Deadly Friend is 30 years old? When I realized the big three-oh was on the horizon for Wes Craven’s oft forgotten chiller, I had to double check the date to be sure. Sure enough, it opened on October 10th, 1986, right alongside Jumpin’ Jack Flash and Peggy Sue Got Married, back when Crocodile Dundee still topped the charts. Like Bennett said in Commando: “You’re getting old, John!” I just realized that Commando is even older – 31 years old on October 4th! But I digress.
I was 13 years old in 1986. I didn’t see Deadly Friend in the theaters. It pretty much bombed at the box office, so it was on cable not long after. I had recorded a copy off of HBO in 1987 or 1988 and was more than happy to loan it out to my classmates… at least long enough to see “the scene.” Yes, anyone who’s watched Deadly Friend knows the scene I’m talking about. This one!
Is that badass or what? World-renowned film critic Gene Siskel agreed! He wrote in his 2 1/2 star Chicago Tribune review: “The film contains a beguiling simplicity and one classic scene in which a basketball becomes a lethal instrument. In sum, a decent, insignificant little thriller.” Given Siskel’s history of trashing horror and women in danger films, that’s some bold praise.
Gene further summarized in his review: “Deadly Friend, despite ads that suggest it is another slasher film, is a really feathery – and at times comic – horror piece about a student inventor whose robot is destroyed. He implants the robot’s memory chip into the brain of the girl next door, who was accidentally killed by her abusive father.” Gene’s right. The trailers and TV spots totally make it look like a slasher pic, even though Wes Craven never intended it as such.
I’m a fan of Deadly Friend. I’m not ashamed to admit it. I carried my worn VHS copy around for a long time. The studio didn’t release it on DVD until September of 2007, so I had to settle for a “convention copy,” complete with cheapo plastic case and inkjet produced artwork from probably 2000 on. It’s been years since I watched it, so I ordered a copy from Amazon last week (part of the Twisted Terror collection) so I could revisit my youth.
The movie starts out a little cheesily. Boy-genius Paul Conway (played by a dude whose career was likely stunted because his name is so hard to spell -Labyortou?? Laborteauk? Labyorteaux! He did manage quite a few years on Little House on the Prairie, so there’s that) and his mom (Anne Twomey) return to their car where Paul’s robot “Bee Bee” just prevented a carjacking utilizing a WWE style choke hold. The robot honestly feels like a blatant attempt to cash in on the success of Short Circuit, a hit film released earlier in 1986. A few scenes later, said “rip off robot” shows some fashion challenged bikers why you shouldn’t mess with Johnny Five…er…Bee Bee.
The movie improves from here, fortunately. Paul meets his beautiful neighbor, Sam (Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s Kristy Swanson), and finds out she’s being abused by her father. Bee Bee is destroyed by the crazy, shotgun-toting Elvira (Anne Ramsey: The Goonies 1985), Sam is killed by her abusive father and all hell breaks loose. Paul puts Bee Bee’s “brain” into Sam’s skull and, ala Frankenstein and Re-Animator, we have ourselves a misunderstood, walking death machine on our hands. Sam’s dad (Richard Marcus: Tremors 1990) pays the price, as does the neighbor (basketballed!) who blew Bee Bee away as robotic Sam uses her newfound life to go on a mini killing spree. In the end, Sam falls victim to the local Police firing squad and winds up in the morgue for one final, nonsensical scare.
There is a definite Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) vibe to a lot of the scenes in the film. It feels very Craven in a lot of ways. Apparently, the studio shoehorned in the various dream sequences to try to cash in on the Nightmare audience after a test screening was not well received. Another thing that’s reminiscent of Craven’s breakout film is the soundtrack. Deadly Friend was scored by A Nightmare on Elm Street composer Charles Bernstein, who also scored April Fool’s Day (1986), among others. It’s haunting, creepy and very memorable. I love it.
Fans of Deadly Friend don’t get a lot of love from Warner Bros. There’s no Director’s Cut, no Special Edition, and no commentary track on the DVD. All you get is a trailer and the movie. But hey, at least it’s in widescreen! I found out recently that Deadly Friend was based on a book by Diana Hensell called Friend. Lucky for you (and me!) the Kindle Edition is just 99 cents over at Amazon right now.
It was fun to revisit Deadly Friend after all these years. If you’ve never seen it, or if it’s been a while for you, I recommend you take a look back at it, too. It isn’t Wes Craven’s finest hour, but it is certainly an interesting footnote in his horror legacy. I leave you with a cool interview I found on YouTube with Wes Craven and Kristy Swanson. Enjoy!
Happy 30th, Deadly Friend! How about a 35th Anniversary Special Edition, Scream Factory?