THE DEAD ZONE
The Dead Zone was produced by Dino De Laurentiis who made a number of other Stephen King adaptations around the same time, including Firestarter (1984), Cats Eye (1985), Silver Bullet (1985) and Stephen Kings directorial debut Maximum Overdrive (1986). The script for The Dead Zone was adapted by Jeffrey Boam, who would go onto write a number of other genre films including The Lost Boys (1987), Innerspace (1987), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) and The Phantom (1996).
The Stephen King novel survives reasonably well on screen in Jeffrey Boams hand. The Dead Zone is certainly a long book where Stephen King characteristically sidetracks off into other peripheral stories. Jeffrey Boam trims down much of the padding of the story but keeps its essence and in some places even dramatically bolsters the conflicts. Indeed, The Dead Zone is usually spoken of as one of the better among the usually maligned screen adaptations of Stephen Kings works. (Although, the film does bring out the problem that the book is episodic).
The Dead Zone was the first time that David Cronenberg was essentially working as a director for hire and not from a script he had written himself. Perhaps as a result, The Dead Zone feels like his least personal film. Cronenbergs films usually work on a fascinatingly torrid level of split between the body and mind where the body always seems to be twisting into a bizarre new form of repressive expression or trying to fuse with technology. There is none of that in The Dead Zone. Moreover, Cronenberg does not appear interested in ordinary people stories and gives the impression of being uninvolved with many of the mundane scenes. Certainly, Cronenberg does a competent job and, for any other director, The Dead Zone would be a worthwhile effort. However, the wintry Canadian locations seem frozen, unwelcoming tableaux and the film cool and detached.
Christopher Walken, who was then mostly known for his Best Supporting Actor win on The Deer Hunter (1978) and had not matured into the highly individualistic cult actor he is today, is also wrong for the central role. The part of Johnny Smith needs a warm, ordinary person at the centre of it but Christopher Walkens twitchy, nervous style of acting seems too jumpy and hyper like he had been mainlining coffee throughout shooting the whole time. (Interestingly, Stephen King had casting veto over the film and had initially pushed for Bill Murray in the part, which takes a little to get ones head around). Certainly, Cronenberg has a good supporting cast. Martin Sheen is fine in a rare villainous turn the US President he plays in The Dead Zone makes for intriguing contrast to the much more liberal President he later played in tvs The West Wing (1999-2006). There are also fine supporting performances around the edge of the film from Herbert Lom and Brooke Adams.
The book later became the basis of a Canadian-made tv series The Dead Zone (2001-2), starring Anthony Michael Hall as Johnny Smith.
David Cronenbergs other films are: Stereo (1969), a little-seen film about psychic powers experiments; Crimes of the Future (1970) set a future where people have become sterile and developed strange mutations; Shivers/They Came from Within (1975) about sexual fetish inducing parasites; Rabid (1977) about a vampiric skin graft; The Brood (1979), a remarkable film about experimental psychotherapies; Fast Company (1979), a non-genre film about car racing; Scanners (1981), a film about psychic powers; Videodrome (1983), a conceptually stunning work about reality-manipulating tv; The Fly (1986), his remake of the 1950s film; his masterpiece Dead Ringers (1988), which explores the perverse psychology of twins; Naked Lunch (1991), his surreal adaptation of William S. Burroughs drug-hazed counter-culture novel; M. Butterfly (1993), a non-genre film about a Chinese spy who posed as a woman to seduce a British diplomat; Crash (1996), Cronenbergs adaptation of J.G. Ballards novel about the eroticism of car crashes; eXistenZ (1999), a disappointing film about Virtual Reality; Spider (2002), a subjective film takes place inside the mind of a mentally ill man; the thriller A History of Violence (2005) about an assassin hiding from his past life; Eastern Promises (2007) about the Russian Mafia; A Dangerous Method (2011) about the early years of psychotherapy; Cosmopolis (2012), a surreal vision of near-future economic collapse; and the dark Hollywood film Maps to the Stars (2014). David Cronenberg has also made acting appearances in other people films including as a serial killer psychologist in Clive Barkers Nightbreed (1990); a hitman in Gus Van Sants To Die For (1995); a Mafia head in the Canadian vampire film Blood & Donuts (1995); a member of a hospital board of governors in the medical thriller Extreme Measures (1996); as a gas company exec in Don McKellars excellent end of the world drama Last Night (1998); and a priest in the serial killer thriller Resurrection (1999); and a victim in the Friday the 13th film Jason X (2001).
Other Stephen King genre adaptations include:- Carrie (1976), Salems Lot (1979), The Shining (1980), Christine (1983), Cujo (1983), Children of the Corn (1984), Carrie (1976), Salems Lot (1979), The Shining (1980), Christine (1983), Cujo (1983), Children of the Corn (1984), Firestarter (1984), Cats Eye (1985), Silver Bullet (1985), The Running Man (1987), Pet Semetary (1989), Graveyard Shift (1990), It (tv mini-series, 1990), Misery (1990), a segment of Tales from the Darkside: The Movie (1990), Sometimes They Come Back (1991), The Lawnmower Man (1992), The Dark Half (1993), Needful Things (1993), The Tommyknockers (tv mini-series, 1993), The Stand (tv mini-series, 1994), The Langoliers (tv mini-series, 1995), The Mangler (1995), Thinner (1996), The Night Flier (1997), Quicksilver Highway (1997), The Shining (tv mini-series, 1997), Trucks (1997), Apt Pupil (1998), The Green Mile (1999), The Dead Zone (tv series, 2001-2), Hearts in Atlantis (2001), Carrie (tv mini-series, 2002), Dreamcatcher (2003), Riding the Bullet (2004), Salems Lot (tv mini-series, 2004), Secret Window (2004), Desperation (tv mini-series, 2006), Nightmares & Dreamscapes: From the Stories of Stephen King (tv mini-series, 2006), 1408 (2007), The Mist (2007), Children of the Corn (2009), Everythings Eventual (2009), the tv series Haven (2010-5), Bag of Bones (tv mini-series, 2011), Carrie (2013), Under the Dome (tv series, 2013-5), Big Driver (2014), A Good Marriage (2014), Mercy (2014), Cell (2016), 11.22.63 (tv mini-series, 2016), The Dark Tower (2017), Geralds Game (2017), It (2017), The Mist (tv series, 2017), Mr. Mercedes (tv series, 2017 ) and 1922 (2017). Stephen King had also written a number of original screen works with Creepshow (1982), Golden Years (tv mini-series, 1991), Sleepwalkers (1992), Storm of the Century (tv mini-series, 1999), Rose Red (tv mini-series, 2002) and the tv series Kingdom Hospital (2004), as well as adapted his own works with the screenplays for Cats Eye, Silver Bullet, Pet Semetary, The Stand, The Shining, Desperation, Children of the Corn 2009, A Good Marriage and Cell. King also directed one film with Maximum Overdrive (1986).