Awfully Good: Wes Craven's Deadly Friend
There's no doubt the late, great Wes Craven made many classic films throughout his storied career, as well as a few...not so classic ones. This week we focus on one of his earlier hidden gems...
Deadly Friend (1986)
Director: Wes Craven
Stars: Kristy Swanson, Matthew Laborteaux, Angry Robot
After his girlfriend dies, a brilliant teenage scientist uses a robot brain to bring her corpse back to life with unintended side effects, of course.
After the huge, unexpected success of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, Wes Craven wanted to work on something different instead of repeating himself as a horror director. Like many filmmakers before him, he decided to move to a big studio for his next project, partnering with Warner Bros. on a high-concept idea. And like most directors unaccustomed to moronic studio notes and frustrating demands, the results were not ideal.
Amazingly enough, that's the guy's actual face, not a prosthetic.
Craven's original intent with this film was to make a PG-rated supernatural romantic thriller called ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE about a teen and his robo-zombie girlfriend. It would be a weird, macabre and emotional tale without much in the way of horror or violence. And to his credit, this was the film that Wes Craven and his cast actually shot. It wasn't until negative test screenings, where angry fans expected more Freddy-style scares, gave the studio cold feet and they demanded heavy rewrites and reshoots to add in more gore and nightmare sequences to turn ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE in to a schlocky horror movie with the idiotic title DEADLY FRIEND that they could release in time for Halloween.
No, seriously. That's his face.
Even though this isn't entirely what Craven originally intended, and even if the final product does feel a bit schizophrenic, DEADLY FRIEND still manages to be fun for what it is. As a hybrid sci fi-horror-romance, it has plenty of elements that still work and retains enough of Craven's weird vision to set itself apart from other scary movies of the time. Plus, who can stay mad at a flick that has robots, zombies, and a f*cked up teenage Frankenstein love story?
Come with BB
Although if there's one part of this movie that you remember from the 80s, it's probably BB the robot. BB is a pissier version of Johnny 5 from SHORT CIRCUIT. Or imagine if WALL-E got more and more bitter each day the humans left him alone on Earth. BB's like that, but painted yellow. Just the fact that he existsa sentient, super strong robot who's constantly evolving in increasingly unpredictable and angry ways is funny enough, but the fact that nobody ever seems alarmed or surprised that some random teenager has one of these things is truly amazing. And to make things worse, BB doesn't have the ability to talk, so he just speaks in weird grunts, gurgles and noises like a gremlin. (He's voiced by Charles Fleischer, who would go on to play Roger Rabbit.) Half the laughs in DEADLY FRIEND come from all the goofy noises and weird things they make the poor robot do.
Come with BB in to BB's Happy Fun Time Van!
BB's owner Paul (played by Little House on the Prairie's Matthew Labyorteaux) is the new kid in town. He doesn't have many friends aside from his robot and the local paperboy. Even the town bully, part of a hysterically upper middle-class white biker gang, doesn't bother to pick on him after BB aggressively fondles his testicles. However, things change when he meets Sam, the girl next door, played by future Buffy, Kristy Swanson. They bond over awkward banter and embarrassing basketball games and quickly fall in love, despite the disapproval of Sam's psychotic and abusive father.
Kristy Swanson Dance Move #1
It doesn't take long for things to take a turn for the worse though. On Halloween, the kids decide to pull a prank on their grouchy reclusive neighbor, played with maximum angry-face by GOONIES and THROW MOMMA FROM THE TRAIN star Anne Ramsey. Clearly not concerned with being easily incriminated, the teens brought along their giant robot and after a tense confrontation, Anne Ramsey ends up murdering BB with a shotgun. And just as Paul is recovering from one bad holiday, Sam's dad shows his paternal gratitude by throwing her down the stairs on Thanksgiving, rendering her braindead. Luckily one of Paul's hobbies includes reanimating the dead and the distraught teen decides to kidnap her dead body and puts BB's chip in her brain. What could go wrong?!
Kristy Swanson Dance Move #2
This is where DEADLY FRIEND, thus far coasting on the goofiness of the scene-stealing robot, kicks in to gear. While Paul is initially happy to see his beloved out-of-his-league girlfriend, it's soon clear that Zombie Sam only has one thing on her mindsweet cyborg vengeance. To her credit, Swanson really gives the role her all and doesn't care how silly she looks doing an impression of a machine committing murder. You totally believe that she's a reanimated corpse being controlled by the computer chip of a dead robot!
Kristy Swanson Dance Move #3
It's also not too difficult to tell that this final act centered on Sam's rampage of revenge is where a majority of the studio interference took place. There is some drama as Sam comes to terms with what she is and her previous love for Paul, but it's pretty much an excuse for Freddy-inspired nightmare dream sequences and gruesome kills, including one that's high on the list of Most Ludicrous Fatalities of All Time. At one point, Sam takes a basketball from Anne Ramsey and throws it THROUGH HER HEAD, causing it to explode. And just for maximum effect, Craven makes sure Ramsey's headless body stumbles around the room for a bit. (He truly was a master of his craft )
Kristy Swanson Dance Move #4
Unfortunately, all this culminates in an ending that makes literally no sense whatsoever, but was personally mandated by Mark Canton, the former head of Warner Bros. and clearly a magnificent idiot. Fortunately, the end credits features a song by BB the robot (with lyrics consisting entirely of the letters B and B), so at least you don't leave completely unhappy.
RIP Mr. Craven. Thanks for all the scares.
"Sometimes I want to run a truck over his face, but he's still my father."
That, some of BB the robot's best "lines," and more!
The best kills and the best parts with BB the robot. BONUS: A taste of the BB end credits song!
The robot goes nude, but it's handled tastefully.
Take a shot or drink every time:
- You see things from BB's POV
- BB makes an especially weird sound
- Tom faints
- A punch clearly doesn't connect
- Sam kills someone
- BB goes red