Joining the half-dozen shock-oriented directors who have filmed novelist Stephen King’s horror and suspense yarns, David Cronenberg turns The Dead Zone into an accomplished psychological thriller.
Focus is Johnny Smith, a shy schoolteacher who snaps out of a long coma with the questionable gift of second sight. Convincingly played by Christopher Walken, Johnny can see into anybody’s past or future merely by grasping the person’s hand. The ‘dead zone’ seems to refer to the brain damage that enables him to change the outcome of events he ‘sees’.
His first premonition enables a nurse to save her daughter from a domestic conflagration. The news of the patient’s ESP spreads quickly and he experiences some pretty horrible incidents, inside and outside his head.
A lot happens in the 102-minute suspenser. There’s the girlfriend (Brooke Adams) Johnny loses to his near-fatal accident and regains for awhile. There’s also a sheriff (Tom Skerritt) who desperately needs a psychic solution to crack a murder case, and the wealthy businessman (Anthony Zerbe) who hires Johnny to tutor his problem son (Simon Craig).