Part of me and my girlfriend’s 30-movie Halloween marathon.
Name a better duo than Wes Craven and indecisive studio executives. I’ll wait.
After A Nightmare on Elm Street and The Hills Have Eyes Part II, Craven sought to pivot and do a PG-rated project; similar to what John Carpenter did with Starman, in the same vein as Short Circuit. Diana Henstell’s novel Friend seemed like solid source material, especially when adapted by screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin, hot off the 1983 movie Brainstorm.
Alas, despite seeking a project where he could branch out from blood and guts, he was faced with a studio in Warner Bros. who wanted said blood and guts. So, per Craven himself, he had to add “the deaths of a few people, a jump for the beginning, a new closing scene, and two nightmares” in order to provide “the Wes Craven touch” Warner Bros. executives were seeking.
Clearly, the moves proved to be financially fruitful, as the film, Deadly Friend grossed $8.9 million against an $11 million budget.
That being said, Deadly Friend is still a serviceable and oft-entertaining hybrid of sci-fi and slasher sensibilities. You can tell the film was sliced and diced in post-production, as characters inexplicably know about events of which they had no part, or others refer to things they’ve said that we never heard them say. Nevertheless, there are few directors who could take a movie that frequently looks like a Full House episode, insert a scene of a robot throwing a basketball at an old lady’s head so it explodes like that famous scene in Scanners, and not make it seem incongruous.
Deadly Friend focuses on three kids, who strike up a friendship amidst peculiar and terrifying situations. Paul Conway (Matthew Laborteaux) is a boy genius; a teenager who has created a large, clever robot named BB, which has its own agency. He wins the friendship of a local paperboy named Tom (Michael Sharrett) after BB saves both their hinds from an encounter with a group of leather jacket-clad bullies. Next door to Paul and his mother (Anne Twomey) lives Samantha (Kristy Swanson, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and her abusive, alcoholic father, Harry (Richard Marcus, Tremors).
Another miserable soul in this neighborhood is Elvira (Anne Ramsey), a nasty old lady with a habit of reaching for her shotgun anytime there appears to be a ruckus outside her gated property. On Halloween, Paul, Tom, and Sam pull a prank on the woman. It backfires, and BB is destroyed by several shotgun blasts at the hands of Elvira. The next holiday, Thanksgiving, turns even deadlier, with a drunken Harry knocking Sam down a flight of stairs, leaving her brain dead. However, Paul gets an idea. He can graft BB’s microchip into Sam’s brain to bring her back to life. He’s successful, but Sam turns into a killing machine, going after the adults in her life that have caused her the trauma that led to her young death.
Remnants of the gentle teen love story Craven wanted to craft remain in-tact in Deadly Friend, specifically in early beats where Paul and Sam share moments of youthful romance. Normally, a post-production lobotomy like the one Deadly Friend underwent would leave me scoffing at the tonal inconsistencies. However, when things turn murderous, Craven’s film takes on a more improved energy that was looking to sag if the milquetoast romance had continued.
Rubin’s message is clear, despite the conflicting creative tug-of-war clearly at play. The monsters in the film are neither BB nor Sam post-op; they’re the adults, save for Paul’s mom, who is a patient sweetheart. The evilness of the grown-ups contrasted with the pure-hearted, albeit misguided, teens is one of Deadly Friend‘s many delights.
Even if they were begrudging additions to a concept that probably would’ve at least been watchable had it been granted permission to be faithful, the gore elements do provide satisfaction, especially since the kills happen to the most heinous characters. Deadly Friend has gone on to be one of the more forgotten films in Craven’s catalog, but it’s not without its own merits.
NOTE: Deadly Friend is now available to rent on multiple platforms.
Starring: Matthew Laborteaux, Kristy Swanson, Michael Sharrett, Anne Twomey, Richard Marcus, and Anne Ramsey. Directed by: Wes Craven.
Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!