I’ll be honest - although scorned and often ridiculed by a lot of horror fans, Wes Craven’s Deadly Friend is a film I’ve always liked. Some may call it a guilty pleasure - but I don’t feel guilty in the slightest. I’ve liked this movie ever since I picked up a battered, used VHS copy in a local store many years ago.
I waited and waited for the inevitable DVD release, which somehow never came. It was one of those films that needed an upgrade. But it never came. I waited and waited some more...nope. It was released all over the world, but mysteriously, for reasons I’ve never been able to find, the UK was omitted. What’s worse is that it was even released generally on region 2 in Europe.
It so happened that I was able to import the disc from Denmark through Amazon. I would’ve put up a link, but it doesn’t even seem available there at the moment.
So, I guess it’s a rarity - and no better way to close off this year’s Shocktober.
Paul Conway is a young scientific genius. He should be in the 10th grade, but he’s already in college, due to his sky high IQ and the fact that he has build, from scratch, a fully functioning robot named Bebe with a micro processor that can basically process thoughts like a human brain. This central plot point is also the film’s weakest link. The leaps in technology since 1986 really make the scientific marvels in this movie look quaint and a bit clunky. From that perspective - the film has, sadly, aged.
The scientific brainiac whiz-kid is played by Matthew Laborteaux whose career seemed the be promising at the time of filming (he had a continuing role on TV’s Little House on the Pirarie) but has sadly sunk without much of a trace since. Anyhow, I digress.
He makes two friends in his new neighbourhood, a similarly aged teen named Tom, and the girl next door, Samantha (Kirsty Swanson).
Paul also makes some enemies - most notably the evil old hag across the road, Elvira Parker, played by Anne Ramsay who made a career out of these roles - mostly remembered for her role in the Goonies. Elvira threatens just about anybody who comes near her gate with a shotgun, she confiscates their basketball and when, as a Halloween prank, they use Bebe to unlock her gate, she shoots the robot three times, destroying it. Thus we’re given the first part of the plot.
Sam has an alcoholic, abusive father who plagues her in her dreams (well, this WAS the year after Nightmare on Elm Street and Craven had already demonstrated an eagerness to use dream sequences in his films. But, the dream sequences aren’t actually part of the plot here - they’re just a shortcut to tell us the audience that Sam lives in fear.
In one of his abusive rages, he hits Sam, causing her to fall downstairs. Suffering cranial damage she’s on life support, and when the plug is pulled - Paul hatches a plan to save her. With Tom helping (under duress) he abducts the body, intending to implant Bebe’s microprocessor in her brain to bring her back to life. And there’s the second half of the plot.
Improbably, this works - but Sam is more robot than girl, with stilted, automated movements and at first, she’s operated by remote control (and I’m not even going NEAR than one). She begins to display some independent actions, killing her father and in THE single best horror movie death scene I’ve ever seen, she kills Elvira by throwing the confiscated basketball at the old bitch’s head, busting it open like an over-ripe melon. I love that scene - it even beats Kane Hodder’s sleeping bag kill in Friday the 13th pt VII The New Blood (sorry, Kane).
Sam is out of control, and even attacks poor hapless Tom at one point, diving out of first storey window to do so, in a scene that the first time I saw it, I just wasn’t expecting. Towards the end, during a stand-off with the police, she displays flashes that her humanity is returning, and that the experiment was working after all, but for her - it’s too little, too late.
This being a Craven movie, there is, naturally enough an ending tacked on to the ending which makes no sense at all. Who knows, it’s probably yet another dream sequence - but it’s wholly unnecessary.
Overall, I like this film - it’s Craven hitting the mainstream, which was uncharacteristic for him at this stage of his career. The plot, though based on a book called "Friend" by Diana Henstell has some gaping plot holes - for example the brain surgery being carried out in less than sterile circumstances then Sam being hidden in the garden shed? Even if she’s robotic, surely she would’ve needed more care than that - she was a girl for crying out loud, not a spin dryer. The fact that nobody seems overly concerned that the body is missing, and there’s a sub plot that’s missing as well when the boys cross paths with the local bullies - nothing is seen of them until the end and that’s almost a throwaway.
Much as I felt that Shocker had an unwelcome and intrusive sub plot that really needed editing out - I think that Deadly Friend should’ve filled in some of the gaps - but it’s still a film I enjoy and if you ever come across a copy or a screening - I recommend you take advantage fast.
Copyright © 2010 - 2011 Robin Pierce. All Rights reserved.