J's Review of Deadly Friend
Deadly Friend is a 1986 supernatural science fiction romantic comedy-drama horror thriller slasher film directed by Wes Craven, written by Bruce Joel Rubin, loosely based on the novel "Friend" by Diana Henstell, and starring Matthew Laborteaux, Kristy Swanson, Michael Sharrett, Anne Twomey, Richard Marcus, Anne Ramsey, Charles Fleischer, Lee Paul, and Russ Marin.
Deadly Friend involves Paul, played by Matthew Laborteaux, a teenage science genius who relocates to the town of Welling with his mom Jeannie, played by Anne Twomey, and his robot buddy BB, voiced by Charles Fleischer. While adjusting to his new home, he becomes friends with paperboy Tom, played by Michael Sharrett. He also falls in love with the girl next door, Samantha, played by Kristy Swanson.
Samantha, unfortunately, has an abusive alcoholic father Harry, played by Richard Marcus, who savagely beats her, almost nearly to death. While Paul spends quality time with BB, Sam, and Tom, BB gets shot to death one night by crazy, paranoid neighbor bitch Elvira Parker, played by the late great Anne Ramsey. Also, Harry beats Sam and pushes her down the stairs, which causes her to get brain damage. Sam then dies and Paul re-animates her back to life with BB's microchip. However, he realizes he's created a terrifying monster.
Now, let me just talk about the history of the film's production before I talk about the film itself. Wes Craven made this movie right after he hit it big with A Nightmare on Elm Street. This was his first film made by a major Hollywood studio. Craven wanted to make this film gentler in tone than his other films. What he wanted to do with the film was what John Carpenter wanted to do with Starman.
Craven and the studios chose Jacob's Ladder and Ghost screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin to adapt Diana Henstell's beautiful horror love story into a script. When the script was finished and the casting was complete, filming began. After it was finished, Warner Bros. executives screened the film to a private screening with the audience mainly consisting of Wes Craven fanboys. All the audience wanted was blood, guts, and gore.
The then president of the studio, Mark Tappin, discovered Craven's popularity as a horror filmmaker. So Wes decided to make up one nightmare scene and then add it into the film. It later became the big hit at the screening. But then, Warner Bros. decided to add more gore. They told Craven to add to the deaths of a few people, add a couple gory dream sequences, add an opening jump scare, and add a new closing scene. They forced Rubin to write those scenes into the script.
It was at that point when Warner Bros. took the film away from Craven and Rubin. The two virtually disowned it. 1986 was a painful year for Wes Craven. At the time, he was going through a pretty rough divorce and he had to settle a case in court where some fuckhead claimed to have written A Nightmare on Elm Street, even though Craven himself wrote it and nobody else did.
As if production couldn't get any worse, there were seven or eight producers on set who each had their own idea of what the film should be like. There was also post-production re-shoots and re-editing when Warner Bros. decided to release this film as fast-paced horror instead of a sci-fi thriller that focuses on a dark, macabre, romantic love story. Also, the film had to be cut and submitted to the MPAA thirteen times before it could receive an R rating. Plus, the horrendous ending was the nonsensical idea of Mark Tappin.
In fact, in the theatrical trailer for the movie, there was a line where Sam says "You're so cute." to Paul and we get a couple clips of Anne Ramsey's original death scene, which involved Sam grabbing her from behind and slamming her through her front door, neither of which were in the movie. The studio made it look Elm Street redux considering the mixture of teens and horror. No frame of BB was in the trailer and I'm in awe that the creepy lullaby music isn't part of the soundtrack.
Okay, now since we got that out of the way, let's move on to the movie itself. How is it? Well, Deadly Friend will always hold a special place in my heart. It was one of the first horror movies I ever saw as a kid and I think it's a criminally underrated entry in Wes Craven's filmography. Does it have problems? Well, yeah. But I still really enjoy this movie.
Wes Craven does a decent job directing the film. Bruce Joel Rubin's screenplay features some pretty good dialogue here and there. The acting is great. Matthew Laborteaux and Kristy Swanson are incredibly likeable as Paul and Sam. Swanson gives a very sweet, innocent, compassionate, and vulnerable performance as Sam. Laborteaux is very convincing and believable as Paul. We feel for them and we care about them. We're on their side.
Michael Sharrett is the conscience and the comic relief of the film. When he fainted when he saw Samantha's leg moving after she was brought back to life, I was laughing pretty damn hard. Anne Twomey is really caring as Jeannie. Richard Marcus doesn't do a bad job playing Harry, but I really don't like the way the character was written. He just comes across as an underdeveloped bore, something that he wasn't in the book. Anne Ramsey's performance also stands out. She's brilliant at playing mean old ladies.
Charles Bernstein's score is absolutely fantastic. It really matches the tone of the film. My favorite track would have to be the main title music. Philip Lathrop's cinematography was decent for the time, but doesn't really hold up well today. Daniel A. Lomino's set designs really do echo A Nightmare on Elm Street's set designs, which Craven was apparently going for with the set designs of this movie. Unfortunately, Michael Eliot's editing is quite choppy to say the least.
But the absolute the best thing about this movie is--say it with me, folks--the legendary basketball death scene. Does it have terrible effects? Yes. Was it unnecessary? Yes. Could you take it out of the film? Yes. Would it not affect the continuity of the film? Yes. But this scene is fucking ingenious. It first starts off as irritating, then it's shit-your-pants scary and disturbing, and then it ends with a truly hilarious pay-off. Say what you will, but you can't deny that this is just beyond epic.
Then, we get to the bad shit. While the scene I mentioned in the above paragraph is truly awesome, it's still fucking stupid as fuck. For example, why would Anne Ramsey just stand there screaming instead of dodging the basketball? How is Sam able to grow super-strength because of the microchip? How is the force of the basketball able to make Anne Ramsey's head explode on impact?
Why does she walk around in circles and make death gurgles after being decapitated? Why would Sam kill her using the basketball instead of the shotgun Ramsey used to shoot BB? I get the association with the basketball, but the shotgun would've made more sense and would've tied things up much better. Hell, in the book, Sam killed her by drowning her in her bathtub.
As I said before, Harry is a completely one-dimensional bore. In the book, while we don't sympathize with him, we understand his torment. In the book, his wife left him for another man and that causes the rage inside him. The rage makes him bitter and he projects his anger out on Sam. In the movie, he's just abusive for the sake of being abusive.
The relationship between Paul and Sam ends before it even begins and some scenes lack character development. In fact, I saw dozens of pictures of lobby cards that depict several deleted scenes from the movie, including Paul and Sam having a picnic, Paul and Sam sitting on a porch with Sam holding a toy animal that's a gift from Paul, and Paul kneeling next to Sam in the hospital after she gets unplugged from life support among many others. They're not in the movie because of post-production re-editing.
And here's my major gripe: the fucking ridiculous ending. Paul visits Sam in the morgue, feeling guilt for bringing her back to life. Samantha transforms into a human version of BB and breaks Paul's neck. According to the IMDb message boards, this scene can be explained in three ways.
Explanation #1: Samantha grows stronger throughout the movie (after she gets the chip implanted in her brain) because the chip also slowly transforms her into a half-human, half-machine creature. She kills Paul because her human mind is officially gone and all that remains in her mind are memory glimpses of her old life, which is why she says "Come with me, Paul." before she kills him.
Explanation #2: Samantha is dead, but just for a short time, she returns as some sort of a ghost or maybe even a demonic entity because she wants Paul to come with her into the afterlife so she takes care of that by breaking his neck. Her transformation is not physical but instead supernatural. After she takes Paul, all that's left in morgue are their bodies in their normal condition which means that hers isn't actually transformed.
Explanation #3 (the one most fans of this movie tend to go with): It was all a nightmare that Paul has because he feels guilty for what happened to Samantha after he brought her back.
You can interpret this scene any way you want. That doesn't change the fact that this ending doesn't even attempt to make sense. It's so fucking stupid. It makes a basketball that is able to explode heads look like a theory conjured up by Stephen Hawking by comparison. From what I've heard, the producers wanted a cheap shock ending. This film really should've ended with Sam dying again in Paul's arms.
In Craven's original cut of the movie, instead of getting shot, Sam gets help and so does Paul. In the book, Sam and Paul run away from the police and Sam hugs Paul. Thinking she's trying to kill him, Paul pushes her into the river only to realize Sam wants Paul to come with her. Paul even says "So this is what love comes to." and jumps into the river to be with Sam in oblivion while the police are in hot pursuit.
This ending was fantastic and wrapped things up beautifully. If you're going to make the ending different from the book, then you need to have it make at least a shred of sense and have it be relevant to the fucking plot of this movie. But did they do that? No. This is what happens when studio execs think they're filmmakers. Too many cooks in the kitchen spoil the broth.
FINAL SCORE: 7.5/10
Despite a lot of problems, Deadly Friend succeeds due to its likeable main characters, a decent script, good performances, one of the most awesome death scenes in film history, and the film itself being campy, bloody, entertaining fun. It's not a terrible adaptation of the novel, but it's certainly not a good one either. I really hope we get to see the original cut someday with the deleted and alternate footage.
In fact, there's a petition online to get Shout!/Scream Factory to release a two-disc special 30th anniversary collector's edition Blu-ray/DVD combo pack of the film that includes the theatrical cut and the original director's cut. Here's the link: http://www.change.org/petitions/shout-scream-factory-release-deadly-friend-director-s-cut-on-blu-ray-dvd-2. Please sign it.