Let’s be honest about it. There are only three film adaptations of Stephen King’s horror stories that seriously qualify as really good movies: Brian DePalma’s Carrie (1976), Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980) and this film, David Cronenberg’s The Dead Zone (1983). (There are quite a few other film adaptations that are entertaining enough, but…) And, yes, Cronenberg’s film is the least of the three. It breaks no new ground. It isn’t open to multiple interpretations — and apart from the truly disturbing sequence involving the Castle Rock killer, the film is fairly straightforward for Cronenberg. But it’s still a solid, intelligent, effective horror movie — and, even better perhaps, it’s persuasively adult. The story is surprisingly complex in its development. It starts slowly, leading up to the accident (a splendidly achieved sequence) that leaves school teacher Johnny Smith (Christopher Walken) in a coma for five years. Not surprisingly, he finds things have changed when he comes to — and not just that his girlfriend (Brooke Adams) has married someone else. He soon realizes that he has developed psychic abilities — that he can “read” a person (including the person’s future) by touching them. This quickly becomes as much — or more — a burden as a blessing. Where all this takes the story is frequently surprising and always compelling.
The Thursday Horror Picture Show will screen The Dead Zone Thursday, Jan. 10 at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge of The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.