Wes Craven’s ability to craft imaginative, fantastical horrors with a sobering, violent edge is virtually second to none when to take in the weird and wonderful excesses of 80’s horror – but, as experienced usually more by Craven than his peers, when you take a big swing you risk a big miss and of all the big misses of Wes’ career, Deadly Friend is by far the most absurd.
If we have to point a finger (and we do – it’s a review after all) then the most obvious culprit is one that Craven has run up against numerous times during his tenure as one of horror’s leading lights: the oppressive nature of studio imposed rewrites and reshoots.
Be it producers insisting he cobble together the unfinished footage of The Hills Have Eyes 2 with disastrous results or the entire nightmarish production of Cursed, his werewolf movie for Miramax, big Wes often has a problem with people misunderstanding his work, but of all these instances, it’s Deadly Friend that proudly take the winner’s podium in the WTF Olympics.
Young brainbox Paul Conway and his mother move to a new neighbourhood with BB in tow – who is BB you ask? Well, he’s only the super advanced robot Paul has invented, that’s who and this perky droid not only comes complete with a nifty learning chip and must cost Paul’s mother a small fortune in installing ramps due to his clunky tank treads, but he also speaks gibberish in the raspy growl of Stripe the Gremlin for some reason and is Paul’s best friend. Not long after wandering around his new neighbourhood with his robot pal, Paul has not only forged a budding friendship with paperboy Tom, but he’s bonded with pretty next door neighbour Samantha Pringle and it seems that his new life is going to be something approximating 80’s tech nerd heaven – a robot best friend and a love interest? Score!
However, reality (and I use this term loosely) decides to plant a firm, booted foot square into the plums of Paul’s seemingly perfect set up when his beloved BB is shot gunned into spare parts by crazy, robot-hating battleaxe, Elvira Parker and Sam is accidently rendered brain dead when her abusive father hurls her down a flight of stairs the night she and Paul shares their first kiss. Wracked with anger and remorse, Paul does what anyone in his situation would and *checks notes* – breaks into the hospital, steals Sam’s body and sticks BB’s microchip into the brain of her corpse in the hope that its revive her… ok then.
Of course, this being a mid-eighties sci-fi/horror, it totally works, but instead of Sam being her old self, she’s returned as a pale amalgamation of both herself and BB who starts seeking bloody vengence on the people who have wronged both her human and robot identities while Paul scampers around in her wake trying to clean up after her.
This adaptation of a 1985 novel called Friend, Deadly Friend was Wes Craven’s attempt to move away from hardcore horror and into more of a teen horror/sci-fi phase, however, it was promptly misunderstood by test audiences who saw Craven’s name in the credits and immediately demanded to know why the hell there wasn’t more blood spraying in every direction. The studio demanded significant retooling with the original, dark romance aspect of the movie being removed in favour of more gore and Elm Street style nightmare sequences – but then, frustratingly, the studio hated that version too leaving the cut we now have of Deadly Friend being nothing short of a hot mess.
To be brutally honest his is the sort of shit someone like Joe Dante could do in his sleep, but Craven simply isn’t in touch with his inner child enough to avoid making the whole thing creepy in the wrong kind of ways. I get that for all his smarts, Paul is impressively incapable of processing loss, but while other directors may have found some childlike wonder in the darker parts of the story, the fact that our hero is willing to drug his mother in order to break into a hospital so he can do some experimental brain surgery on the stolen body of the hot, dead teen girl next door just makes him feel like a serial killer in training.
Shockingly, Craven opts to play this dream fulfillment horseshit jaw droppingly straight which only succeeds in making things feel all the more sillier and plays like a clumsily written episode of Young Sheldon crossed with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein that cast logic and common sense to the winds in order to tell this goofy tale of a bionic bunny boiler and her simp boyfriend/creator.
Huge stretches of the movie wilfully make no sense whatsoever; for some reason, Paul is surprised when utter strangers want to screw around with a bright yellow, four foot robot they’ve spotted trundling down the street, the insertion of a chip in her brain (as opposed to the sizable one on her shoulders) somehow make Sam move like a robot and gives her augmented strength as he makes unnecessary pincer shapes with her hands and the tacked on nightmare sequences supply a short supply of cheap-ass jump scares that feels about as out as place as – well, a bright yellow robot in a Wes Craven film.
So, we’ve established that Deadly Friend is a piss poor follow up to A Nightmare On Elm Street, but if we were to take things like a quality script out of the equation and focus on how impressively witless the movie is, it actually becomes quite the unintended chuckle-fest, especially when the resurrected Sam Pringle makes like her surname and doesn’t stop once she pops. The kills and nightmare scenes may stick out like a sore thumb and overturn any subtlety that Craven was originally shooting for, but they sure are fun in a stupid kind of way. Sam has a nightmare that she defends herself from her father by stabbing him in the gut with a glass tube which then orgasmically pumps blood all over her while he laughs manically and later, Sam 2.0 takes out her douchebag dad by roasting his head in a furnace, but surely Deadly Friend’s piece de resistance is the legendarily idiotic moment where the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer annihilates Ma Fratelli from The Goonies by shattering her head with a fucking basketball only for her body to jerk itself across the room, bleeding as it goes. However, even this plays like unmitigated genius compared to the shock ending where Sam’s skin sloughs off to reveal an angry faced robot underneath without anything resembling an explanation whatsoever may in fact one of the great, all-time awful endings of the entire 1980’s.
Fascinatingly awful, Deadly Friend sees Craven spectacularly spinning his wheels after changing the entire face of horror merely two years earlier. Still, the meme-worthy violence is entertainingly dumb, the story is completely bananas and despite spending half the movie caked in pale makeup while jerkily moving like she hasn’t quite mastered doing the robot, cult actress Kirsty Swanson somehow still cuts an endearing figure.
But with Deadly Friends like these, who needs deadly enemies…?