John Smith (Christopher Walken) is a mild mannered teacher in the town of Castle Rock. He takes his girlfriend, and fellow teacher, Sarah Bracknell (Brooke Adams) on a date to an amusement park. On the roller coaster he develops a sharp pain in his head. After the ride he takes Sarah home. As the rain starts he heads for home. Ahead, coming from the other direction, a truck driver falls asleep at the wheel. His truck jackknifes and the trailer blocks the road. John hits the end of the trailer trying to avoid it.
Five years later John wakes up from a coma. His doctor, Sam Weizak (Herbert Lom) is by his side when he wakes. His girlfriend Sarah is now married with a small son. As John begins the long road back to as normal as possible he discovers that he now has a psychic ability. All he needs to do is touch someone’s hand and he can see things that will happen in the future. He has a vision of a fire and a child in danger. He has a vision of his doctor’s mother and that she survived the war and is still alive.
Police Sheriff Bannerman (Tom Skerritt) asks him to help find a serial killer that has been killing women for years. The case, as well as other visions, causes John to be hounded by people looking for help. He moves out of his father’s house and to another town to get away from the notoriety. He begins tutoring children. Roger Stuart (Anthony Zerbe) hires him to tutor his son Chris (Simon Craig). When he has a vision of Chris drowning during an ice hockey game he tells Roger. Roger ignores him but Chris decides to stay home. During the game two children fall through the ice and drown.
John attends a rally for Greg Stillson (Martin Sheen), who is running for United States Senate, looking for Sarah. John shakes Stillson's hand and has a vision of Stillson’s future. In it he sees Stillson becoming President of the United States and after having a vision from God ordering a nuclear strike against the Soviet Union, resulting in a nuclear holocaust.
In talking with Dr. Weizak he mentions that in his visions there is something missing. He calls it a dead zone. Dr. Weizak believes that because he warned Chris about his danger, not only can John see the future but he can also change it.
“The Dead Zone” was released in 1983 and was directed by David Cronenberg. It is a science fiction paranormal horror film based on the book by Stephen King. A television series by the same name was produced from 2002 to 2007 and starred Anthony Michael Hall.
The novel and subsequent film were loosely based upon the life of famous psychic Peter Hurkos. Hurkos claimed to have acquired his alleged powers after falling off a ladder and hitting his head.
“The Dead Zone” was the first of many of Stephen King’s stories that took place in the fictional small town of Castle Rock. Films were made for some of them. Besides The Dead Zone others include: “Cujo” (1983), “Stand by Me” (1986), “The Dark Half” (1993), and “Needful Things” (1993). There was also a television series called “Castle Rock” developed by King in 2018. Director Rob Reiner named his production company Castle Rock Entertainment. He produced several adaptations of King's works.
The meaning of the phrase Dead Zone is different in the movie than in the novel. The movie mentions it but doesn’t really explain it. At the time King wrote the book it was generally believed that people only used ten percent of their brains. King’s premise in the novel was that when John was in his coma his brain created new pathways to get around the paralyzed part of his mind. His brain was using the ninety percent of his brain that people normally don’t use. This additional use of his brain enabled him to awaken dormant powers of ESP. King called this unused area as the brain’s dead zone. We now know this theory is incorrect and that people use 100% of their brains. The movie relates that the dead zone refers to blind spots in his precognitive visions. To John this meant that the future is not permanent and can be altered.
The film is one of the better adaptations of King’s work which is not easy to do considering how much King packs into a story. My favorite part is when John is talking to his doctor who had been a child when Hitler was in power and asks him; “If you could go back in time before Hitler came to power knowing what you know now, what would you do? Would you kill him?” After further conversation his doctor says; “I’m a man of medicine. I’m expected to save lives and ease suffering and I love people. Therefore I would have no choice but to kill him.”