Cult Classics: The Dead Zone

14 Sep

I am intrigued by David Cronenberg. Not because he is a Canadian Jew, whom I generally gravitate toward, nor because he turned down the chance to direct both Robocop and Return of the Jedi. No. Mr. Cronenberg fascinates me because of his bizarre film evolution. I am only a recent admirer, I didn’t watch his movies through the years, so I was unable to see the gradual (or was it abrupt?) path that led him from Scanners to Eastern Promises. I wish to sound professional, but all I can say is: how the hell was this progression made?!  When and how did he go from making science fiction gore-fests to psychological dramas? Since Wikipedia and IMDb are no help in my finding the answers to this, I have decided to, slowly but surely, go through the history of David Cronenberg the old-fashioned way; by watching his movies. Today’s Cult Classic feature was one step in my journey: The Dead Zone.

The Dead Zone is a science fiction(ish) film about Johnny Smith (Christopher Walken), a school teacher, who, after a car accident and a five year coma, wakes up with psychic powers. These psychic powers allow him to see the past, present, or future of any person with whom he makes physical contact. Sounds fun, right? Well, apparently Johnny doesn’t think so. And after saving several people’s lives and finding a serial killer, Johnny decides to hide away in another town and never leave his house. However, through a series of events, Destiny is able to work her magic and get Johnny to try to take down an evil Senator who will, someday, destroy the world.

While the storyline sounds promising enough, it is not executed very well. The movie feels choppy, following several of Johnny’s endeavors that do not fit together harmoniously. There are different sections: one in which he reconnects with his old love, one where he decides to help the sheriff, one where he leaves town forever, one where he makes friends with a boy, one where he comes into contact with an evil politician, etc. It drags on much too long. Any one of these plots could have stood very well on their own. The final act in which he is conflicted about what to do with a potential Hitler on the loose could be very intriguing, but after several various adventures, feels tedious. The Stephen King novel that the film is based off of probably tells the story much more successfully.

Not to mention the fact that there were a lot of non-purposeful references that, from a 2009 viewer, made the movie a lot more comical than it was intended to be. For instance, Martin Sheen as Greg Stillson, evil senatorial candidate, says “I have had a vision that I am going to be President of the United States someday. And nobody, and I mean nobody, is going to stop me!” Little did he know how true that would be! Also ironic, was the fact that Christopher Walken’s character constantly references Sleepy Hollow, which he would later go on to star in. I also couldn’t help but think of “Ed Glosser: Trivial Psychic”, the Saturday Night Live sketch in which Christopher Walken spoofs his The Dead Zone role by playing a character who can predict insignificant future events. Thoughts of such things definitely leant a hand in cheapening the film experience.

So would I recommend this film? You probably guessed the answer by now: not really. It was not very thrilling, it didn’t connect coherently, and it didn’t fulfill its potential of psychic cinema magic. However, it wasn’t all bad, it had an interesting enough plot, solid acting, and you get to see Christopher Walken hold a shotgun. But as I am including a picture of Christopher Walken holding a shotgun, there’s really no need for you to watch it, is there?

Wishing I had chosen to watch Videodrome,


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