When the Girl of Your Dreams Thinks Like an EVIL Robot! “Deadly Friend” reviewed! (Blu-ray / Shout Factory)



Whiz kid Paul Conway, along with his mother and artificial intelligence robot creation called BB, move to a new house to be close to Poly Tech where the teenage prodigy begins research study on the human brain.  Paul quickly befriends Tom, the local paperboy, and cute neighbor Samantha, aka Sam, that evolves into more than just friendship, but when Sam’s abusive father kills her and BB is blow to smithereens by a cruel, paranoid neighbor over the holiday season, a distraught Paul begs his friend Tom to assist him in a radical resurrection to save Sam by implanting BB’s A.I. chip into Samantha’s brain.  The long shot surgery pays off and Sam is awake and moving around automatonlike, but the thoughts and feelings of Sam and BB blend and the hatred toward their killers feeds into the need of grisly revenge.

Wes Craven.  Every genre fan upon hearing his name goes through an euphoric reliving in seeing one of his films for the first time.  For most that film is “A Nightmare on Elm Street” with Robert Englund starring as the fedora-sporting, dream killer Freddy Krueger  who wears a glove with finger knives.  Krueger has been and still is one of the most iconic and memorable villains ever in horror since Krueger’s from Craven’s nightmare-to-cinema creation in 1984.  Fast forward two years later, Craven hops at the chance to make a studio film with Warner Bros.  A film that’s polar different from “ANOES” with a touching, PG-rated macabre, science fiction coming of age story based off the Diana Henstell novel entitled “Friend” with an adapted script by Bruce Joel Rubin who went on to pen “Ghost” and “Jacob’s Ladder” a few years later.  After test screenings, the studio began to meddle, urging, if not demanding, Craven add horrific violence to the intensity lighter story thus turning “Friend” into “Deadly Friend” with a blender hacked story that failed at the box office during the Halloween season nonetheless.  Pan Arts/Layton serves as the production companies with Warner Bros presenting “Deadly Friend” under the studio’s banner.

At the center of the story are two star-crossed teens in the midst of adolescent flirtation.  Eyes glued to one another, but separated by the cruel whims of a drunken father, are Paul, “The Little House on the Prairie” star Matthew Labyorteaux and Samantha, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” feature star Kristy Swanson.  While not overly smoochy between Paul and Sam, the then teenage youngsters sell the affectionate tension between them with depth in their performances.  Yet, the Swanson’s post-surgery mechanical movements are terribly rudimentary and cheesy, turning the studio warranted violent exploration of youth and morbid Sci-Fi cybernetics story into the laughing stock of the already inanely entertaining killer robotic subgenre.  Without the studio intervened violence and gory edits, I could not envision Craven and Rubin’s touching story between Paul and his desperation creation to cure his broken-hearted affection for both his robot and the girl next door.  By far the best principle role is Tom, played by Michael Sharrett (“Savage Dawn”) who really plays into that Craven and Rubin softer vision with a bit of well-timed comedy.  As a character, Tom’s always falling or fainting in some capacity and deliveries some great one-liners that jazz up the lightheartedness of “Deadly Friend’s” more macabre stance.  Big names and distinguish faces fill rather unexpected cameos, such as “The Goonies” Anne Ramsey as a paranoid recluse who blows away BB in a Halloween mischief gone wrong, as well as Roger Rabbit voice actor Charles Fleisher as BB.  “Deadly Friend” routs out with Anne Twomey (“The Imagemaker”), Richard Marcus (“Tremors”), Lee Paul, and Russ Marin (“The Dark”).

I know Warner Bros. swallowed the original intent of “Friend,” chewed it with the purpose to add crowd-pleasing violence and gore, and spat out an game-changing “Deadly Friend” totally going against the wishes of the cast and crew, but losing that more tender creativity of an undead romance narrative wasn’t put out to pasture in vain.  Infamy and a semi-cult status long after release came out of the hellish mixed-bag of critically panning spitfire and the disownment of the film’s creators.  One particular scene, involving a basketball and an explosion of head goo, is definitely one of the more rememberable and well executed kill scenes of the era.  As a whole, “Deadly Friend” rests in ridiculous peace as many viewers will watch, digest, and come to some kind of self-compromising understanding on Craven’s misadventure and will relinquish to the fact that the film has a place in his repertoire of work.  Yet, dicey editing and pacing issues suggests a heavily edited film and trying to surmise how “Friend” would have been perceived in studio unmolested form is nearly impossible given the already bizarre sci-fi narrative subject matter.  What I found more interesting is Craven essentially sticking it to the studio’s request for violence and gore by rehashing much of “A Nightmare on Elm Street” into “Deadly Friend’s” framework with the intense dream sequences, a giant furnace-boiler room, a severely burned man’s face, and even a few shots of a blond Kristy Swanson garbed in white has a familiar Amanda Weise skin.  Overly compressed and subsequently reworked to appease audiences, “Deadly Friend” is no friend at all on a “Re-Animator” or insert man-in-machine horror parallel dipped into a “Short Circuit” coating that plainly suffers from outside interference resulting in a neutralized effect.   

You’ll never have a friend like “Deadly Friend” now on a collector’s edition Blu-ray from Scream Factory, a subsidiary of Shout Factory!  The rated R film has a runtime of 90 minutes and is presented on a 1080p High-Definition, region A Blu-ray in a widescreen 1.85: aspect ratio from a new 2K scan of the interpositive 35mm film.  Without much criticism, the virtually undamaged transfer refreshes previous releases for high-definition aficionados with a palatable amount of grain and the details are clearly discernable.  Colors looks good too between the natural skin tones and the range in contrasts, providing new life into Philip H. Lathrop’s (“Lolly-Madonna XXX”) two-toned atmospheric cinematography.  The English language DTS-HD Master Audio Mono track is equally as pleasant with clear and clean soundtrack unobstructed by damage or static.  No issues with the dialogue as well in another testament to Shout Factory’s attention to the audiophile-appreciated fidelity.  Optional English SDH subtitles are available.  Special features include new interviews with Kristy Swanson and writer Bruce Joel Rubin who go into rigorous details about the Studio’s interception as well as working with their cast and crew mates.  There are also new interviews with composer Charles Bernstein and special make up effects artist Lance Anderson.  The theatrical trailer rounds out the special features.  “Deadly Friend’s” tech-horror with a twist is about as deep as the brain of a toaster oven replacing your girlfriend’s father submissive and overly meek brain, but the new Scream Factory collector’s edition is absolute perfection.

Wes Craven’s “Deadly Friend” now on a Collector’s Edition Blu-ray!

When Music Videos Go EVIL! “The Backlot Murders” reviewed! (Dark Force Entertainment and Code Red / Blu-ray)


After a night of drinking that ends in breaking a bottle over the bar owner’s head, a struggling and internally conflicted rock band kicks out the cancerously unhinged and troublesome member before their rise to stardom. Unfortunately, all the talent went out door along with the excommunicated band member, forcing the band to impress with an extravagant music video shot on Universal’s iconic backlot, sponsored by their agent and the lead singer’s girlfriend’s music mogul father. Instead of intense pyrotechnics and scantily cladded female groupies dancing on their crotch, the band, their girlfriends, and the crew find themselves caught in the gloomy, labyrinth-like movie lot, housing spooky interior and exterior sets, unaware the lurking murderous manic taking them out one-by-one.

By far a polar opposite polished genre film than the sadistically raw brutal rape and murder extravaganza that was “Chaos,” writer and director David “The Demon” DeFalco dabbles in the early 2000’s revival of the slasher genre with his 2002 released feature “The Backlot Murders” in the wake of the widespread success of the “Scream” franchise. In much of the same way “Chaos” came to fruition derived from “Last House on the Left,” DeFalco, once again, finds inspiration in the form of cult horror director Wes Craven. However, DeFalco strays away from the meta-horror and trope-reversal techniques and replaces it with a satirical façade of the music industry where glam is more important than meaningful substance. The slasher-comedy carves up nods to Van Halen, Pearl Jam, Aerosmith, and even Elvis Presley with a horrendously skewed mask version the killer wears. “The Backlot Murders” were co-written by Paul Arensburg and Steven Jay Bernheim with the latter writer serving also as co-producer with DeFalco in association with Dominion Entertainment.

A contributing factor to “Scream’s” success was the diverse in career cast that clicked together as well as twisting archetypical roles into atypical whammy that veered audiences to the edge of their seats. “Scream” shocked audiences with the immediate death of a well-known actress right out of the gate, nabbed “Friends’” star Courteney Cox, “SLC Punk” and “Hackers” actor Matthew Lilliard, teen heartthrob Skeet Urlich, one of the Arquettes with David Arquette, and, perhaps, would have guaranteed Neve Campbell a slab of concrete for the Hollywood Walk of Fame along with an already cemented label as a scream queen and a final girl. The same eclecticism could be transfixed by “The Backlot Murders’” acquisitions but on a more obscure scale with a cast from all walks of life that includes the Roger Rabbit voice actor himself, Charles Fleischer, “Three’s Company” star Priscilla Barnes, 1997’s Playboy Playmate Carrie Stevens, and the late Corey Haim (“The Lost Boys”) as the band’s guitarist in a role that seemed below his fame stature. Most gaps are plugged with interesting characters treated with some backstory buildup that becomes more stagnant than footfall companions in order to get to know them better before their demise, but their persona conductors include Brian Gaskill (“The Bloody Indulgent”), Tom Hallick, Jaime Anstead, Dayton Knoll, Lisa Brucker, Ken Sagoes (“A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors”), LoriDawn Messuri, Angela Little, and Tracy Dali.

“The Backlot Murders” didn’t set out to revolutionize the slasher genre, but only relished in the after success and donned a more satire effort that purposefully retreated back into the conventional tropes to form an entertaining run of sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll gags, but the one thing missing, and it’s a doozy, is the actual killer presence in the film who is treated as an afterthought of slim importance and chucked into a insignificant plot twist that forces DeFalco’s hand to become a routine hack’n’slash lemming. One positive aspect of “The Backlot Murders” is the extremely high body count that produces a continuous stream of nixing off a slew of characters with their own death scenes inside the renowned confines of a Universal backlot backdrop that’s not only good-humored irony but also a sizeable effort by the Bernheim/DeFalco producing team. Yet, despite the high body count, the kills and gore felt sorely uninspired and underwhelming, rehashing into homage death scenes from “Friday the 13th” and “Scream” with a few forgettable approaches to call its own, until DeFalco breaks the damning goreless streak with a gruesome Columbian necktie effect that goes for the throat. I make “The Backlot Murders” seem unenjoyable and heartless when, in fact, the early 2000 slasher-comedy is immensely funny with a Charles Fleisher gold recorded, laugh track amongst the relentless mocking of the music industry from a far in this true to form slasher accessorized with a high body count kill dozer of a villain.

When things are quiet on set, “The Backlot Murders” evoke the slasher spirit on a new-to-Blu Blu-ray release in the U.S. from Dark Force Entertainment and Code Red with MVDVisual handling distribution. The 1080p, hi-def release is presented in an anamorphic widescreen from a brand new 4K scan of the original 35mm negative. The cool contextual colors render nicely amongst the shadowy gloom and foggy backdrop that’s reminiscent of a softly lit late 90’s and early 2000s slasher. The textures are sharper than the Razor Digital DVD release; the tactile feeling of asphalt when a bluish white glow hits the pavement or the gritty backlot sets vibrant with an ominous glow strike powerful chords of a lively presence from the transfer. There doesn’t seem to be any cropping, edge enhancing, or any other manipulation to the transfer present. The English mono track, which leans away from the LFE, has the opposite, lackluster appeal with a single channel blockade that doesn’t project the bands pyrotechnics, the screams of being chased, and settling for limitations on other wide range of girthy resounding audio. However, the dialogue is clear, unobstructed, and in the forefront. Bonus material includes a new audio commentary with director David DeFalco and Code Red’s Banana Man plus three new and very bizarre interviews with Carrie Stevens lingering from effects of the #MeToo movement to making home fudge, with Charles Fleisher and dissociative disorder or madman genius insight, and ending with a fairly regular interview with Brian Gaskill recollecting the film and his career through a tough industry standard. The Fleisher and Gaskill interviews end with a video op with The Demon himself, David DeFalco. “The Backlot Murders” had forefront potential of systemic slasher films of the time period, but pitter-patters for levity and a sweeping kill count that reconstructs the dread into death and comedy.

“The Backlot Murders” on Prime Video!