The Film: Deadly Friend (1986)
The Principles: Directed by Wes Craven
Acted by Kristy Swanson, Charles Fleischer, Anne Ramsey, Matthew Labyorteaux
The Premise: A boy genius moves into a new neighborhood with his mother and a human sized robot. He meets and befriends the local paperboy and becomes smitten with the girl next door, and his new friends quickly accept that their new pal practically has a droid for a little brother. The robot BB has the capabilities of artificial intelligence and self defense, however when a tragic incident on Halloween night leaves BB destroyed it seems as if the bot is gone for good. What happens next is a tale of teenage love, reanimation of the dead and a monster running amok in quiet suburbia.
Is It Good?: I really do think Deadly Friend is worth watching. Wes Craven tells a story here of a kid who’s best intentions really get him in trouble. Matthew Labyorteaux does a great job of playing the awkward genius teenager who has a brilliant grasp of science, but no common sense whatsoever. His actions in the film basically get his neighbors all killed to include his love interest played by Kristy Swanson. Craven uses a lot of techniques here that are very reminiscent of A Nightmare on Elm Street, and in a way Deadly Friend is a story that could well take place a block away from Nancy’s house.
The film is fairly well paced and entertaining and there are very few moments where it drags. What’s really odd here is the tone which goes from happy teenage 80’s new kid in a new neighborhood to brutally abusive family drama to a story of resurrecting the dead gone horribly wrong. This kind of narrative is nothing new for Wes Craven, but when compared to other similar films of it’s time, it is understandable why this film is criminally underseen.
Many people go on about Kristy Swanson’s weird choice to play her undead character with claw fingers to represent the robot hands BB has before he is destroyed. It’s a fun decision that cements the idea of BB’s robot brain being inserted into her body to reanimate her, and after all of the dark subtext taking place earlier in the film between her and her father, it’s at least a little bit of levity. What really makes the movie resonate are the scenes where her character Sam is being abused. It’s harsh and brutal and Wes Craven doesn’t pull any punches in these scenes, even in the dream sequences. This is another prime example of similar themes being explored in many of the director’s films.
The robot BB is enjoyable albeit annoying at times with constant “robot gibberish” that comprises his dialogue. When BB freaks out and gets blasted by the crotchety old lady on the block, played by Anne Ramsey, it feels like we really have lost a character in the story. The film definitely does a great job of paying off everything that gets set up in the first act. All of our flawed and bad-natured characters get their just desserts, and some of the death scenes are flat out hilarious (especially Anne Ramsey’s).
Deadly Friend is one of Wes Craven’s less beloved films, but it’s definitely not one of his worst. The first third of film is entertaining and features great performances as our characters get to know each other. The dream sequences are intense and effective and the practical effects are bad in a really fun way. The ending is open to interpretation and if you decide that the final scene is not a dream, that kind of makes the whole thing that much better.
Random Anecdotes: The film The Bad Seed is prominently featured playing on the TV when Sam confronts Anne Ramsey’s character Elvira Parker inside her home.
Actor Charles Fleisher voices the robot BB. He was featured in A Nightmare on Elm Street as the doctor who performs the sleep study on Nancy, and he was also the voice of Roger Rabbit.
Cinematic Soulmates: Short Circuit, Frankenstein, The Burbs, Fright Night
Check out Joshua Miller’s 2011 Movie of the Day review of Deadly Friend HERE