The Dead Zone (1983)
Donald Trump has, and this is putting it lightly, a lot of critics. From the constant onslaught of a media that hates him as much as he hates it, the liberal mindset that makes up the majority of the entertainment industry and writers that continually push his buttons whether it be through repeated criticism, or, as with the recent case of journalist and author Michael Wolff, publishing books that allegedly exposes his administration as being one filled with anger, backstabbing and all round sheer lunacy.
One such writer who shares a mutually hateful relationship with Trump is his Twitter rival and horror maestro Stephen King who, with his novel The Dead Zone and its tale of an apocalypse-minded possible President, is often seen as something of a predictor of Trump’s rise to power.
Whether King actually predicted Trump’s rise or not is a topic for another day, so instead let’s take a look at David Cronenberg’s excellent adaptation of King’s supernatural tale of second sight and political assassination. This is The Dead Zone.
After surviving a horrific car crash, teacher John Smith awakens from a five-year coma to find that he now possesses a second sight that allows him to look into the pasts and futures of those he touches. With his abilities, John becomes a reluctant aid to those in need, ultimately deciding to use his power to try and avert all-out nuclear holocaust.
Christopher Walken is as wonderfully weird as always in the lead role of John Smith. With his usual curious speech patterns and vocal cadences, Walken excels at capturing your attention and rarely letting it go, with his performance being one of quiet intensity, but also of eccentric charm.
Although, sometimes his distinctive style of delivery does lend intensity to some lines that perhaps don’t require it, lines such as “I’m going to marry you” which sounds like a threat when Walken says it. Although Walken is suitably terrifying and sinister when the film goes for it, such as a pretty unsettling scene when he grabs the hand of a pushy TV reporter and reveals what he knows about the reporter’s late sister, with his low gravelly voice being deeply chilling.
It’s yet another fantastic performance from one of the great oddball actors of all time. It’s a shame though that Walken couldn’t use his precognitive abilities to stop himself from appearing in Gigli or The Country Bears or Balls of Fury or the many other odd film choices Walken has made over the years.
While Walken is great as always, the film is nearly stolen by the equally crazed (but all too short) performance of Martin Sheen as rising political firebrand Greg Stillman, a man whose future could spell the end of the world.
Sheen is equal measures hilarious and frightening in the role, coming off as your typical slick and sly political figure, slipping you a “vote for me” badge while pretending to shake your hand, while also putting the fear of God into your very soul with his crazed stares as he proclaims his intent to become President, happily intending to unleash to Armageddon itself because “it came to him in a dream”.
Although as we all know now when Martin Sheen did become President he spent most of it walking and talking in hallways and it was all a bit preachy.
The film’s pacing is perhaps its strongest asset, adopting an episodic feel which ensures that if one plot doesn’t interest you then the next one just might. It’s this episodic nature that allows the film to be both a serial killer detective story and a political thriller all at once, with it all being neatly wrapped up in a supernatural mystery.
Now, while it could be easy to compare Trump to the character of Greg Stillman, and many other writers likely have, I’m not wholly sold on this comparison. While Stillman’s populist rhetoric and claims of representing the working man, as well as other’s worries about his “dangerous” potential are certainly comparable to Trump, I see Stillman as a very different sort of beast to Trump.
If anything, Stillman reminded me more of Trump’s former rival, the deeply conservative Ted Cruz, whose evangelical religious views feel much more akin to Stillman’s fanatical belief in religious destiny. Cruz (like Stillman) is the kind of guy who has wet dreams of mushroom clouds while humming “Jesus loves me” to himself, and quite honestly I think he would have made for a far more dangerous and terrifying President than even Trump on his worst Twitter tantrums. Yes, Trump is the “sane” one in this instance.
In short, The Dead Zone is a damn fine thriller and one of the more underrated entries in director Cronenberg’s career and among the vast sea of King adaptations. While, the Trump comparisons are rather thin at best, (although his beef with North Korea might soon change that), the film is still well worth if you’re looking for a fun little supernatural thriller.