Director David Cronenberg had to re-shoot the scene in which John Smith has his first premonition. It showed a little girl's room burning and a small E.T. doll could be seen on one of the shelves. The scene had to be re-shot when Universal Pictures threatened to file a lawsuit against them.
This film (and Stephen King's novel) are both loosely based upon the life of famous psychic Peter Hurkos. Hurkos claimed to have acquired his alleged powers after falling off a ladder and hitting his head.
Director David Cronenberg fired a .357 Magnum loaded with blanks just off camera to make Smith's flinches seem more involuntary; this was Christopher Walken's own idea.
The "sweat" on Christopher Walken's face during the "burning bedroom" sequence was in fact a flame-retardant chemical that had been sprayed onto him. The resulting effect, which hadn't been anticipated, looked surprisingly dramatic on film.
The Dead Zone was the first of several Stephen King novels and short stories that took place in the fictional small town of Castle Rock. Others include: Cujo (1983), Stand by Me (1986), The Dark Half (1993), and Needful Things (1993).
David Cronenberg wanted to change the name of Christopher Walken's character: "I'd never name someone 'Johnny Smith'", he quipped, but in the end it was left as is. The book does specifically mention how it sounds like a fake name.
The gazebo where the murder took place was built for the film, and was later donated to the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, where it was filmed and is now a favourite spot for wedding photographs.
Written in 1979, the novel by Stephen King was the first book of his to reach #1 on the bestseller list (hard cover), a milestone for King who said it was "one of my most successful ever." It was 428 pages.
During the time Michael Kamen was composing the music for the film in London, he would play the score on the piano in his home. He received several complaints by his neighbors who asked, "Can you please stop playing that music? I can't sleep and it's giving my family nightmares."
Bill Murray was Stephen King's choice for the part of Johnny.
There are several deleted scenes that were filmed and completed but have never been seen publicly and are thought to have been discarded prior to the film's release. Among them: - A prologue showing John Smith as a boy (played by Stephen Flynn) who sustains a head injury during an ice hockey match. The scene features actor Sean Sullivan as John's father. - An alternate scene of John Smith's vision of the Camp David scene (featuring Martin Sheen) in which John himself appears in the vision as a helpless spectator. Photos of these scenes appeared in the December 1983 issue of Cinefantastique.
Johnny's mother is played by Jackie Burroughs, who is only four years older than Christopher Walken.
Before the accident, Johnny instructs his class to read "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow". Christopher Walken would later appear in Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow (1999).
Hal Holbrook was Cronenberg's original choice to play Sherrif Bannerman, but Dino De Laurentiis rejected this idea as he had never heard of Holbrook at the time.
A stuntman was severely burned around the legs and groin when a squib went off too close to him during the shooting of the WWII flashback sequence.
One of only three David Cronenberg films that do not have a score by his friend, composer Howard Shore. This was due to studio politics in which Paramount wanted a more familiar composer to write the music for the film. Michael Kamen, who had written the music for the film Venom (1981) for the studio, was chosen instead.
Composer Michael Kamen quotes a theme from the Jean Sibelius 2nd Symphony throughout.
Martin Sheen's character says he has had a vision that he will become the President of the United States. Sheen went on to play the President of the United States in the mini series Kennedy (1983) and in The West Wing (1999).
In the WWII flashback scene, civilians in the burning city are speaking Polish.
Before his accident, Johnny Smith is an English teacher. Stephen King was also an English teacher before becoming a full-time writer.
The gazebo scenes were shot in Niagara. Town officials originally objected to the building of the gazebo itself. Cronenberg told them it would be temporary and easily destroyed. The town relented, but once officials saw the gazebo, they liked it and started using it in promotional literature for the town.
The poem Johnny reads in the beginning of the film is the end of "The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe. Walken later recorded the poem in its entirety for a tribute album called "Closed on Account of Rabies" which also featured contributions from Iggy Pop, Dr. John and Gabriel Byrne.
The film makes reference to 'Sleepy Hollow' which, like this film, is about a schoolteacher. In the novel, Johnny Smith compares his coma and subsequent recovery to 'Rip Van Winkle,' another short story written by Washington Irving. Christopher Walken went on to play the Horseman in the Tim Burton adaptation.
The sailboat appears three different times on three different mantels: in Johnny's room at the clinic, at Johnny's father's house and, later, at Johnny's house.
In the book, the boy that Johnny teaches is older, and the tragedy that Johnny predicts is a fire at a dance hall that his senior class rented out. A character even remarks that it is "like that book Carrie," which may be why it was changed for the film
The underwater scene of the hockey players falling through the ice was filmed at the Woodbridge Ontario swimming pool where the writer worked at the time. They were on site for 5 days in order to film a 35 second shot. The final cut was about 7 seconds and only showed the kids falling though the Styrofoam ice from under water. (As seen in the trailer) The writer got a couple of pics of Mr. Walken in the water but it never made the cut. Mr. Walken showed up for three days and spent a lot of time there and in the water for nothing.
Three people were involved in the James Bond franchise. Anthony Zerbe (Roger Stuart) would later appear in Licence to Kill (1989), while Christopher Walken (Johnny Smith) would later appear in A View to a Kill (1985). Michael Kamen, who did the music for this film, would later do the music for Licence to Kill (1989).
Martin Sheen and Coleen Dewhurst are in this Stephen King adaptation, and the next year, Sheen would appear with Dewhurst's ex-husband, George C. Scott, in another film based on a King novel, Firestarter.
Coleen Dewhurst, who plays a character's mom who hates Christopher Walken's Johnny, played Walken's mom in Woody Allen's Annie Hall.
Herbert Lom played Peter Sellers' boss in the Pink Panther films. Sellers appeared in Dr. Strangelove with Colleen Dewhurst's husband, George C. Scott. It was also directed by Stanley Kubrick, director of The Shining.
Tom Skerritt previously appeared in Alien with Harry Dean Stanton, who appeared in Christine and The Green Mile.
Greg Stillson asks Johnny Smith "who sent you". Johnny was told to ask Mickey the same question in The Dead Zone: Dead Men Tell Tales (2003).
In the final scene when Sarah is crying and hugging Johnny, we hear her stop crying for a few seconds to tell Johnny that she loves him, but since her mouth is obscured we don't actually see her say it. The original script did not have her saying this. Her voice was dubbed in later in order to have some closure for Johnny.
Greg Stillson, played by Martin Sheen (né Ramon Estevez), has damning pictures taken of him by a photographer, played by Ramon Estevez, Sheen's son.
In the "nuclear war" scene, Greg Stillson, Martin Sheen's character, threatens to "hack off" someone's hand and put it on the scanning screen. An earlier version of the script actually had Stillson shooting the man and putting his dead hand on the screen.
One rejected ending had Johnny Smith survive being gunned down and predicting a knife attack against his girlfriend while in the hospital, then slipping back into a coma and dying.
The novel The Dead Zone was released two years before the book Cujo but the film Cujo (1983) was released about two months before this one. The book Cujo is a follow-up to The Dead Zone and the first of Stephen King's books to make direct references to another. In Cujo, which also takes place is Castle Rock, Frank Dodd has become a kind of bogeyman to Castle Rock's children. It is implied that Dodd's spirit has possessed Cujo, or at least the force that made Dodd evil has inhabited the dog. Sheriff Bannerman returns, played by Sandy Ward, and makes direct references to Johnny and the events of The Dead Zone. As the films were made by different studios, and released in reverse order, all references to each other were removed save for Bannerman's appearance.
The second UK VHS release, after the Video Certification Bill had been introduced, removed the scissors scene when Tom Skerritt confronts his deputy Frank Dodd.