Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Dead Zone (1983)

The list of Stephen King novels, novellas, short stories, stray thoughts, and refrigerator notes that have been made into movies is long and almost as varied as the quality of the source material.  In other words, for every decent King adaptation there's a terrible one—and for every terrible one there's a great one, just about.  Of course, The Shining may stand at the top of the list—ironic, of course, given King's famous rejection of Kubrick's take on his novel.  But a number of other fine films have crawled out of King's It/Id, from Misery to The Shawshank Redemption, from Stand By Me to Christine--and surprisingly the list goes on.

In my top five, if I had one, would be David Cronenberg's version of The Dead Zone.  Released in the same year as Videodrome, The Dead Zone also benefited from its lead, Christopher Walken (while James Woods goes all the way in the media-nightmare Videodrome).  Walken gives Johnny Smith a haunted look and shambling gait that reflects the tragic decline Smith suffers in the novel.  I can remember reading the book and thinking of Frankenstein's creation, who learns what it means to be human and is ruined by the knowledge.  Johnny also gets a long hard look—and while it contains light, sometimes it's harsh and unforgiving and more than a little insane.  The book is a melancholy thing, and the movie shows us Johnny as a Thing, standing alone in the place where evil works its black magic in "the bleak midwinter," cold and true.  Walken takes full advantage of Cronenberg's chilly vision, and lurches across the frame in exhausted wisdom. Sad, sad, sad.

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