Walken plays Johnny Smith, an unassuming English teacher living an ordinary life. He's about to marry fellow teacher Sarah (Brooke Adams) until a car accident puts him in a coma for five years. When Johnny wakes up he learns Sarah has moved on and married someone else. He's also picked up psychic abilities.
As word spreads of Johnny's gift many begin to seek him out for help. The local Sheriff (Tom Skerritt) drafts Johnny to aid a murder investigation. After a horrific encounter with the killer, Johnny realizes his gift is more of a curse and decides to live as a recluse.
Some have speculated The Dead Zone was a personal novel for King. People with unique gifts are often exploited by society. King's ability to write terrifying stories gave him money and fame, but also unwarranted speculation in the media about his mental state and misguided fans stalking him.
Stellar supporting performances adds so much to The Dead Zone: Brooke Adams as Sarah, Czech actor Herbert Lom as Johnny's compassionate doctor and conscience, and Martin Sheen as the demagogic Greg Stillson. Walken deserved an Oscar nomination for his lead performance, the nuances within it come through more with each viewing.