Sunday, July 18, 2021

THE DEAD ZONE (1983) (Scream Factory Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review/Comparison)

Collector's Edition Blu-ray 

Label: Scream Factory 
Region Code: A
Rating: R
Duration: 104 Minutes 
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo and 5.1 Surround with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Director: David Cronenberg 
Cast: Christopher Walken, Martin Sheen, Tom Skerritt, Brooke Adams, Herbert Lom, Nicholas Campbell

David Cronenberg's (Shivers) adaptation of Stephen King's novel The Dead Zone takes place in (where else?) Castle Rock, Maine, where a middle school teacher Johnny Smith (Christopher Walken, The Prophecy) is dating fellow teacher Sarah (Brooke Adams, Invasion of the Body Snatchers). After a night at the carnival he drops Sarah off at home, sweetly rebuffing her invitation to spend the night, saying "some things are worth waiting for". Driving home through a heavy downpour he is involved in an accident and lays in coma for five years, awaking to the news that Sarah has moved on and married since the accident. 

He recovers at the hospital under the care of  Dr. Sam Weizak (Herbert Lom, And Now the Screaming Starts), discovering that he now has the "gift" of second sight, foreseeing that a nurse's house is on fire and her daughter is in danger. The panicked nurse runs home and it turns out that Johnny's vision was accurate. Afterward, he becomes a sort of local celebrity weirdo, becoming a recluse to avoid the stares and inquiries of the curious in the small town who begin to fear him. 

Sheriff George Bannerman (Tom Skerritt, Poltergeist III) approaches Johnny hoping to use his gift to solve a series of grisly killings which have plagued the area for years. Initially he refuses but when the Castle Rock Killer strikes again he comes around, using his gift for good, though it feels more like a curse to Johnny. When he is taken to one of the crime scenes he senses that the killer is actually Deputy Frank Dodd (Nicholas Campbell, The Shape of Things to Come), while attempting to apprehend the murderous deputy Johnny is shot by the suspects mother and the deputy kills himself in a memorable death-by-scissors scene. After the incident Johnny moves to a neighboring city where he is hired by the wealthy Roger Stuart (Anthony Zerbe, The Omega Man) to tutor his young son Chris (Simon Craig), who is abnormally shy but takes a liking to Johnny right away. While working for Stuart Johnny meets a charismatic but crooked political candidate named Greg Stillson (Martin Sheen, The Final Countdown). After shaking hands with the Stillson his second-sight kicks in and Johnny is overcome with an apocalyptic vision of the future, of the politician's rise in power, an ascent that will culminate in a nuclear apocalypse. Now Johnny must decide is he should take matters into his own hands and change the course of the future through whatever means necessary. This is a story that holds up very well, both as a Stephen King story and as an entrancing Cronenberg entry. 

The movie can be seen as making the argument that political assassination is a necessary course of action, which I found very intriguing. I've always found Cronenberg's movies to be a bit on the cold side in regard to warmth and emotion but this one is full of warmth, the chemistry between Walken and Brooke Adams is quite nice, as the former couple rekindle their relationship, fulfilling the promise of things worth waiting for. Christopher Walken is wonderful as usual, a quirky recluse with awkward hair who lives with his dad, wants to be left alone, but whose visions of the future force him to take action, it's great stuff. Martin Sheen is charismatic but ultimately evil senatorial candidate, and Herbert Lom is quite good as Dr. Sam Weizak. There is a wonderful scene of he and Johnny speaking about the morality of going back in time and killing Adolf Hitler, a conversation which sends Johnny on his assassination quest, that is so well handled by both actors. Lom is a powerhouse who many will remember as Chief Inspector Charles Dreyfus from the Pink Panther movies, others will recognize him from a string of low-budget horror and exploitation movies from the 70s, he's a welcome addition to the cast here. Brooke Adams always exudes a small town charm with a sweet smile and a soft spot for Walken, whose path seems destined to cross with that of Johnny, she makes for a wonderful love interest. 

Audio/Video: The Dead Zone (1983) arrives on Blu-ray from Scream Factory with a brand new 4K scan from the OCN frame din the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  This is a fantastic new scan, I have not seen the 2020 Paramount Blu-ray that was included as part of the Stephen King: 5-Movie Collection set, but I have seen the Via Vision transfer that appeared on both their 3-film Cronenberg Collection and the 4-film Stephen King Collection Blu-ray releases, and will include screenshots below. The film grain appears tight knit and organic, colors look solid, white are brighter, and there are no issues with DNR or black crush, and fine detail is quite pleasing in the close-ups. Comparing it to the Via Vision scan it's not mind-blowing different, but the VV disc definitely had some DNR and black crush that smeared away fine detail, and it's also framed differently with the VV opened-up to 1.78:1 showing slightly more image in the frame on all four sides. Below are a few screenshot comparison pitting the Via Vision disc against the Scream Factory, plus there are more screenshots from the SF disc at the bottom of the review. . 

Blu-ray Screenshot Comparison:
Top: Via Vision (1.78:1) 
Bottom: Scream Factory (1.85:1) 

Audio comes by way of English DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo and 5.1 surround with optional English subtitles. The 5.1 certainly opens up the Michael Kamen score into the surrounds but it fells a bit thin. I preferred the stereo track myself. 

Scream Factory do it up right with a bunch of new extras, beginning with four brand new audio commentaries! The first is with 
director of photography Mark Irwin moderated by Michael Felsher of Red Shirt Pictures; a second with film historian/author Dr. Steve Haberman and filmmaker/film historian Constantine Nasr who do a ton of commentaries for Hammer stuff usually; a third with former Fangoria editor Michael Gingold; and a fourth with music historian Daniel Schweiger with isolated score selections discussing the romantic and sometimes disturbing score from the late Michael Kamen. For the sake of this review I only toggled back and forth between the commentaries for 10-minutes at a time, but they were all pretty great and dig into all facets of the film, the source, the score and the cast and crew. A peak behind the curtain, I usually like to hold off on commentaries and listen to them while I do housework, and much to my wife's dismay, I did not do any chores this weekend! 

New Red Shirt Pictures produced extras kick-off with the 10-minute Sarah’s Story, an interview with actress Brooke Adams who gets into her early life as a a theater kid from a theatre family. He recollections of Stephen King's work, her character and how she had a hard time relating to her character as a cheating spouse, knowing Walken from his youth when he was Ronnie Walken. She also lays on the love for Martin Sheen's powerful performance, and the strength of the film and King's original story. 

There's also a 21-minute interview with production manager John M. Eckert and associate producer Jeffrey Chernov who worked with late producer Debra Hill (The Fog) who talk about what it was like working with not only Debra Hill but also with Dino De Laurentis, the superb casting of the film, scouting locations,  and how solid Cronenberg was as a director. They also tell some fun stories of Herbert Lom donating a portion of his salary to a pair of anti-war priests, how into the flow of his dialogue Walken was, and how a pair of set construction guys set the place on fire during a smoke break, and the interesting way the shot the ice breaking scene. New stuff is finished up with a minute of TV Spoys and a 13-munute gallery of behind-the-scenes photos. 

We also get a Trailer From Hell episode with Mick Garris giving his commentary of the film, plus a selection of archival extras that go back to the 2006 Paramount Special Collector's Edition DVD - thesa pair of TV Spots for the film. .e include the 12-minute Memories from The Dead Zone, the 9-minute The Look of The Dead Zone, the 10-minute Visions of The Dead Zone, the 12-minute The Politics of The Dead Zone, and a 2-minute Theatrical Trailer. The one extra on the Via Vision disc not on the Scream Factory release is an audio commentary from screenwriter Stephen Jones and film critic Kim Newman, but I think the four new commentaries more than make up for that, but I will still hang onto the Via Vision disc just to have it, of course. 

The single-disc release arrives in a standard keepcase with a sleeve of artwork featuring a new illustration from Hugh Flemming with the original artwork on the reverse side. The new illustration is also featured on first edition slipcover and on the disc itself. The new artwork is a bit on the floating heads style layout but looks good and brings together various elements of the film. 

Special Features:
- NEW 2021 4K scan of the original camera negative
- NEW Sarah’s Story – an interview with actress Brooke Adams (11 min) HD 
- NEW Cold Visions: Producing The Dead Zone – featuring interviews with production manager John M. Eckert and associate producer Jeffrey Chernov (21 min) 
- NEW Audio Commentary with director of photography Mark Irwin
- NEW Audio Commentary with film historian Michael Gingold
- NEW Audio Commentary with film historian/author Dr. Steve Haberman and filmmaker/film historian Constantine Nasr
- NEW Audio Commentary with film music historian Daniel Schweiger with isolated score selections 
- Trailers from Hell – Mick Garris on The Dead Zone (2 min) 
- Memories from The Dead Zone (12 min)
- The Look of The Dead Zone (9 min) 
- Visions of The Dead Zone (10 min) 
- The Politics of The Dead Zone (12 min) 
- Theatrical Trailer (2 min) 
- TV Spots (1 min) 
- Behind-the-Scenes Gallery (13 min) 
- Behind the Scenes still gallery

The movie is an odd one in the Cronenberg canon, a movie I do not feel is truly recognized as either a top-notch Cronenberg entry nor for being one of the best of the Stephen King adaptations. The Dead Zone is an enthralling watch, accentuated by a wonderful Michael Kamen score and a bittersweet final note. I do hope this Blu-ray earns the underrated flick some much deserved love from those who might have overlooked this David Cronenberg/Stephen King gem. It's long overdue for a proper special edition Blu-ray here in the U.S., thankfully Scream Factory stepped-up with a great looking Collector's Edition with some great extras to go along with it. 

More screenshots from the Scream Factory Blu-ray: 


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