The Dead Zone (1983) - Plot Summary Poster



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  • Johnny Smith wakes from a coma due to a car accident, only to find he has lost five years of his life, and yet gained psychic powers. Foreseeing the future appears to be a 'gift' at first, but ends up causing problems...

  • Johnny Smith is a young schoolteacher with his whole life ahead of him. Unfortunately, after leaving his fiancee's home one night, he is involved in a wreck with an 18-wheel tractor-trailer and is in a coma for 5 years. When he wakes up from it, he discovers he has an ability to see into other people's lives, past, present and future, by coming into physical contact. But the visions he has are often frightening, and even apocalyptic...

  • Teacher Johnny Smith gets in a horrible accident which forces him into a coma for five years. Once Johnny wakes up, he discovers he has the ability to read a person's life just by making physical contact with them. When the local police find out about Johnny's "powers", they bring him in on a murder case. Soon Johnny's abilities gets him into more trouble then he may be able to handle.

  • After awakening from a 5 year coma - the result of a serious car accident on his way home from an outing with his girlfriend - high school teacher Johnny Smith finds that he has developed the ability to foretell events. When a nurse is bathing him, he realizes that her house is on fire, endangering her daughter. When his doctor and confidant, Dr. Sam Weizak, touches him he has flashbacks to the trauma Weizak suffered when separated from his mother during World War II but also knows that the woman lives in a nearby city. Johnny also finds himself pining for his girlfriend, Sarah Bracknell, who has now married and has a young child. With his powers misunderstood, Johnny relocates and tries to put it all behind him, working out of his home as a tutor. However, when he shakes the hand of a young and upcoming political candidate, he is confronted with evidence that the man will, as President of the United States, launch a cataclysm that may destroy all of mankind.

  • A man awakens from a coma to discover he has a psychic ability.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • In the Maine small town of Castle Rock, school teacher Johnny Smith (Christopher Walken) takes his fiancée sweetheart Sarah (Brooke Adams) to an amusement park. On the roller coaster, he suffers a bad headache and tells her that he must go home to sleep it off. Sarah begs him to stay, but he declines saying: "some things are worth waiting for". As he drives home, a tanker jackknifes in front of him and he plows into it and black out.

    Johnny wakes up at the Weizak Clinic. His parents Herb and Vera (Sean Sullivan and Jackie Burroughs) are shown in by Dr. Sam Weizak (Herbert Lom). They tell him that he has been in a coma for five years and Sarah has married another man. The distraught Johnny is inconsolable.

    One day, as a nurse mops his brow he seizers her hand. He has a super-real vision of being trapped in a screaming girl's bedroom. He tells the nurse: "Amy needs your help." The nurse knows that Amy is her daughter's name, but puzzled why Johnny knows her. Johnny tells her that the house is burning, and her daughter is in the house - but it is not too late. The nurse rushes home to find her house in flames, but her daughter is rescued by firefighters just as she arrives home.

    After a few weeks of physical therapy, Johnny is able to walk again with some difficulty. When Johnny gratefully takes Dr Weizak's hand, he is jolted by another vision. It is wartime with burning buildings, advancing tanks. A protesting young boy is lifted into a horse-drawn cart, leaving his mother behind. Johnny tells Weizak that his mother survived. Weizak says that it is impossible, but Johnny knows her name and address. Weizak checks it out and it's true, but he cannot bring himself to speak to his elderly mother. Weizak comes back and tells Johnny: "you're either in possession of a very new human ability... or a very old one."

    Sarah comes to visit Johnny. Catching his stare, she asks him not to look at her that way. He says that he can't help it while Sarah says that it's been five years, but Johnny remembers it as yesterday. She says that she now has a five-year-old son, named Denny. Johnny takes it well. She tells him that his power of "second sight" is the talk of the town. Against Weizak's advice, Johnny gives a press conference to defuse the situation. Cynical TV reporter Dardis (Peter Dvorsky) demands a demonstration. Aware that he is being mocked, Johnny takes his hand and says "You wanna know why your sister killed herself?" Taken off guard, Dardis calls Johnny a freak. Johnny's distressed parents watch the event on their TV and his mother collapses. At the hospital, Johnny holds her hand as she dies.

    Johnny moves in with his father. A few days later, Sheriff Bannerman (Tom Skerritt) pays him a visit for his help to catch a serial killer known as the "Castle Rock killer". Johnny refuses. When Herb tells Johnny that he should use his power he's been blessed with, Johnny becomes furious. He thinks that his power is a curse, not a gift. One day, Sarah brings her son over when Walt (her husband) is out. She puts Denny to bed and says: "haven't we waited long enough?" They finally have sex for the first time in five years.

    After watching another TV program about the Castle Rock killer, Johnny changes his mind & calls Sheriff Bannerman and agrees to help. Bannerman and Officer Dodd (Nicholas Campbell) take him to the scene of the latest murder, but Johnny gets nothing - he advises Bannerman that in order to get something, he needs a physical article that the killer was in contact with. Bannerman is called to another murder scene at the park bandstand where there is a woman's frozen corpse. Dodd identifies the woman as Alma Frechette. John takes the dead woman's hand and instantly "sees" a man calling to her from the bandstand. "She knows him" says Johnny. He watches helplessly as she is killed with a pair of scissors. The killer is revealed to be Frank Dodd. As Bannerman calls for him, he leaves in his squad car. At Dodd's house, Johnny & Sheriff Bannerman arrive where his mother tries to prevent him from entering. Johnny takes her by the arm and sees that she knew her son was the killer all along and she has been protecting him. Mrs. Dodd calls Johnny a devil, sent from hell, and that her son has been killing all "dirty women" in Castle Rock for their sins at her own encouragement. In an upstairs bathroom, Dodd impales himself on the scissors just as Johnny forces himself into the room. Dodd's equally deranged mother takes his gun and shoots Johnny in his shoulder. Sheriff Bannerman runs in and is forced to shoot and kill her to save Johnny's life.

    Following this close brush with death, Johnny moves out of town to a remote cabin. His bullet injury eventually heals, but his headaches are getting worse. He takes private tutoring jobs, and he is persuaded by millionaire lumber mill owner Roger Stuart (Anthony Zerbe) to teach his introverted son Chris. Johnny arrives at the Stuart mansion as a loud and abrasive politician named Greg Stillson (Martin Sheen) is leaving. Johnny and Chris get along well, to Stuart's relief. Later, Johnny and Chris watch TV coverage to Stillson's campaign for state senator. Stuart says that Stillson is probably a liar and dangerous.

    In a local newspaper office, editor Brenner is confronted by Stillson and his henchman/sidekick Sonny who demand that he retract an anti-Stillson editorial in the next edition. Producing photographs of Brenner with a young woman (possibly manufactured), they threaten to "take his head off" if he doesn't do as they say.

    At one of Johnny's tutoring session with Chris, he gets interrupted by a knock on the front door and it is Sarah whom is a Stillson campaign volunteer bringing him a brochure to vote for Stillson. Another man appears at the door and Sarah introduces him as Walt, her husband. After an uneasy introduction, they leave and Johnny breaks down. As Chris hugs him for comfort, Johnny has another vision of kids in hockey uniforms and falling through the ice of a frozen lake. One of them is Chris. Johnny goes to Stuart and insists he call off the kids' ice hockey practice, or they'll drown. Stuart angrily fires Johnny despite Chris' pleas. The next day at a local news stand, Johnny reads a headline about two boys drowning in a skating accident. He calls Stuart's house, hanging up in relief when Chris answers. Apparently he heeded Johnny's warning not to go play hockey.

    Meanwhile, Stillson's next rally takes place in a park opposite Johnny's house. Looking for Sarah, Johnny finds himself in Stillson's path. As they shake hands, another vision strikes: at Camp David, President Stillson orders a general to co-authorize an all-out nuclear missile launch against the USSR and the entire world which will bring on Armageddon. The 5-star General, realizing Stillson is a psychopath, refuses, but the maniacal Stillson threatens to 'cut off [the general's hand] and put it on the [scanning screen]'. Reluctantly, the General complies, and the sadistic Stillson tells the Vice President & Secretary of Defence that 'the missiles are flying....Hallelujah! Hallelujah!!'. Horrified, Johnny is rooted to the spot. Stillson is shaken by Johnny's grasp, until Sonny pushes Johnny away.

    Johnny goes to Dr. Weizak where he asks him that if he could go back in time knowing what he knows, would he kill Adolf Hitler? Weizak answers, 'I would have no choice but to kill the sonofabitch.' He thinks that the "dead zone" in Johnny's visions means that as well as seeing the future, he can also change it.

    Johnny decides he must take drastic action to stop Greg Stillson before he becomes President of the USA and brings on the end of the world through nuclear war. He packs up his hunting rifle and takes a bus to the Castle Rock Civic Hall, then breaks into the hall where Stillson will appears the next day and lies in wait on the balcony with the rifle. As the hall fills, the charismatic Stillson arrives and invites Sarah and Denny onto the stage with him as he gives his speech. On the balcony, Johnny rises and takes aim. Sarah sees him and screams and as a result the shot misses. As the spectators panic and fleet the hall, the equally panicked Stillson snatches Denny from Sarah and uses him as a shield. Johnny hesitates to fire again, and gets shot by Sonny and other members of the security detail. Johnny falls from the balcony and lands on the floor onto some chairs. What no one else had seen was a young photographer shooting pictures of it all before running out of the hall. Paranoid as always, Stillson walks up and grabs Johnny after recognizing him from a few days ago and demands to tell him who hired him.

    Johnny grabs Stillson's wrist and has a final vision where he sees a drunken and distraught Stillson in his office where there is a Newsweek magazine on his desk. The front cover shows the photo of Stillson using Denny as a shield with the headline "No Future For Stillson". Beside the Newsweek magazine are other magazines and newspaper headlines with the same photo describing Stillson's despicable act of cowardice. Stillson takes a loaded .45-caliber handgun from his desk drawer, points it at his head, and commits suicide. Johnny smirks at Stillson and weakly says: "It's over. You're finished." Stillson then turns on Sonny Elliman, demanding to know where the photographer is. Sonny replies, disgustedly, 'I didn't seem him!', suggesting that he may be just as disgusted with his boss. Greg Stillson angrily berates Sonny before running out of the hall to hunt for the photographer himself. Sonny follows, leaving the hall empty except for Sarah, Denny & Johnny. As Sarah comes up to Johnny's side, she asks him, 'Why?'. Johnny simply whispers, 'Good-bye'. Sarah starts crying, but as she kneels down next to Johnny & hugs him, she whispers to him, 'I love you....' just before he dies. As Sarah grieves for Johnny, the film fades out & credits begin to scroll across the screen.

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