Dead Zone, The (1983)

The Dead Zone (1983), directed by David Cronenberg.

After five years in a coma a schoolteacher awakens to find his fiancée has married someone else and he has powers of second sight. By touching someone he can see their past and future. Importantly: he can change that future.

It's obviously true and he gets little skeptical push-back, helping the police track down a serial killer. And he spends some time with his old girlfriend, now a young mother.

As fate would have it he crosses paths with a populist hard-hat presidential candidate and foresees the man will start a nuclear war just out of delusional dumb-assery. What to do about that?

This is a mild-mannered Stephen King adaptation, more about the ethical dilemma of having an occult ability than a horror tale. The serial killer's suicide is a bloody scene.

Christopher Walken is fine as the lead; King first thought of Bill Murray for the role. Brooke Adams (Days of Heaven (1978), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), Cuba (1979)) is mighty fetching as his lost love. Tom Skerritt, Herbert Lom, Anthony Zerbe: fanclub!

Walken waiting in the balcony with his rifle reminds one of The Manchurian Candidate (1962), another justified political assassination. This is obviously a troublesome scenario, something from the real world and not just movie fantasies. People decide that killing a politician serves the greater good. In this story it really does, but usually we get kooks and fanatics convinced of their own righteousness.

This story is doubly tragic because, having changed history and prevented nuclear holocaust, no one will understand why our hero did it. He will be just another madman. That really happens, too: we never know what might have happened and didn't. No one puts up statues to the unknown general or diplomat who prevents a war because that was the road not taken.

At the time I thought Cronenberg the least likely director to become mainstream but this was the beginning of his journey away from a series of very personal horror films. His own Videodrome (1983) appeared the same year and he said he was glad to work on a project he didn't write. He did do a lot of revision on the screenplay.

My thumbnails are from a DVD that mysteriously appeared at Redbox. I see a region B Blu-ray import, but nothing for North America. [Later: Shout Factory has a Blu-ray scheduled for July 2021].