soundtracks to provide the atmosphere and suspense that other movies would get from special effects or cheap scares. It's particularly impressive considering the only horror score that Mike Kamen had done up to that point was Venom, from 1981, which is a deadly snake on the loose crawlin' up people's pantlegs'n scarin' the bejezus out of 'em kinda movie. So a nice job on the soundtrack. Bottom line, it's not really my thing, but it does precisely what it sets out to do, and does it effectively, so if this kinda movie is your thing, check it out. Normal people are encouraged to add about 10% - 15% to my score to give a better representation of how likely they are to enjoy it.