Retro Film Report #27: Deadly Friend

Note: This review contains spoilers.  Here's the first spoiler - Deadly Friend is the most batshit crazy movie I have ever seen.  Wes Craven has disowned it, claiming it started out as a worthy project and disintegrated into a blinding mess of historic proportions.  Multiple producers and multiple changes before and after test audiences booed it, turned this would-be family friendly fantasy movie into a schizoid bii-polar mess that is crazier than a shit-house rat.

But it's not crazy in good way - like say Dr. Strangelove.  No, it's the bad kind of crazy - the kind where you wish you'd done something productive with yourself instead of wasting your life watching movies like Deadly Friend.  But, given the fact that it is among the most insanely awful movies I've ever seen in four plus decades of life, I felt I had to share...

Let me introduce you to the genius/complete idiot Paul who has just moved to a new town with his single mother.  He's not only teaching brain surgery at the local college, he's also invented the world's first artificial intelligence.  (You'll perhaps recognize Paul as Albert from Little House on the Prairie).

And wouldn't you know it - the worlds first artificial intelligence is more annoying than any creature that has ever lived.  It's name is "BB"; and by god, I wanted to destroy this thing within the first few minutes it was on screen.  It's like the Short Circuit robot.... but a whole lot more abrasive.

It's voiced by Charles Fleischer, the guy behind Roger Rabbit.  Of course, Retrospacers will know him from his Welcome Back, Kotter days.  BB sounds like a mumbling Cartman from South Park with a twist of Roger Rabbit.  He never shuts up and none of his words are comprehensible.  His manic tittering will forever haunt my dreams.

A great drinking game to play would be to chug a beer every time someone says "BB".  You will be having your stomach pumped in the first fifteen minutes.

But here's the strangest thing about this movie: you can see Wes Craven's original embryonic movie in the beginning, and it seems like your standard 1980s family sci-fi comedy in the vein of Short Circuit or E.T.  There's absolutely nothing to indicate that this will turn into a gory horror movie.  I kept waiting for Steve Gutenberg to walk on screen.

And speaking of the 1980's - it's got the old lady from the "Where's the Beef" commercials and Throw Mama from the Train.  She plays their mean neighbor, Elvira (who I secretly was routing for). I quietly said a prayer that she would blow away all the kids and BB with that shotgun.  My wish was partially granted.... but that's for later.

Paul and his nerd buddy, Tom, are soon bullied by the town hooligans.  They're ruffians because they wear sunglasses and sport butt-cuts.  It simply wouldn't be an eighties movie without nerds and their tormentors.

Another bizarre aspect of this movie is that no one seems particularly impressed with the robot.  It should be the headline across the globe, an invention of no little significance in the history of mankind... yet people don't seem remotely interested.

Naturally, BB pays the bullies back in full by twisting the head bully's scrotum.  Still, the movie is well in PG rated territory, if not G.

Later that day, Paul meets up with his neighbor, Samantha (who he instantly falls awkwardly in love with).  She's played by Kristy Swanson, who'd later become the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  Swanson is one of the few people associated with this film who has not totally disowned it.

Turns out, Samantha has an abusive, alcoholic douche bag father.  Again, I silently was in his corner, and said a quiet prayer that he would kill all these annoying kids, especially BB.  My wish was partially granted... but that's for later.

And this marks the beginning of the movie's real descent into madness.  Up until this point, as I've mentioned, it has all the makings of a family friendly movie.  Then Samantha goes home and her sweaty rapey dad starts violating her personal space.  She busts a flower vase and stabs him with it in the gut and blood sprays all over her.  What the hell happened to this family friendly movie?!

Okay, so it turns out it was just a dream - but still.  Evidently, when this film did poorly in front of test audiences, they added some over-the-top gore that seems completely out of rhythm with the rest of the movie.

Cut to the gang (Paul, Tom, Sam, and BB) playing basketball.  THIS SCENE DEMANDS VIEWING.  It is so obvious that Paul (actor Matthew Labyorteaux) has never touched a basketball in his life.  He jumps around like a spritely little pixie - hopping, giggling, etc.  It is so unbelievably awkward.  According to IMDb, Matthew was born with a hole in his heart - maybe this prevented him from ever playing basketball.  If so, that makes this scene a whole lot less funny.

It turns out to be a critical scene, too.  The basketball lands in Elvira's yard (thanks to the shitty BB) and she keeps it.  Why is this critical?  Oh, you'll see.

Now it's Halloween and the the four are out trick-or-treating. Paul is sporting his generic college shirt, and, as usual, no one on the streets seem to care about the effing robot. For some reason, Sam is the only one dressed up (as an ancient Greek?).

So, Sam has the bright idea to get the basketball back from Elvira; however, m'lady comes out with her shotgun a'blazin'.

And guess what? She blows away BB!  Yes, like Janet Leigh in Psycho, the main character is killed halfway through.  And when I say she blows away BB, I mean multiple rounds to the point where BB is nothing but a twisted pile of burnt metal.  My favorite part of the movie by far.

Things escalate quickly at this point. Sam's rapey alcoholic dad manages to push her down the stairs. She winds up a vegetable and they pull the plug on her life support at 9:00 PM that evening.

Why do I specify the time? Well, Paul and his nerd friend, Tom, have a plan.  And by "plan" I mean "the most retarded idea ever conceived."

Their plan is to steal Sam's vegetable body from the hospital before they pull the plug at 9.  To do this, they have to drug Paul's mother.  Yes, for some inexplicable reason, they must drug his mother.  I mean, for chrissakes, wouldn't just have been easier to say you were going to Tom's house? Is really necessary to sprinkle white powder in your mother's coffee in order to sneak out?

Now it's time to play Doogie Houser and operate on this chick.  Unfortunately, they didn't make it in time; they'd already pulled the plug.  But not to fear, Paul plants BB's microchip in her brain and has a handy remote control to get this girl back in action!

Next, Paul and his nerd friend transport the Sam's corpse to his garage and leave her there for safe keeping. What could go wrong?

For starters, Sam's reanimated corpse with the "brain" of BB kills her father by stuffing his face into the incinerator.  The gore effects here are pretty gruesome, and this was one of the scenes that had to be cut in order to achieve an R rating.  AN R RATING!  This went from freaking Short Circuit to almost X Rated level gore!

But let's pause for a moment and take a look at Sam/BB for a moment.  She looks exactly the same except (1) she has some rather flattering blue eye-shadow and (2) she does this weird thing with her hands - sort of a Mork "Nanoo Nanoo" gesture.  I'll also mention she moves like Michael Jackson to "Dancing Machine", but like an awkward white chick.

Now we come to the defining moment of the film.  The scene that everyone was talking about in 1986.  Perhaps the biggest "holy shit" moment in cinema.  The scene that will have you asking yourself "Did that really just happen?"

Sam/BB goes to Elvira's house, picks up the basketball and throws it at her face..... which EXPLODES like a pinata of blood and brains.  Her headless body then flails around squirting blood from the point of decapitation.  It's gratuitous, insane, out-of-nowhere, and completely implausible.  I saw this movie when I was 17 in the theaters.  Upon re-viewing, I didn't remember a single damn thing except this scene.  It stuck with me for over 25 years.

Everything is anti-climax from here.  How can you possibly follow a scene like that?  Basically, it ends with a generic police standoff.  Just when it seemed like Sam was losing her demonic BB side, the police gun her down. (sob)

And perhaps, the movie should have just ended there.  But no, they had add one more freaking insane scene to cap things off.

I guess Paul figured it was worth one more go.  If at first you don/t succeed... nevermind the fact that his last scheme resulted in multiple deaths.  Paul is nothing if not persistent.

So, in the final scene we find Paul in another generic college shirt ready to give it another try at the morgue.

Then suddenly Sam starts strangling him and her skin melts away into a kind of evil BB.  (You may want to read that sentence again.)  How in the name of all that is holy this could have happened is beyond me. How could she have turned into a robot with human skin?  How, HOW, HOW???

Wes Craven has no answers.  He did say he was going through a messy divorce at the time.  Plus, he was being sued thirty million dollars for stealing the idea of a previous film.  Needless to say, he was stressed out and pissed.  And maybe just maybe that's all the explanation we need.


  1. A well done review.

    But I do have to admit I have a certain enjoyment for this strange little mess of a film.

    I wonder if it would be more fondly remembered if not for the final 'shocker' ending.

  2. I really need to see this movie.

  3. I believe this movie was the inspiration for "Small Wonder".

    1. When I went to enter the comment above the computer asked "Please prove you're not a robot". It knows... it knows!

  4. I saw this in the theater opening night and all I can remember is the basketball scene and my friends walking around the rest of the evening saying, "BB... BB... BB!"

    1. Saw it on Showtime, late Friday night and we all did the BB thing also. Besides the basketball scene it WAS the only memorable part to this move.

  5. Thankyou! I had the poster for this film on the wall of our 'den' for years (we'd asked the local video hire shop for posters to decorate it with) but had never actually seen it. Now i'm really glad as 25 years of being haunted by basketballs sounds like too much for anyone to bear ;-)
    Incidentally the poster i recall was Sam with those blue eyes, hair blowing from the open window (revealing a full moon?) behind her, staring at us, the viewer, with menace!

  6. It's like an Afterschool Special… from Hell.

  7. AnonymousMay 13, 2013

    Clara Peller was the "Where's the Beef" lady. Not Anne Ramsey.

  8. This is a really fun film. I reviewed on my blog a few months ago, and posted a bunch of screencaps of it, too. The cartoonish ultra-violent gore effects don't fit in with the rest of the movie at all, but that just adds to the disjointed charm of it. If Wes Craven had been given free reign to do the film the way he wanted, it could have been something really special , but as it is, it's still an oddball cult classic.

  9. Craven has made more crappy than good movies; PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS, anyone? THE HILLS HAVE EYES, PART 2? SWAMP THING? I was never afraid of Freddie, either - always thought he was more comic booky than scary. I did like NEW NIGHTMARE somewhat, though, and the first SCREAM. But most of Craven's movies have an amateurish quality to them. Is this a SHOCKER to anyone?

    Kristy Swanson was really cute but, man, she couldn't act her way out of a paper bag back then. Remember her 'performance' in FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC? Ick. She improved as she got older, and I like her, but I was always disappointed that Joss Whedon never pulled a "Dawn" and had Swanson's Buffy cross over into the Gellar universe as Buffy's older sister from a parallel universe - that would have been epic as they competed against one another for the mantle of 'the Chosen One.' Oh, well, it was never meant to be. CURSE YOU, BB, for killing her with your robotic BB gun! Bitty-Bitty-Bitty! Wait, that's what Twiki used to say on Buck Rogers.

  10. I've probably re-read this review four times now and it makes me laugh out loud every damn time. Well done.