Years ago, long before the advent of being able to digitally download a particular song from the computer onto my Ipod, I used to buy cassette singles. The cassette tape usually consisted of the song I really wanted on the A-side. On the flip side, the B-side, was usually a piece of music I had either never heard of, or a song by that artist that had been recorded during a live concert, but certainly not the music that I was seeking. Director Wes Craven, known for such horror films as “Nightmare on Elm Street,” “Scream,” and “The Hills Have Eyes,” to name a few in his larger body of work, also has a few ‘B-side’ movies to his credit, such as “Deadly Friend,” the subject of this blog.
A teenage computer genius named Paul, acted by Matthew Labyorteaux, (Little House on the Prairie) and his mother Jeannie, (Anne Twomey) have just moved into a house in a suburban neighborhood; Paul is going to be both studying and teaching at the local college. Accompanying mother and son is Paul’s robot BB, who has two cameras for eyes complete with silver eye lids, a banana yellow body coating for its metallic frame, and is voiced by Charles Fleischer (Rango). It doesn’t take Paul long to make friends with the local paperboy, Tom (Michael Sharrett) and his cute, next door neighbor Samantha, played by Kristy Swanson (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) in her first leading role – prior to that she had done most of her acting on television. Swanson’s character is not living an idyllic life. She is abused by her alcoholic father, Richard Marcus, (Tremors) whom she dreams of killing, and there are indications to suggest that he might be sexually molesting her.
Everything is pretty much going fine for Paul in his new town, but two events transpire which forever alter his life and that of his friends. The first occurs on Halloween evening at the hands of Paul’s irritable neighbor, Elvira Parker, portrayed by character actress Anne Ramsey (The Goonies). Thinking it would be a good prank to scare the woman, they quickly learn that she’s a shoot first ask questions later sort. The paranoid woman’s front gate is locked, which is no trouble for BB, which takes its robotic hand and spins the lock trying different three number combinations. It quickly finds the right one and snaps the lock open. Once the lock is off, Samantha bravely ventures forward to knock on the door, but a blaring burglar alarm combined with flashing lights stops her. Paul and Tom quickly rush in to get the jolted Samantha out of harms way. Seconds later, Elvira comes out of her house, shotgun in hand, demanding to know who is there. BB, hearing the commotion, decides to confront the woman, even though Paul, hiding in the bushes along with Tom and Samantha, is desperately trying to stop him with the use of the remote control that normally is able to guide BB, but in this case falters. BB is destroyed with a series of four shotgun blasts; Ramsey’s character has derived absolute pleasure from laying waste to the robot, as evidenced by her facial expressions.
The second event, and even more tragic, (since Paul certainly has the brain power to construct another robot) occurs a short time later. Samantha is having an argument with her father when he knocks her down a flight of stairs which places her in a coma. The doctors don’t give her much of chance to live. Understandably upset by the loss of not only BB, but more importantly Samantha, Paul decides to not sit idly by.
After knocking out his mother with a drink that makes her go to sleep, one of the many unbelievable things that transpire in the film, Paul utilizes Tom as his partner in crime. The two steal Samantha’s body from the hospital, which apparently lacks any sort of proper security, and takes it back to Paul’s house. Once there, the boy genius performs brain surgery on her by implanting the artificial intelligence chip from the destroyed BB into Samantha’s skull in an attempt to re-animate her lifeless body. What will the end result be? Will Samantha retain the personality of the individual she was prior to death, or will she come back more machine or zombie-like, without independent thought? Will she seek revenge against her father?
Written for the screen by Bruce Joel Rubin, (Ghost) and loosely adapted from the novel “Friend” by Diana Henstell, the ninety-one minute “Deadly Friend,” which was released on October 10, 1986, has not exactly become a movie that people mention when discussing Wes Craven. While the film will surprise you in places, with some gore, which includes a scene with a basketball that is not soon forgotten, the major problem with the movie is that it haphazardly shifts tone from comedy to horror, and not in an extremely effective manner. This is coupled with a plot that is largely devoid of characterization, which also hurts the overall quality of the film.
Craven originally wanted the movie to be a departure from Nightmare on Elm Street and movies of that ilk that were his norm. Unfortunately, he didn’t get to achieve his full vision with this film, thanks to interference by the studio that didn’t want the film to lose the lucrative dollars that fans of his previous films would bring to the box office. Instead of an after-school-special vibe, the film became infused with the presence of an abusive father, nightmarish dream sequences, violence and death. It was in no way the radical departure from his previous movies that Craven had envisioned. In this blogger’s opinion, the movie should be watched by either fans of Swanson, who want to see her in her first staring role in a film, or by Craven completitsts, who are followers of the director’s work and wish to see all of his offerings.