Deadly Friend (1986)

 

Highlights

  • 1986 Science fiction horror film directed by Wes Craven.
  • Based novel ‘Friend by Diana Henstell
  • Starring Matthew Laborteaux and Kristy Swanson
  • Grossed just over $8m at US Box Office
  • Regarded now as a ‘Modern Cult Classic’

Deadly Friend is a 1986 American science fiction horror film directed by Wes Craven. It is based on the 1985 novel Friend by Diana Henstell, which was adapted for the screen by Bruce Joel Rubin.

Originally, the film was a sci-fi thriller without any graphic scenes, with a bigger focus on plot and character development and a dark love story centering around the two main characters, which were not typical aspects of Craven’s previous films. After Craven’s original cut was shown to a test audience by Warner Bros., the audience criticized the lack of graphic, bloody violence and gore that Craven’s other films included. Warner Bros. executive vice president Mark Canton and the film’s producers then demanded script re-writes and re-shoots, which included filming gorier death scenes and nightmare sequences, similar to the ones from Craven’s previous film, A Nightmare on Elm Street. Due to studio imposed re-shoots and re-editing, the film was drastically altered in post-production, losing much of the original plot and more scenes between characters, while other scenes, including more grisly deaths and a new ending, were added.

In April 2014, an online petition for the release of the original cut was made.

Teenage science genius Paul Conway (Matthew Laborteaux) and his single mother Jeannie (Anne Twomey) move into their new house in the town of Welling. He soon becomes friends with newspaper delivery boy Tom Toomey (Michael Sharrett). Living next door to Paul is the Samantha Pringle (Kristy Swanson) and her abusive, alcoholic father Harry (Richard Marcus). Paul built a robot named BB (Charles Fleischer), which occasionally displays autonomous behavior, such as being protective of Paul. Paul, Jeannie, and BB meet Paul’s professor, Dr. Johanson (Russ Marin), at Polytech, a prestigious university Paul has a scholarship at.

One day, Tom, Paul and BB stop at the house of reclusive harridan Elvira Parker (Anne Ramsey), who threatens the boys with a shotgun and expresses instant dislike for BB. Walking away, the trio then encounter a motorcycle gang led by bully Carl (Andrew Roperto). When Carl intimidates Paul, BB assaults him. Another day, while playing basketball, BB accidentally tosses the ball onto Elvira’s porch. She takes the ball away from them refuses to give it back, with BB’s glowing red over her hostile attitude. On Halloween night, Tom decides to pull a prank on Elvira with the help of Paul, Samantha and BB. BB unlocks her gate and Samantha rings her doorbell. When alarms go off, they hide in a shrubbery nearby. When Elvira sees BB standing near her porch, she shoots him with her shotgun, destroying him and devastating Paul.

On Thanksgiving, Paul and Samantha share their first kiss. Samantha returns home late at night, outraging her father, who slaps her and pushes her down the stairs. At the hospital, Paul learns that Samantha is brain-dead and will be on life support for 24 hours before the plug is pulled. As BB’s microchip can interface with the human brain, Paul decides to use it to revive Samantha with Tom’s help. The boys enter the hospital using a key taken from Tom’s father, who works there as a security guard. After Tom deactivates the power from the basement, Paul takes Samantha to his lab. He inserts the microchip into Samantha’s brain and takes her back to his house, hiding her in the shed. After he activates the microchip, Samantha “wakes up”, but her mannerisms are completely mechanical, suggesting BB is in control of her body.

In the middle of the night, Paul finds Samantha staring at the window, looking at her father, and he deactivates her. The next morning, Paul finds Samantha gone. When Harry finds the cellar door open and goes downstairs, Samantha attacks him, breaks his wrist and snaps his neck. Paul finds Samantha, and Harry’s corpse, in the cellar. Horrified, he hides the body, takes Samantha back to his home and locks her in his bedroom. At night, Samantha breaks into Elvira’s house and corners her by throwing her to the wall of her living room. As Elvira screams in horror, Samantha kills her by exploding her head with the basketball she stole from Tom.

When Tom learns of Samantha’s rampage, he gets into a fight with Paul and threatens to call the police. Still being protective of Paul, Samantha jumps out the attic window and attacks Tom, with Paul and Jeannie intervening. Trying to get her under control, Paul slaps Samantha, resulting in her strangling him. Samantha, quickly coming to her senses, then lets him go and runs away. As Paul goes after her, he again encounters Carl, who gets into a fight with him. Samantha goes back for Paul, grabs Carl and kills him by throwing him at an incoming police car. She runs back to Paul’s shed, where Paul comforts her and realizes she’s regaining some of her humanity. However, the police arrive with their guns aimed at Samantha, who yells out Paul’s name in her human voice. She runs towards him, trying to protect him, but Sergeant Volchek (Lee Paul), thinking she’s trying to attack him, shoots her. She says Paul’s name one more time before dying in his arms.

Later at the morgue, Paul tries to steal Samantha’s body once more. Suddenly, Samantha grabs Paul’s neck and her face rips apart, revealing a terrifying variant of BB’s head. Her skin strips away, revealing half-robotic bones underneath. With a robotic voice, Samantha tells him to come with her. When a horrified Paul screams and refuses to do so, she snaps his neck, killing him.

Cast

  • Matthew Laborteaux as Paul Conway
  • Kristy Swanson as Samantha Pringle
  • Michael Sharrett as Tom Toomey
  • Anne Twomey as Jeannie Conway
  • Richard Marcus as Harry Pringle
  • Anne Ramsey as Elvira Parker
  • Lee Paul as Sergeant Volchek
  • Charles Fleischer as BB (voice)
  • Russ Marin as Dr. Johanson

Kristy Swanson was 16 years old during filming. She thought it was very challenging to play the character of Sam. Today, Swanson is proud of her work in the film. In a 1996 interview with Starlog magazine, Swanson had this to say about the film: “It was my first starring role in a feature. I was 16. I committed myself completely to it. I just went full out with it. I wanted to do the best job I could possibly do. I was having the time of my life. As for the movie itself, some people love it, some people hate it. It is what it is. I really enjoyed making Deadly Friend. At that point in my life, it was spectacular.”

During filming of one of the studio-demanded scenes where Sam has a nightmare where her father attacks her in her room and she stabs him with a glass vase, there were difficulties on set with the special effects. Swanson mentioned, “The scene was set up so that I would hit a protective device inside his shirt. But during one take, I missed the device and glass actually shattered on his chest. I freaked out because I thought I had really stuck this glass into his chest. Everybody else just laughed.” In another incident, the great amount of fake blood turned out to be a problem. “We had been working on that scene a long time. Finally, it was time for blood to spray out, but something leaked and we had blood spraying all over the set and myself. I was so tired that I started yelling, “More blood!” and the effects people really pumped it out.”

Matthew Laborteaux, who played Paul, said in an interview with Starlog that Craven didn’t want to turn Deadly Friend into a horror film. In Laborteaux’s words: “Wes said that one thing he didn’t want to do was make this a horror movie, because it’s one of his first large-budget movies which isn’t from New Line Cinema or Joe Blow Pictures. That gave me a little sense of security knowing that he wanted to do a nice picture.”

Hoping to score a financial success with the Halloween trade, Warner Bros. released Deadly Friend in theaters on October 10, 1986 but the film was a Box-office bomb, grossing $8,988,731 in the United States against an $11 million budget.

The original cut of the movie did not include the gory dream sequences, the infamous basketball decapitation sequence, the opening jump scare scene at the beginning of the film where the thief tries to steal from Jeannie’s minivan but BB stops him by grabbing his throat, and the ending where Samantha turns into a robot and kills Paul. All of these scenes were added because of script re-write demands and re-shoots forced by Warner Bros. executives, former Warner Bros. executive vice president Mark Canton, and the producers.

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