There are two ways that a filmmaker can approach a horror film. The first is to make a truly frightening and realistic film that will scare the audience long after they’ve finished watching the film. The second way is to make the film so over the top ridiculous that shocks and screams are mixed with laughs. Horror legend Wes Craven achieved the first type of film with his 1984 masterpiece A Nightmare On Elm Street. Two years later, he tried his hand at the other type when he made Deadly Friend.
Deadly Friend stars Matthew Labyorteaux (Albert from “Little House on the Prairie”) as Paul Conway, a genius whiz-kid who has just moved to a new town with his mother to attend college. With him, Paul brings an impressive artificial intelligence robot named BB that he designed and built. BB looks like a cross between a rolling icebox and the yellow Mighty Morphin Power Ranger, but boasts a powerful computer for a brain that is not only capable of thought but has the ability to learn. While moving in, Paul meets another boy named Tom (Michael Sharrett) as well as his next-door neighbor Sam (Kristy Swanson, the original Buffy The Vampire Slayer) and her abusive father (Richard Marcus from Tremors). Soon after Paul and BB arrive in town, the robot is destroyed by another neighbor named Elvira Parker (Throw Momma From The Train’s Anne Ramsey) when it wanders into her yard. When Sam is thrown down a flight of stairs by her father and is declared brain dead, Paul gets the idea to implant BB’s computer processor into Sam’s brain. With the help of Tom, Paul steals Sam’s body and installs the chip. The idea works, and Sam comes back to life, but with predictable Frankenstein’s Monster results. Sam goes on a killing spree, and of course her first targets are her father and Elvira Parker. Paul is now charged with the task of stopping the creature that he created before she does too much damage.
Adapted for the screen by Bruce Joel Rubin (who wrote Ghost and Jacob’s Ladder) from Diana Henstell’s novel “Friend,” Deadly Friend is an imaginative take on the Frankenstein/Re-Animator motif. Thanks in part to the teenaged protagonists the film has the feel of an overly gory John Hughes film. There’s the Main Character (Paul), the Sidekick (Tom), the Love Interest (Sam) and the Antagonistic Adults (Sam’s father and Elvira Parker). There’s even a gang of motorcycle riding bullies who pick on Paul until BB steps in to save him. Sure, the plot is contrived and the science is flawed, but if the viewer can suspend their disbelief for an hour and a half, Deadly Friend is an entertaining film.
There is enough blood and guts in Deadly Friend to make up for any lack of suspense and scares. Craven is a notorious gore hound, and Deadly Friend pulls no punches in that category. The kill scenes are both creative and disgusting. Sam’s father’s demise is traditionally distasteful, while Elvira Parker’s death-by-basketball is awesomely silly. The gallons of blood and tons of makeup effects (courtesy of Peter Albiez, who did the effects for Se7en and Starship Troopers) make Deadly Friend an amazing splatter flick.
It seems like every horror film from the 80’s has a big surprise last scene that has nothing to do with the rest of the film. Some of them work (Friday the 13th) and some of them don’t (A Nightmare on Elm Street). Deadly Friend has a last scene that doesn’t work. Much like A Nightmare on Elm Street, it comes off as a tacked-on final plea for scares instead of a last-second no-one’s-safe shock. It’s corny, and the film would be better without it.
Wes Craven has made a career out of making tongue-in-cheek horror films, and Deadly Friend is one of his lesser known gems. A product of its mid-eighties time, Deadly Friend is a good stroll down retro-horror memory lane.