So a week or two back I watched Wes Craven’s 1986 smash comedy Deadly Friend in which a robot gains sentient life and tarts running around with Lt. Mahoney from the Police Academy films. Oh, wait a second…sorry…that was Short Circuit (which was not directed by Wes Craven). No, Deadly Friend is Wes Craven’s second film after a Nightmare on Elm Street (in between he made a sequel to the Hills have Eyes and a couple TV movies).
Is it a return to the chills of a Nightmare on Elm Street? Read on for more (and spoilers).
The quick answer is “no.” Deadly Friend is incredibly lacking in scares and general chills. Basically, it tells about a teen genius named Paul (Matthew Laborteaux from Little House On the Prairie) who moves with his mother to a new city (the “child of divorce” seems to be a recurring motif for Craven). He also brings along the robot he built. The robot has a learning brain, that Paul designed, and Paul references A.I. He’s even named it BB (voiced by Charles Fleischer-yes, the voice of Roger Rabbit). Paul and BB quickly make friends with the town geek (Tom, played by Michael Sharrett) and the first girl to play Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Kristy Swanson (but her character is named Samantha).
Sam has a father who is incredibly strict and unkind, and the film more than hints that he is both sexually and physically assaulting his daughter. We also get introduced to the mean old woman on the block…Elvira (played by an actress who had made a career of playing overbearing and mean old ladies- most notably in Goonies and Throw Mama From the Train-Anne Ramsey. However, I will remember her most affectionately as the kind but delusional woman at the shelter in Scrooged who believes Bill Murray is Richard Burton).
And so on Halloween the three friends take BB out trick or treating. They all decide to pick the lock on Elvira’s fence and play ding-dong-ditch (those rascally teens!. But when Buffy, sorry…when SAM gets to the door it sets off alarms. While the kids hide, BB glides towards the house and Elvira blows him apart with her shotgun. Strike one at Paul’s sanity.
Another night, Sam is confronted by her father and falls down the stairs, the fall is apparently enough to put her in a coma. This is blow number two to Paul’s sanity. Paul gets an idea and gets Tom to help him sneak into the hospital in which Paul performs brain surgery (!) on Sam, putting BB’s computer chip brain into hers (the film does explain he has tried this with rats and found success). I assume you can see where this is headed, right?
So, Paul sneaks Sam home, first hiding her in a shed. She now moves rigidly like a movie robot, arms outstretch and contorted hands. Why this would happen makes no sense, and the logic seems to be that if she has a computer chip in her brain, she will move and see things like a robot might. This makes no real sense, her body is still human.
Well, Paul quickly learns the folly of keeping the girl you have a crush on who you placed a computer chip in her head in a shed. She goes next door and scares the crap out of her dad. Then she shoves his head in the furnace. So Paul decides it would be better to lock her in the attic. This of course does not work, as the chip apparently gives her super-strength. In one of the most “you have got to be kidding” deaths in film history, Sam throws a basketball at Elvira’s head-which makes it explode (her head, not the basketball).
The cops are looking around, but apparently the cops in this town do not have new fangled technology like…you know…finger print dusters. Paul finally accepts something is wrong with Sam when she starts trying to hurt him, his mother and friends. By that point she has run away and started to chant “BB.” It does not really make sense why her voice would sound just like the robot that was shot up by Elvira. But logic is not a priority here.
At the end, we get Sam fighting between her human self and the chip. This is shown to the audience by seeing things from her perspective-switching from a clear image to a pixel based image over and over. And when she sees “clearly” she talks like Sam. So the cops shoot her.
The final scene really makes no sense. Paul sneaks into the morgue the night before the autopsy. He opens up her freezer and looks upon her face. Her eyes open and Paul gets excited…until she grabs him and her skin melts off revealing a robot underneath. Seriously? There is no evidence that this is a dream or anything. So you can’t tell if it’s a nightmare or really happening.
It’s those little touches that make a film work and allow us to suspend our disbelief. And the film lacks the little touches to allow that. The kids are not believable in a way that the audience can connect to them. The film is a mess, and one of Craven’s bigger missteps.
Shockingly this is based on a book. Wait, why is that shocking? The literary world pumps out just as much crap as Hollywood. Of course, i have not read the book. Maybe it has all the stuff the film was lacking. Anyone reading this read the book? Is anyone reading this?
Posted in: Movies