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Oeuvre: Craven: Deadly Friend

Oeuvre: Craven: Deadly Friend

Deadly Friend: a horror-comedy-sci-fi something.

If it feels like two different movies combined into one, that’s because it is. In 1985, Wes Craven wanted to make a love story. It was supposed to be about a boy and girl who are good and the adults around them, who are cruel. It had nothing to do with monsters or killing sprees. The scares were to come from the “ordinary” people,” an abusive dad, an intolerant neighbor and an belligerent bully. The first cut was screened for Craven fans and they didn’t get it. Where was the violence and the blood? Warner Bros. ordered a recut, this time, with gore. Whatever ambitions Craven had, they were squashed by demands of the market (again). The result is Deadly Friend, a horror-comedy-sci-fi something. It’s gained a cult status, and, as weird as it is, it’s kind of fun.

Paul Conway (Matthew Laborteaux) and his single mom (Anne Twomey) move to a small, suburban town because Paul is some variation of Baby Einstein. He just got a science scholarship at the vaguely named “Poly Tech West.” He brings along his artificial robot companion, “BB,” who rolls around like a fat Roomba with anger problems. Right away, Paul meets Sam (Kristy Swanson), a cute blonde with mom jeans and mysterious bruises. Lucky for him, she lives next door. Unlike every other new kid ever, Paul also makes a BF overnight. That’s Tom (Michael Sharrett). I’d say more about him, but he has the personality of a potato chip.

While walking with Tom after school, a bully, who appears to be 40 years-old, and his “goon squad” ride up on motorcycles. They push Paul into a pile of garbage that’s fortuitously lying on the side of the road. Then the bully threatens BB with a can opener, and BB grabs the bully by the nuts. That’s when I decided I like BB. He can’t speak any English, but he can spot a douchebag from a mile away.

Paul wants to spend time with Sam, but her dad is super creepy. He’s mean, he drinks too much and he sweats a lot. He sweats so much that it’s nasty. Sam dreams about stabbing him. In one of the dreams, she stabs him with a broken vase and his blood spews over her face and bed. It’s as if Craven is saying, See Warner Bros? You asked for it.

One day after Paul’s neuroscience class, an evil neighbor lady shoots BB with a shotgun. Then Sam’s dad pushes her down the stairs, and she’s about to die too. The coroner is coming to pull the plug, but Paul decides to use a microchip to bring her back to life. Paul and Tom roofie Paul’s mom and drive to the hospital. While Tom cuts the power, Paul stuffs Sam’s body in a hamper. “I’m gonna throw up,” Tom says in the car. “Throw up later!” Paul says. That sums up the dialogue of Deadly Friend.

They drive Sam to the science lab and lay her out for operation. Paul puts on scrubs like a teenage Doctor Doolittle and cuts into Sam’s head. He stuffs it with a computer chip and points a remote control at her head. Her foot flings in the air and she’s sort of alive, but she’s got the mind of a rubber chicken. She also wears heavy layers of eyeliner because that’s what happens when you rise from the dead.

Paul teaches Sam how to sit up. “That’s wonderful!” he says, like he’s teaching a baby. He’s the nice version of Dr. Frankenstein, coddling his creation instead of fleeing from it. In the morning, Paul finds zombie Sam staring out the window. She’s watching her dad, wanting revenge. She sneaks into her old house and kills her dad, but it’s kind of awkward. She wears an oversized denim shirt that makes her look like an extra on “Roseanne” and walks with her arms out in front of her (AKA the most clichéd “zombie” walk imaginable). She strangles her dad and burns his head to a crisp against a boiler in the basement.

Next, she exacts revenge on the neighbor who killed BB. The neighbor sees Sam coming and calls the cops, but they don’t come because they’re eating sandwiches. Sam proceeds to beat the shit out of the old woman. She grabs her by the throat, pushes her against the wall and carries out one of the sickest murders I have ever seen. She chucks a basketball at the lady’s face, and the old woman’s head explodes. It’s a freaky mess, and it makes watching all 91 minutes of Deadly Friend totally worth it.

The film was a critical and financial failure, but it’s gained a moderate cult status. According to the book Wes Craven: The Art of Horror, Deadly Friend was intended as “a teenage film filled with charm, wit, and solid performances,” but it turned into another one of the weird, bloody b-movies that Craven was trying to rise above. But Deadly Friend, like zombie Sam, won’t stay dead. It’ll come back to life because, as Craven said about movies, “There’s something so profound and wonderful about a movie. It’s so alive.”

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