Wes Craven has a way of really messing with my head. I love the dude, but some of his less talked about movies often confound me when I get around to seeing them. Case in point: Deadly Friend. Just the synopsis for the film sounded a little out of the realm of what Mr. Craven is usually involved with. So then I had to wonder, what kind of Craven film was this going to be?
Teenager Paul is a genius who has built himself an artificial intelligence robot named BB. He and his mother move to a new town where Paul can continue his studies of robots and their connection to how the human brain works. He soon becomes friends with fellow teen Tom, and is immediately infatuated with his sweet but troubled next door neighbor Samantha. And when both BB and Sam meet with tragic fates, Paul uses his skills to save his friend - with deadly consequences.
I completely enjoyed Deadly Friend for what it was, even if at times I couldn't actually figure out what it was. Earlier scenes make the film look like a sweet story about a boy and his robot; then it becomes some whacky sci-fi/science-gone-wrong thing; then it's about a teenage robot-zombie girl on a murder spree. But the tone is all wrong, or at least wrong from what you think it would be. The film has a strange plot that should be easy to make fun of, but despite the fact that there are some funny moments, the tone of the film is not that comedic. Instead it is a pretty sad and heartbreaking movie that really takes itself seriously.
Kristy Swanson is a dear whom I will always love because she is and always will be the original Buffy Summers. And here in Deadly Friend she is surprisingly just as impressive, though at times her performance comes dangerously close to being way too campy. As the nice, beautiful girl with a depressing home life, her physical appearance and demeanor fit the character perfectly. She even has some nice touches of comedy in there that are so quick you might miss them. Swanson also does a wonderful job when she is in her zombie state, and this is where she could have made the most mistakes. Her unblinking eyes, and stiff movements are stereotypical of how one would think you would act if you were trying to be a robot but somehow Swanson makes it work - even the strange Spock-like way she holds her fingers to resemble BB's robot hands.
Deadly Friend arrived just two years after Craven did A Nightmare on Elm Street, and there are definitely parts where you can see the studio's influence on Craven to make Deadly Friend more "Nightmare-like." There are a few very odd dream sequences in the film, the first being one that Sam has about her father. He comes into her room at night, hovering over her bed (possibly implying some sort of sexual interest in her), and starts berating and almost hurting her, and Sam fights back by stabbing him with a broken vase. His body then proceeds to squirt a huge amount of blood all over poor Sam as she is screaming while getting ever more drenched - and the audience isn't sure if they should be amused or horrified.
Another dream sequence is quite clearly in reference to Nightmare on Elm Street. After Sam has killed... um, somebody
(resisting spoilers is hard), Paul must dispose of the body. Later on that night, Paul dreams of a strange round object moving around under the covers. When he pulls back the blanket, the round thing is the burnt head of Sam's victim, and the body comes out of the mattress and is just about to attack Paul when he wakes up. The reference is obvious and fun for Nightmare fans, but I wonder how it played out for audiences who had just seen the first Nightmare only two years prior.
Of course, one cannot talk about Deadly Friend without mentioning the word "basketball." Watch the video below to find out why. And if you already know why, I'm pretty sure you wouldn't mind seeing it again:
That's definitely a movie moment where you have to either stop or rewind the flick because you're too busy almost dying with laughter. As a scene that comes completely out of left field from what we have so far come to expect in this movie, it is a more than welcome surprise - even if it doesn't particularly fit with the rest of the rather tame killings in the film. The fact the victim in question is the great Anne Ramsey also makes this a standout sequence.
One that that seemed wrong about the plot was how Paul made absolutely no attempt to hide or safeguard his new zombie friend. I thought right away that the most obvious place for her was in the attic, as the access was right there in Paul's bedroom, but for some stupid reason he doesn't do that, at least not right away. He first hides her in the garden shed, without locking the door or anything - a place where his mother could easily run into her and almost does. I thought this kid was some kind of genius or something?
I also didn't particularly care for the shock ending, even though it is left a little open to interpretation that this could be a dream sequence as well. The first ending was sad enough and brought the story to the right conclusion, so this shock ending was really not needed. All in all, I can't seem to help the fact that I really liked Deadly Friend. It walks a fine line between B-movie stupidity and a genuinely well-told tale, and I guess if anybody could pull that off, it would be my man Wes Craven.