Deadly Friend is a 1986 science fiction-horror cult film directed by Wes Craven and for whatever reason, you’ve probably never heard of it. Directed by the man behind ‘A Nightmare On Elm Street’, Deadly Friend was released when that franchise was still very popular so it begs the question, what went wrong? Why is this movie so unknown and in my opinion under-appreciated, even to the point that it hasn’t even been released on DVD in European Countries? Let’s have a look at Deadly Friend and maybe we’ll be able to figure it out.
Originally, the movie was a sci-fi thriller without any graphic scenes, with a bigger focus on plot, character development, and a dark love story, which were not typical aspects of Craven’s previous films. After Craven’s original director’s cut was shown to a test audience, the audience criticized the lack of violence and gore that Craven’s other movies had. Warner Bros. and the film’s producers demanded re-shoots, which included filming gorier death scenes and nightmare sequences, similar to the ones from Craven’s previous horror hit, A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). Due to the studio imposed re-shoots and re-editing, the movie was drastically altered in post-production, losing much of the original plot and more scenes between characters, while other scenes, including bloodier deaths and a new ending, were added.
The film opens in a parking lot, a thief tries to steal from a van but suddenly a robot arm grabs him and scares him off. We soon learn that this robot is named BB and that it is a highly intelligent, strong and reliable artificial intelligence with the ability to think for itself. BB was built by Paul; an aspiring scientist who’s leagues ahead of everybody in his university class. We also learn that Paul has a deep fascination with neurology and regularly goes to a laboratory to experiment with cadavers hoping to someday to fully replicate the functions of a brain for BB.
I have to say that although this movie is almost 30 years old the technology used to create BB is really impressive but that’s no surprise considering it cost $20,000 to build which was a lot of money in those days.
Paul and his mother move into a new house and it’s not long before Paul makes a friend out of the local newspaper boy, Tom. A few days later, while doing some chores outside with BB, Paul meets his neighbour Samantha and is stunned by her beauty. Paul notices some bruises on her arm but Sam tries to hide them. Sam’s abusive, alcoholic father, Harry soon comes outside and stares at her menacingly. Samantha is frightened and returns to her father. That night, Samantha visits Paul and his mother but it’s not long before her father turns up and asks for her to return to their house.
That night, Sam has a rather disturbing nightmare of her father sneaking into her room while she is sleeping and attacking her. In the nightmare she stabs him with a broken vase which causes blood to spurt out of the vase like a straw as he stands there laughing and intentionally spraying her with it. This scene kind of comes out of nowhere and I would definitely say that it’s very creepy and really demonstrates the fear that Sam feels towards her father.
Tom helps Paul teach BB to deliver newspapers. They stop at the house of reclusive harridan Elvira Parker (Anne Ramsey), who threatens the boys with a loaded shotgun and expresses dislike for BB.
Paul, Samantha, Tom, and BB develop a close friendship. One day, they play basketball in the neighborhood. BB accidentally tosses the ball onto Elvira’s porch. She stomps out of her house and takes the ball, refusing to give it back. We see the moment through BB’s vision and a red haze overcomes his sight which insinuates that he’s angry.
On Halloween night, Samantha comes over with a bloody nose and asks for ice. Paul and his mother believe that her father is abusing her but Sam explains that regardless of what he’s done she loves him because he’s her dad. Tom decides to pull a prank on Elvira. BB unlocks her gate and Samantha rings her doorbell. Alarms go off and they hide in the shrubbery. Unfortunately, Elvira finds BB standing near her porch and shoots the robot. Paul is devastated by the loss of his friend, while Tom blames himself for suggesting the stunt.
It’s now Thanksgiving and after spending the night with Paul in which they shared their first kiss, Sam returns home late. Outraged that she has come home late and that she has been spending so much time with a boy, her father hits her and knocks her down the stairs. Sadly, this leaves Sam brain-dead and 24 hours away from having her life support system shut off. Devastated by what has happened, Paul comes up with the crazy idea of inserting BB’s brain chip into Sam’s brain in hope that it would restore her. He blackmails Tom into helping him break into the hospital and after a lot of trouble and tense moments they take Sam back to the laboratory in which he works and it’s here that he implants the microchip.
Using a remote that he used to activate BB he switches her on and after some time her foot twitches which leads to Tom fainting. Paul moves Sam to his garage where he attempts to switch her on again but this time her eyes open mechanically and she begins to breathe. Paul tries to communicate with Sam but gets no response, he tries his best to get her to sit up and explain what happened. The police arrive at Sam’s house and inform her father that her body had been stolen; Paul notices that Sam is watching this out of a window and that she gives her dad a menacing look but thinks nothing of it and pulls her away.
Paul switches Sam off after she starts becoming disobedient and goes to bed. When he wakes the next morning he finds that she is gone. Sam has gone to avenge her death and she does so in a very brutal manner. I mean seriously, she breaks her father’s hand, snaps his neck and then puts him head first into a furnace.
Eventually and after a lot of searching Paul finds her in the cellar and sees her father’s head burning. Horrified, he hides the corpse in a pile of coal. He goes home with Samantha and locks her in his bedroom.
Something I always found quite weird was that the actor that played Harry (Sam’s dad) had a kind of Robert Englund vibe about him. Not only that but he’s burnt in a furnace and Paul has a nightmare of him coming for him under his bedsheets while looking horrifically burnt. It’s obvious to me that this was put into the movie by Warner Bro. in some strange way to make the movie more like A Nightmare On Elm Street.
That night, Samantha breaks free again. This time, she avenges herself upon old Elvira for shooting BB. Elvira calls the police, but they hang up on her because she regularly cries wolf. A basketball bounces ominously in her living room indicating that Samantha has broken in. Samantha, now developing superhuman strength, corners Elvira and throws her at the wall of her living room. As Elvira screams at the top of her lungs, Samantha decapitates her with the basketball, her head exploding away from her shoulders. Elvira’s decapitated body then walks in circles, spurting blood and gore until it finally lies dead on the floor. This has become a rather infamous death scene just because its’ so outrageously over the top but it has to be seen to be appreciated. The effects are seriously impressive but it’s just such an out of nowhere type moment that it’s unintentionally hilarious.
Police discover Elvira’s and Harry’s corpses. When Tom learns that Samantha is killing people, Paul promises things will change. Tom refuses to stay quiet any longer and the two fight. Samantha literally dives out a window and attacks Tom, believing that he has injured Paul. Paul and his mother save Tom, but Samantha runs away. With the police right behind him Paul must rescue Sam and attempt to explain to everybody everything that’s happened and hope that they understand that he did it all because of his love for Sam.
I don’t want to spoil the ending because I feel this is a movie that’s very much worth seeing if you’re into 80s horror and it does have a twist, a really weird twist but a twist none the less.
Now, at the end of the day this isn’t the movie that Wes Craven intended to make. His original vision for the film was to be a PG-rated supernatural science fiction thriller with the primary focus being on the dark macabre romantic love story between Paul and Samantha, as well as a secondary focus on the adults around them and how they are truly monsters inside themselves. Warner Bro. decided to forcibly make the movie much more horror orientated and most importantly much more Nightmare On Elm Street orientated. This led to much anger from Craven and also led him to disown the film which is probably why it’s slipped into obscurity.
Also, from what I’ve heard about Craven’s version of the movie, I kind of think it probably would have sucked. Warner Bro. added in many of the more memorable horror orientated moments in the movie and without those I don’t think I would have cared much for it. But at the same time it seems that having these scenes in the film is what ultimately lead it to becoming a flop.
At the end of the day, Deadly Friend is what it is and honestly, I really like it. None of the characters are really developed too much so that’s disappointing but still you’ll find yourself really caring about them and hoping that Paul can restore Sam so they can be together again. It’s entertaining from beginning to end, really well acted and there are quite a few memorable scenes and some very creepy ones too.
Deadly Friend isn’t what Wes Craven wanted it to be and that’s unfortunate but it’s still a well-crafted 80’s horror movie that deserves a hell of a lot more recognition than it’s been given, or ya know Warner Bro. could at least release it on DVD in the UK, that would be nice.
Wes Craven's Deadly Friend