Slowly but surely, I am getting around to the Stephen King films that are worth reviewing for Picturenose – and this marvellous adaptation by David Cronenberg is still very much one of the best films to be made from King’s work, 30 years on.
At its heart, naturally, is a superb performance from a young Christopher Walken – he plays New England schoolteacher Johnny Smith, who lives in King’s perennial town of Castle Rock, Maine, and who is in love with his teaching colleague Sarah Bracknell (Brooke Adams). After he suffers a near-fit following a ride on a roller-coaster, he is involved in a serious car accident, and goes into a coma. Awakening five years later in the care of neurologist Dr. Sam Weizak (Herbert Lom), he finds that Bracknell has since married and had a child, and also discovers that he now has the ability to see into anyone’s past, present, future by touching their hand. As he touches a nurse’s hand, he sees her daughter trapped in a fire and also realizes Dr. Weizak’s mother, long thought dead from the war, is still alive. His ‘gift’ (which is actually far more of a curse) is set to bring him to his destiny with US Senatorial Candidate Greg Stillson (Martin Sheen) – a power-hungry and infinitely dangerous man…
The film harks back to when, although in the middle of one of the biggest booms that the genre has ever seen either before or since, horror films were being made with sincerity, both emotional and intellectual – Walken imbues Smith with real anguish and determination, while Sheen is similarly excellent as the charismatic Stillson.
The film (like the novel) also pulls off the very clever trick of convincing us that would-be assassins are frequently convinced that they are doing the right thing, and the ending, in its avoidance of moralizing or cheap sentiment, is simply shattering.