Deadly Friend (1986) movie poster

(1986) director Wes Craven
viewed: 07/29/10

Deadly Friend is a pretty awful movie but kind of likable as well.  Which is sort of how I’d remembered it from whenever how long ago I had last seen it.

Earlier this year, I’d revisited director Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), prior to watching the disappointing re-make of that film, and I was reminded of Deadly Friend as a film that I recalled not being very good, but having some semblance of an emotional hook that made it vaguely more memorable than many others.  And so, I thought I’d queue it up and watch it.

It’s bad.  It’s badly made.  Much of the cinematography and framings could have come right off of bad television show of the time.  There is no element or essence of a great cinematic eye overseeing the goings-on here, no flashes of genius in a lesser film by a major auteur.  And really, that’s my take on Craven.  While A Nightmare on Elm Street is an arguably great film from the 1980′s, most of his work is junk.  He’s not an auteur, or at least not one of greatness (I’m failing to recall the term used for the next tier down of directors who were not considered auteurs).  What Craven is today is a cash cow.  He’s selling out the remakes of just about every film that he ever had anything to do with, including, I’ve read, this film here.

Deadly Friend is not a bad idea for a movie.  Adapted from a novel by Diana Henstell, titled Friend, the story is about a super-genius teenager who has made his own robot, armed with true Artificial Intelligence, who moves to a new town to attend college.  He befriends a neighbor girl who suffers physical abuse by her oft-drunken father.  But then his robot is destroyed by a curmudgeonly old lady and the girl dies as a result of her father’s violence.  The boy becomes a modern Doctor Frankenstein, implanting the robot’s brain in the dead girl’s skull, re-animating her as a quasi-version of the two dead entities.  But of course, things don’t work out so well and result in some homicidal violence and gore.

I think why the film works at all is a bit due to the casting and the performances.  Matthew Laborteaux plays the teen scientist, Kristy Swanson is the girl next door, and Michael Sharrett plays the boy’s best pal.  While none of the performances is particularly stellar, the cast has a charm and a regular-ness, if you will, that perhaps makes you care about the story, even though the film is ham-fisted and clunky, cheesy, and shoddily-made.  That said, Swanson’s performance as the re-animated robot-girl is pretty outright laughable with her fingers spread to simulate the limited digits that the robot had had and her glassy-eyed stiff robot-acting is worth a good chuckle.

I don’t know.  There is some je ne sais quoi here because this time around, the movie seemed particularly bad to me, and yet I still found myself responding vaguely to the story.  I suppose that the idea has potential in the right hands.  It’s something less of a scary horror film than perhaps an almost tragic Romeo and Juliet, with Juliet doing “the robot” (and none-too-well either).