The Dead Zone: Special Collector's Edition – DVD Review

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David Cronenberg

Christopher Walken….Johnny Smith
Brooke Adams….Sarah Bracknell
Tom Skerritt….Sheriff Bannerman
Herbert Lom….Dr. Sam Weizak
Colleen Dewhurst….Henrietta Dodd
Martin Sheen….Greg Stillson

Paramount Home Entertainment presents The Dead Zone. Screenplay by Jeffrey Boam. Running time: 103 minutes. Rated R. Theatrical release 1983. DVD released Sept. 26, 2006.

Did you know USA Network’s The Dead Zone was originally a movie adapted from the Stephen King book? I’ve run into a few people that didn’t know that back when Anthony Michael Hall was wearing braces and cruising across America in National Lampoon’s Vacation, this movie gave Christopher Walken his first major starring role. Sure that piece of trivia might only rate a $200 answer on Jeopardy, but it’s amazing what some folks missed out on in the drug fueled ’80s. With the series pulling in healthy ratings after five seasons, it’s good to see Paramount give this film the Special Collector’s Edition treatment.

Johnny Smith (Walken) is a moral school teacher in a small New Hampshire town. He’s so upright that instead of staying overnight with his girlfriend, he drives home. Unfortunately the road leading away from sin intersected with an overturned truck that he hits. After being in a coma for five years, Smith wakes up with the supernatural ability to see into others’ pasts or futures when he touches them. He hates using this psychic power because drains his already fragile body. He’s also an emotional wreck because his girlfriend didn’t think he’d come out of the coma. She married another guy and popped out a kid. Smith has issues. The police want him to catch a serial killer. But Smith swears if he uses his powers too much, he’ll die. He does his best to avoid contacting people, but he touches the wrong hand and realizes he has to save the world.

Director David Cronenberg had given the world a lot of seriously messed up movies up to this point in his career including the classic head exploding fun of Scanners and the freaky TV of Videodrome. In The Dead Zone, he showed that he could play it straight for a supernatural thriller. Although the death of the serial killer is still distinctly his twisted vision.

The movie holds up after two decades. The shocking moments still pack a punch especially when Walken has his psychic jolts. The only thing dated in the film is Walken’s hair. It’s like he’s wearing a badger pelt for a wig.

What’s amazing is how The Dead Zone predicted future roles for the lead actors. Walken’s character is fixated on The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and years later he played the Headless Horsemen for Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow. Martin Sheen won the presidency on The West Wing. Tom Skerritt’s prime time breakthrough was as a sheriff on Picket Fences. Scary! Who knew a movie could predict so much?

The DVD:

The Video:

The film is anamorphic 1.85:1.

The Audio:

The soundtrack is in English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround and Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround. There is a French mono track. Walken sounds weird speaking a fluid French instead of his staggered English. The only subtitles are in English.

Special Features:

The original DVD release that came out six years ago only contained the trailer. This is an upgrade with a comprehensive “making of” documentary. The one element missing from the DVD is footage of Walken performing the Smith character on Saturday Night Live with Jay Mohr as part of a psychic hotline commercial.

Laurent Bouzereau’s 43 minute documentary is chopped up into 4 parts without a play all feature. He gets Cronenberg to really open up about his creative process involving the film. There’s no need for a director’s commentary after he’s finished talking. While there’s no real behind the scenes footage, there’s plenty of production stills to illustrate the moments. There’s no interview with Walken, but there’s plenty of colorful tales of his time on location.

Memories From The Dead Zone 12:18 – Cronenberg explains how he took on his first film based on another writer’s work.

The Look of The Dead Zone 9:24 – Director of Photography Mark Irwin and Cronenberg discuss the lighting, production design and atmosphere of the film. Did you know the tunnel was haunted? Cronenberg gives a great lecture on how he shorthands a scene.

Visions and Horror From The Dead Zone 9:43 – Irwin and Cronenberg discuss how they got the “jolt” from Walken. Amazingly enough, it involved gunplay. They show stills from the deleted prologue that involved Smith as a child having an early premonition.

The Politics of The Politics of the Dead Zone 11:33 – Do not watch this until you’ve finished the film. Cronenberg also discusses Michael Kamen’s score.

Theatrical Trailer 2:14 – The boys in marketing played up the creepy nature of the film.

The DVD Lounge’s Ratings for The Dead Zone
(OUT OF 10)