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Deadly Friend (1986)

 Rating: * out of 4

Cast: Matthew Laborteaux, Kristy Swanson, Michael Sharrett, Anne Twomey, and Anne Ramsey.

Writer: Bruce Joel Rubin

Director: Wes Craven

Craven’s post-Nightmare resume is made up of movies he would disown and in each case it is due to studio interference. Deadly Friend is no different and in fact it would be this film that would cost him the directing gigs for both Superman IV: The Quest for Peace and Beetlejuice. This was set to be his first studio picture and one to showcase his ability to make non-horror movies. He and screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin (who would go on to write Ghost and Jacob’s Ladder) set out to make a PG movie that was to be a tender, albeit macabre, love story with a soaring sci-fi edge and twinges of humor similar to John Carpenter’s Starman. Unfortunately after a poor test screening, made up of mostly fans of Craven’s work, the studio bastardized Craven’s cut of the movie and studio president Mark Canton insisted and amping up the gore and horror to cater to Craven’s audience. Many scenes were cut, the central plot was re-worked to eliminate most of the romance, and as many as eight scenes were said to be re-shot or added to turn it into a straight horror film.

Needless to say, the film feels choppy and doesn’t work. On one hand, many scenes seem light and comical. Then the tone randomly shifts to very dark places and gets needlessly graphic in its depiction of violence. I would kill or die to see the original cut of the film which has been lost to the mists of history. Both Craven and Rubin have been very open about what the film was intended to be, and both expressed a fondness for the original cut as well as a complete distaste of the theatrical cut. As I watched this film, which I knew nothing about going into the picture, I wrote a list of positives and what ended up being a very long list of negatives. Every single negative I have was listed on’s trivia page for this movie as being an addition from reshoots as enforced by the studio. The thing of it is, I feel that it is almost impossible to review this film based on this knowledge. All the senseless acts of violence, the awkward tone, the terrible opening and closing scenes are not what this movie was supposed to be. What I can do however is offer up what little criticism I do have for things that were not a direct reflection of studio interference.

The plot of the film is far-fetched to say the least. A young man named Paul moves to a small suburban town with his mother and beloved robot BB, which he programmed himself. He falls in love with Sam, the girl next door who is secretly being beaten regularly by her father. Sam’s father goes too far one night and it costs her her life, so Paul finds a way to revive her using the computer chip from BB. Had Craven had his way, I’m still not sure this film would have worked. Anyway, Sam goes all Frankenstein’s monster and starts killing people around her that she perceives as a threat. Oddly enough, all the Sam stuff works insanely well. Kristy Swanson gives a very strong performance and helps sell the silly role. Laborteaux is a bit flat and hasn’t got great chemistry with Swanson, but he works well in some scenes towards the end of the picture. BB didn’t work for me at all. He had no life to him. I could believe Johnny 5 was alive in Short Circuit, but BB just doesn’t play. It could be that I am not a robot fan. Seriously, why was that a thing in the 80’s. Robots showed up everywhere. One even showed up in Rocky IV. But, I digress. BB looked cheap and didn’t capture me at all and that is partly why the movie fails early on. I just had a hard time buying in to so much of the premise.

There were some things that worked. Obviously I dug Swanson’s dual performance. I liked how the film plays with the element of the dark father. As bad as Sam gets throughout the movie, she is never as evil, degrading or terrifying as he is. The nightmare with him in Paul’s bed was fantastic and a subtle nod to Freddy. Some of the family scenes and romancy bits play well. Knowing that that was what the film was supposed to be about really spawns that yearning to see the original cut. As is, this one is a total dud.

That said, the scene where the mean old lady from The Goonies gets killed with a basketball is pure Evil Dead fun.

-March, 2016

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