The Dead Zone (1983)

As a UK script consultant and script writer for hire re-watching The Dead Zone (1983) is a great reminder of how simple some great plots are, and how storytelling sometimes works best when things are kept uncomplicated.

I’d argue that this film is the best Stephen King adaptation.   Rob Reiner’s double of Misery and Stand by Me are great films and of course The Shawshank Redemption and Green Mile are popular too.   The Shinning is Kubrick, not King by the end. John Carpenter’s Christine has its fans (and a great performance from Keith Gordon) but for me, The Dead Zone feels like a Stephen King book, on film, more than any other.

Directed by David Cronenberg The Dead Zone captures the feel of the time and the place, the seasons change as they often do in King’s work, it feels like real small town America. And there is a tremendous personal hurt for the Johnny Smith character played brilliantly by Christopher Walken – this hurt has nothing to do with horror or the supernatural, but to do with time spent away from a loved one.

When the horror comes, it’s not gory, it’s internal and about a fear of the abuse of power. The story is about a politician bent on dominance, filled with religion, a liar, a fraud, and ultimately a coward.

Cronenberg offers a low key character study, and it’s affecting.   The director is famous for his ‘body’ horror, but in this film, the part of the body going wrong (or right – depending on your point of view) is the mind of Walken’s character.  It’s well played out, and Walken does some of his most sympathetic work.

Special mention should go to Brooke Adams who was never better and Herbert Lom (who does very good work).   All of the cast deserve attention,  and finally if Martin Sheen’s Greg Stillson is a little too familiar in 2020, we only have ourselves to blame.    

Matthew Cooper has been a script writer for hire, UK Script editor  and script doctor for over 20 years. He’s written for most of the UK soaps, including writing award winning episodes of Emmerdale, EastEnders, Hollyoaks and Family Affairs and has been BAFTA shortlisted and Royal Television Society nominated as a script writer. He’s also a leading UK script consultant. You can find some of his broadcast credits on the IMDb. You can get in touch with Matthew on or hire him on Peopleperhour

His directorial debut, the rubber reality horror thriller Markham will be released in 2020.