Deadly Friend is one of those movies that could easily fly under the radar, given the surplus of famous films that we flocked to in the mid-80s. But it has something of a Made for-TV charm to it that puts it among Wes Craven’s most underrated efforts. A mix of science fiction, cheese, and heart, Deadly Friend is one of those films that deserves more eyes to behold it. As it turns thirty five this month after its release on October 10, 1986, let’s take a look at why it’s such a resonating piece of art.
Deadly Friend was written by Bruce Joel Rubin (Ghost 1990), based on the novel, Friend, by Diana Henstell (in her only film credit) and directed by the incomparable Wes Craven (The Nightmare On Elm Street franchise, The People Under The Stairs 1991 – read our interview with actor Yan Birch here).
The film follows loner genius Paul (Matthew Labyorteaux: Pokemon TV series 2012) who builds himself an interactive robot friend. He has instant chemistry with Samantha (Kristy Swanson: Buffy The Vampire Slayer 1992) who gets abused (and eventually killed) by her alcoholic father. To revive Samantha, Paul puts his robot’s brain into Sam’s body, and a chaotic game ensues. Paul must spend his time trying to hide Samantha and keeping her emotions in check as the brain chip goes haywire.
For starters, every character feels well carved out. Paul and Samantha are instantly real and empathetic, and even the robot, BB, is incredibly likable. All the antagonists give you ample reason to wait for the impending slaughter. The acting is fun and engaging from top to bottom. And even the undertones of a love story between Paul and Sam make you root for some kind of human-to-robot happy ending.
Deadly Friend does a lot of genre bending, but the blend of horror, sci-fi, and comedy all feels like it’s placed appropriately. This film was initially made as a gore-free love story, but test audiences clamored for the violence that was synonymous with past Craven classics. The additions gave us some nice moments of blood and revenge, including an infamous exploding head basketball kill.
Deadly Friend is shot with a style and a set of locations that make you feel like it could take place right next door to you. There’s no pretentiousness in the setting or characters, which makes it simple to insert yourself into the lives of what you see on screen. The score also has a bit of a bellowing undertone, which sets the stage for a climactic ending and a memorable setup for a sequel (that sadly never came). For all of the movies like Scream and A Nightmare On Elm Street that Wes Craven made, there are also a ton of films like this and Summer Of Fear that often get overlooked. As we appreciate Mr. Craven’s contributions this Halloween season, this one is worth a re-watch many times over.