The Stephen King Thriller With An Iconic Star Is An All-Time Classic, Stream Now Without Netflix

By Brian Myers | Updated

the dead zone

For those who weren’t alive in the early 1980s, it might be hard to believe just how much of a success Stephen King was at the beginning of his writing career. After the publication of his first novel Carrie in 1974, King published 14 novels and two short story collections by the end of 1983. Of his first 15 books, six had become feature films in that same period of time, including one of the best screen adaptations, The Dead Zone with Christopher Walken.

A New Power

the dead zone

Like the 1979 novel of the same name, The Dead Zone follows the chaotic life of Johnny Smith (Christopher Walken) after he emerges from a five-year coma. A splitting headache forces Johnny to cancel overnight plans with his girlfriend Sarah (Brooke Adams), and he makes the drive back to his house.

Before getting there, a storm caused him to wreck his car and leave him under the care of a neurologist for the next half-decade.

The Dead Zone sees that life has moved on quite a bit since Johnny first went into a coma. His girlfriend Sarah eventually married another man and is now the mother to a toddler.

But the thing that has changed in Johnny’s life the most is the newfound psychic power that he possesses.

Psychic Visions

dead zone

When Johnny touches another person, he gets powerful images of that person’s past life. The powers give him strong glimpses into the past and into the future, making him uneasy as he sees horrific revelations.

At one point after news of his talent had spread, he helped the local sheriff solve a series of brutal murders, an effort that got him shot and nearly killed.

The Dead Zone sees Johnny try to stray from his power. He moves to another town and earns a living tutoring children. Through this job, Johnny soon meets a candidate for the United States Senate (Martin Sheen).

After brushing the man’s hand, Johnny has horrific visions of Stillson’s future and the destruction he will cause the world with his political power.

An Amazing Adaptation

the dead zone

Johnny realizes that he has the ability to change the future that he sees and sets out on a journey to stop a series of cataclysmic events that could destroy the world as we know it.

The Dead Zone is a solid example of brilliant storytelling from the brain of Stephen King and the screenwriting genius of Jeffery Boam (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade).

The film adaptation of King’s novel is one of the best to hit theater screens then or now. It slowly lures audiences in, grabs their attention, and does not let go.

There Was A Lot To Condense

Condensing Stephen King‘s 600-page novel into a film that has a runtime of less than two hours is a daunting task, but one that Boam and director David Cronenberg were able to accomplish.

Though a lot needed to be trimmed to make The Dead Zone work as a film, Cronenberg was able to compress pages of dialogue into minimal frames and focused on how to translate the novel’s thematic meanings over trying to recreate entire scenes from the writing.

Walken’s performance was among the best of his early works. Prior to The Dead Zone, the actor only had bit roles until his Academy Award-winning performance for Best Supporting Actor in 1978’s The Deer Hunter.

In The Dead Zone, Walken is able to sell the part of a distressed schoolteacher who has been struck with a gift that pains him emotionally and physically so well that he looks genuinely worn throughout the film.

Stream It Now


Other notable performances in The Dead Zone were given by Brooke Adams, Martin Sheen, and Tom Skerritt.

The Dead Zone is available to stream on Prime or rented On Demand with Vudu, Google Play, and AppleTV.