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The Dead Zone (free)

  • Central Library 201 West Mifflin Street Madison, WI, 53703 United States (map)

This Stephen King adaptation pushed David Cronenberg's filmmaking into subtler territory. Info

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Considering that it's the product of horror masters Stephen King and David Cronenberg, 1983's The Dead Zone is an unexpectedly muted, solemn film. Christopher Walken stars as Johnny Smith, a mild-mannered schoolteacher in Maine. After dropping off his fiancee Sarah (Brooke Adams) on a rainy night, Johnny is badly injured in a bizarre auto accident. Awakening from a coma five years later, he discovers Sarah has married and has a son, and that he (Johnny) now has psychic powers that predict the future. Johnny tries to use his new powers to help others, but the premonitions take an emotional and physical toll on him. When Johnny meets opportunistic politician Greg Stillson (Martin Sheen), he foresees that Stillson will eventually cause nuclear armageddon and decides to try to change the future by assassinating him.

The Dead Zone was Cronenberg's first Hollywood film, and it's a major departure from his earlier independent films. Lacking the body horror and sci-fi intellectualism of Scanners or Videodrome, The Dead Zone has more of an emotional resonance than a typical Cronenberg film. Cronenberg describes it as "certainly my least offensive film," shifting the focus away from King's serial killer subplot to focus on Johnny and Sarah's romance. Where Cronenberg's films are usually centered on intellectual, unemotional protagonists, Walken's excellent performance depicts Smith as a man tormented by his psychic powers. A deeply effective Stephen King adaptation, The Dead Zone is a mature, serious film from David Cronenberg with a solid emotional core. —Ian Adcock