Welcome to this week's Horror Squad Movie Club discussion post. Hopefully everyone got to spend time with David Cronenberg's The Dead Zone over the weekend and is now ready to talk about it in depth. Naturally, there could be some spoilers here -- so if you didn't get a chance to check it out, go do that and come back once you're done. We'll still be here, I promise.
As I mentioned on Friday, Cronenberg's adaptation of The Dead Zone is my favorite film based on a King novel outside of Kubrick's The Shining. It hasn't aged as well as Kubrick's film -- which benefits greatly from its limited setting -- but it does feature a fantastic performance from Christopher Walken that may not be as gleefully unrestrained as Nicholson's, but is still quite powerful.
The Dead Zone has some uncharacteristically melodramatic moments considering it's a Cronenberg film (which are usually marked by a sense of almost clinical detachment), but it's hard to blame any of that on the director since a lot of that same melodrama is present in King's book. And while it doesn't have anyone developing videotape-hungry stomach slits, it still covers some distinctly Cronenbergian ground.
The idea of mutation is certainly personified in Johnny, who wakes up from his coma with psychic abilities. Sure, it's not the typical physical mutation we see in films like Videodrome but it is very reminiscent of Scanners -- another Cronenberg movie featuring psychics. Despite that, we still find the filmmaker returning to ideas he's explored in previous works -- the isolation of Johnny and his refusal to come into contact with others seems a potent reminder of how Cronenberg's work tends to view the body as something horrific. This is then exacerbated by the potential ramifications of physically connecting with others -- the horrific visions.
Johnny is an interesting character in the film, partially because Walken infuses him with an everyman quality but tempers it with that typical Walken strangeness. The actor is another in a long line of perfectly cast leading men in the director's films (Woods in Videodrome, Goldblum in The Fly, his current collaborations with Viggo Mortensen, etc.). There's something markedly unusual about the character even before the accident that plunges him into the coma -- he's slightly effeminate, sensitive (interesting that psychics are also known as "sensitives") and emotional throughout. He reads poetry and he's a hopeless romantic pining away for his one true love. This isn't to say that men don't do these things, but there's a "femaleness" to The Dead Zone that even Cronenberg has pointed out.
When it was announced that Cronenberg would direct the film, the common thinking was that this was his entry into mainstream filmmaking. The Dead Zone was that in many regards -- a film that paved the way for The Fly, a movie that certainly had crossover appeal. What concerned horror fans was that the director might lose what made him a cult phenomenon in the first place. Luckily, that didn't happen. The Dead Zone has that typically Cronenberg feel throughout -- it's somber and filled with a sort of pathos that's represented not only in the movie's situations and characters, but through the visual look of the film as well. The Dead Zone feels appropriately burdened by its environment -- one filled with snow, gray skies, and a muted lighting scheme -- but this isn't the case throughout. Johnny's psychic vision scenes stand apart from the rest of the film visually, particularly the one with the burning room -- one of the rare instances where we see bright colors and a sense of warmth in the movie.
It's easy to look at The Dead Zone in a superficial way and conclude that it's one of Cronenberg's lesser films, but anyone who takes the time to dig deeper will invariably find that it features all the hallmarks of his most revered cinema. It certainly has its melodramatic moments, but most of those were part of the source material. But, enough from me. This is where I yield the floor to you and allow you to share your thoughts about what I've written or your own personal observations about The Dead Zone. Please swing by the comments section and let us know what you think of this underrated film.