The Dead Zone: A-
This is a great horror movie and one of the best Stephen King adaptations ever made.
Christopher Walken plays a jolly English teacher who gets in a car accident and goes into a five-year coma. Somehow, this gives him psychic powers. His life is all fucked up because he was comatose all those years and these psychic powers help alienate the few people he has left because they all think he is a ranting wack-o with brain damage.
At the beginning of the movie, he reads “The Raven” to his class (I have audio of him reading the whole poem; so badass) and then assigns Sleepy Hollow (Walken of course, went on to play the Headless Horseman in Burton’s version). I think you are supposed to remember this later in the film. “The Raven” is about a really lonely guy who thinks a bird is bringing him supernatural messages; Sleepy Hollow is about a terrorized English teacher. His character fits well with this: an abandoned English teacher who gets supernatural “visions” of the future, visions that only bring him pain. Walken plays it straight; no garbled Walken-talk or deranged facial expressions.
Walken only uses his powers for good, saving lives and even helping the local sheriff solve a murder case. I like that the movie isn’t about the origin of his superpowers and how they work, but rather about what to do with the power that you have. This Spidermanian theme is at the heart of the film’s conflict: Walken meets a politician named Stillson who is running for senate. Stillson is a real piece of shit (in the book, one of the first things you read about him is this time he killed a dog for fun). In Stillson’s future, he becomes president and authorizes a nuclear holocaust just because he wants to be remembered in history books (depicted in a hilarious scene where Stillson is screaming like a lunatic while some absolutely inappropriate/cartoonish oboe music plays in the background). Stillson seems to “know” that this is his destiny and Walken has to decide if he wants to assassinate this prick or what. So what you get is this guy who only wants to use his powers to help people vs. this guy who wants to use his powers to incinerate people.
Cronenberg directs this movie and but it has zero crazy-Cronenberg carnage. Even though this movie is not saturated in gore and violence, it never seems slow. There is one scene where a guy lethally head-butts a pair of scissors though; what a fucking awful way to end it all.
Ultimately, the developed characters and the theme are what make this movie great. You actually feel really bad for Walken’s character and want him to succeed and you want to choke Stillson the whole time. Watch this if you think you would like a Stephen King thriller that is more about suspense than grotesque monsters.