|Review||Deadly Friend (1986)||Director||Wes Craven|
|Writer||Bruce Joel Ruben – based on the novel “Friend” by Diana Henstell|
|Cast||Matthew Laborteaux, Kristy Swanson, Michael Sharrett, Anne Twomey, Anne Ramsey, Richard Marcus and Russ Marin|
“Mother‘s drugging, car theft, reckless driving without a licence, illegal tresspass. We‘ll be old when we get out“ – Tom
Teenager Paul (Laborteaux) moves to a new town with his mom Jeannie (Twomey) where he will join the local university with a scholarship. Paul is exceptionally skilled at robotics as he’s designed a robot called BB that is highly sophisticated and state of the art with artificial intelligence thanks to a special brain chip he‘s engineered. He quickly makes friends with Tom (Sharrett) and falls head over heels for his next door neighbor Sam (Swanson). Tragedy strikes when Sam’s abusive father (Marcus) strikes her so hard that she falls down the stairs and is killed.
A grief stricken Paul attempts to revive Sam by putting BB’s robotic brain chip in her in the hopes she will be reanimated. It works but Sam’s not normal and she goes after people who wronged her in macabre ways and Paul’s life spirals out of control.
The back of the Blu-ray cover quotes a review that says “A Breakfast Club version of The Bride of Frankenstein” and it’s possible to pigeonhole “Deadly Friend” in that way in regards to it’s cultural significance within it’s genre. And while the film has never been a critical darling or even that well liked by it’s own director it has always been well regarded among a huge number of Wes Craven fans and a general cult item with steadily increasing followers. I’d describe it as the closest thing you’d get to a family oriented graphic horror movie as it’s mash up of genres create a unique viewing experience that somehow works like a charm.
For one thing the characters here are extremely likeable and well played by appealing actors. Laborteaux shows some good comedic and dramatic chops as Paul who goes through a number of traumatic events and eventually becomes a bit unhinged towards the end. Swanson is charming as Sam and pulls off well her undead state, Sharrett is delightful as Tom and Twomey is excellent as Jeannie. The enjoyable camaraderie and chemistry between these characters is a big part of why the set-up of “Deadly Friend” works as well as it does and once the story takes a macabre turn the viewer is fully invested in their plight.
Now also comes to the fore the reason why Craven was reportedly less than satisfied with the eventual outcome. Bear in mind that the movie was Craven’s first big studio financed picture (Warner Brothers) and “Deadly Friend” (originally supposed to be titled simply “Friend”) was supposed to be a tragic love story with little emphasis on gruesome horror and more on how adults around them are monsters inside themselves. Maybe not that surprising considering how much familial and societal subtext is woven into both “The Hills Have Eyes” (1977) and “A Nightmare on Elm Street” (1984), two of Craven’s most successful horror outputs and arguably the highlights of his career thus far. But those films contained enough visceral and gruesome scenes that the higher ups at WB found was sorely missing in “Deadly Friend”. So Craven was ordered to shoot additional gory scenes, change the tone and spice up the film. A lot of shot footage was discarded. It’s a lengthy task describing the the resulting journey (and it’s easily accessible on IMDB in the trivia section) but it is rather remarkable how well the film turned out. Despite trimmings, re-shoots and studio interference the film delivers a bittersweet and affecting love story with some very neat and gruesome set-pieces. It‘s senseless ending is a bit of a let down but definately not a deal breaker.
The screenplay is written by Bruce Joel Rubin (“Brainstorm” – 1983, “Ghost” – 1990, “Jacop’s Ladder” – 1991 and “My Life” – 1993) and he’s very good at creating characters and constructing abnormal scenarios and placing those characters there. Wes Craven was a great director who could elevate even the most basic (and tasteless in some instances) material and give it subtext and depth. Thanks to their input “Deadly Friend” turned out better than it had a right to. A very well assembled cast helps a great deal and despite some honest attempts at possibly sabotaging the picture it, instead, holds up remarkably well and goes down as a very solid Wes Craven feature.
There is a petition for the release of a director‘s cut of the film here: https://www.change.org/p/warner-bros-home-entertainment-release-deadly-friend-director-s-cut-on-blu-ray-dvd. So far 822 people have signed (me among them) and hopefully an alternate version will surface in the future.