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.