The Dead Zone – 2.75 stars

Few Stephen King books or short stories are successfully translated on screen, and only one is brilliant – The Shining (it speaks volumes about the author that he felt Stanley Kubrick got it wrong, so wrong he made another version, with one of the two leads from the sitcom Wings in Nicholson’s role).

Carrie, Salem’s Lot, and Misery are very good, and Stand by Me is competent, if treacly. Dolores Claiborne, 1408, Christine, and Silver Bullet are pedestrian, but have their moments.  The Shawshank Redemption is a wildly overrated, ridiculous film, but deserves mention because the great weight of authority deems it a near masterpiece.

Then you have a big pile of crap–

  • 1982 – Creepshow
  • 1983 – Cujo
  • 1984 – Children of the Corn
  • 1984 – Firestarter
  • 1985 – Cat’s Eye
  • 1986 – Maximum Overdrive
  • 1987 – The Running Man
  • 1989 – Pet Sematary
  • 1990 – Graveyard Shift
  • 1990 – It
  • 1991 – Golden Years
  • 1991 – Sometimes They Come Back
  • 1992 – Sleepwalkers
  • 1993 – The Dark Half
  • 1993 – Needful Things
  • 1993 – The Tommyknockers
  • 1994 – The Stand
  • 1995 – The Langoliers
  • 1995 – The Mangler
  • 1995 – Stephen King’s Nightshift Collection
  • 1996 – Thinner
  • 1998 – Apt Pupil
  • 1999 – The Green Mile (yes, this sucks)
  • 1999 – Storm of the Century
  • 2001 – Hearts in Atlantis
  • 2002 – Rose Red
  • 2003 – Dreamcatcher
  • 2003 – The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer
  • 2004 – Secret Window
  • 2004 – Riding the Bullet
  • 2006 – Desperation
  • 2006 – Nightmares and Dreamscapes
  • 2007 – The Mist
  • 2009 – Dolan’s Cadillac
  • 2011 – Bag of Bones 
  • 2013 – The Reaper’s Image
  • 2013 – Cain Rose Up
  • 2013 – Willa

So, where does David Cronenburg’s The Dead Zone fit in?  Three-fourths of this story in about a man who can see your future and your past after he touches you, I’d have ranked it just below The Shining.  Cronenberg creates a creepy atmosphere made even more unsettling by the unique performance of Christopher Walken, and the bleak misery of his existence as a crippled freak stuck in a small town is haunting.  Striking visuals add to the spooky feel:

Then, the damn thing falls apart due to two ridiculous storylines.  First, Anthony Zerbe plays a rich man who hires Walken to tutor his son, knowing full well Walken’s gift of second sight.  So, what does Zerbe do when Walken sees the boy and his friends crashing through the ice during hockey practice and warns him accordingly?  Wounded that his son has rejected his judgment about skating on the pond, Zerbe conducts hockey practice anyhow, and two boys die.  The decision is bananas yet in keeping with King’s low esteem for parents (the father in Stand By Me practically tells poor Will Wheaton, “the wrong kid died” like the father in Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story).

Second, Walken is introduced to senatorial candidate Martin Sheen and sees Sheen’s future as a messianic president of the United States, instigating a nuclear conflagration.  Sheen plays the character so oily and low it is hard to imagine anyone would vote for this cretin.  And when Walken thwarts his ambition, the manner in which Sheen self-immolates is so broadly stupid the film is near ruined.

Still, it coulda’ been a contender.

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