David Cronenberg's adaptation of Stephen King's novel The Dead Zone succeeds in fusing the distinct vision of two very different approaches to horror. Where King's books succeed at revealing the horrific and mysterious in a seemingly ordinary world (The Green Mile, Christine, It), Cronenberg has always been intrigued by the fragility of the human body. The movie version of The Dead Zone triumphantly coalesces these two themes into a highly emotional and simultaneously chilling tale. In Christopher Walken, the filmmakers found an ideal actor to dramatize these two themes. Walken's Johnny Smith (a most ordinary name for this most ordinary man) is a decent, quiet English teacher who wants nothing more than to be with his fiancée, Sarah (Brooke Adams). When his powers emerge after a horrific car accident, Johnny still wishes to be ordinary. However, each time he touches someone and sees the future his body reacts violently. As more and more people want to utilize his strange powers, Johnny's body grows weaker and weaker. While Cronenberg has used makeup to effectively show bodily degeneration in other films (The Brood, They Came From Within, The Fly), here he allows Walken to show the physical exhaustion in how he carries himself and in his interaction with the other characters. By the time Johnny takes heroic action, the audience feels both the triumph of so average a man making such a noble decision, and the physical deterioration that makes that decision a little easier. Fine performances by Tom Skerritt, Herbert Lom, and Martin Sheen help to keep this supernatural tale grounded in an authentic reality. The Dead Zone is very much greater than the sum of its already impressive parts.
by Perry Seibert review