The Dead Zone (David Cronenberg, 1983, USA)

The Dead Zone might be the least Cronenbergian Cronenberg film. Gone are the directors’ trademark obsessions with technology, infection, and body horror. Instead we’re treated to a very Stephen King subject matter - telepathy. As far as King adaptations go, The Dead Zone is one of the better ones, although it does trim out large segments of the novel and compresses it substantially. The film comes from an era when the great auteurs of horror cinema were fighting to get their hands on a King novel to adapt - from George Romero’s Creepshow to John Carpenter’s Christine. It also comes from before the era - specifically the 1990s - when King cinematic adaptations started to precipitously decline in quality. 
The film is notable for being the first Cronenberg film which he did not write himself. It also lacks some of his other trademarks, including Howard Shore. The result is a film which is somehow lacking a voice, as Cronenberg and King do not mix particularly well. Cronenberg, unlike King, is usually not a sentimentalist in his films. While he handles the melodramatic aspects of The Dead Zone reasonably well, some of the scenes feel rather hokey. 

The film however does exceed in terms of atmosphere, using the wintry landscape of Ontario as a stand-in for King’s Castle Rock, Maine. Christopher Walked as Johnny Smith looks perpetually cold, which is fitting for the role. His alien-like and alienated role is the highlight of the film, and will remind viewers of a time before Walken became a self-parody, and was pursuing more serious roles in films like The Deer Hunter. The main problem with The Dead Zone is that it never quite coalesces into a powerful whole - the film feels somewhat slight, almost as if it were a TV movie. The film seemed to represent an anomaly for Cronenberg, who would not work from another writer’s script again until 1993’s M. Butterfly.

6/10

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