Never trust a poster. Enjoy them, admire them, put them on your wall, but don’t you ever take their words as gospel. My point: If DEADLY FRIEND is “Wes Craven’s Most Terrifying Creation,” well then I’m an eight-foot-tall fuck machine. Truth in advertising would read more like, “Wes Craven’s Most Inadvertently Hilarious Creation.” Because otherwise you’re misleading people. Imagine if somebody’s first exposure to Wes Craven’s work was DEADLY FRIEND! They’d think he was a modern-day Ed Wood. Actually, that’d be an awesome prank. Show a young person DEADLY FRIEND first, and then show them THE HILLS HAVE EYES or A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. Nice way to demolish someone’s sanity.
Wes Craven is a vitally important yet somewhat problematic figure in horror cinema. He’s made some viscerally horrifying movies that easily earned him a spot in the pantheon, yet he seems to yearn to scare us in other ways, such as making some movie with Meryl Streep called “MUSIC OF THE HEART” and in this case, making what seems to be a kids’ movie about yellow robots and street basketball that takes a sharp right turn into some kind of weird BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN zombie movie. Put it in chronological perspective and there’s some truly inexplicable stuff going on:
In 1984, Wes Craven released A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET onto the world. Pantheon spot assured. Just two years later, the fatally-compromised DEADLY FRIEND threatened to revoke his horror-master status. What a thundering misfit of a film. Clearly several people along the way had drastically different ideas about the movie they were making. Is it a horror movie? If so, what kind? Is it a suburban nightmare vision like Craven’s previous film? Is it a science-gone-mad story like Mary Shelley’s classic Promethean myth? Is it an R or a PG-13? No one knows! DEADLY FRIEND only works as a comedy, but if you look at it that way, it’s absolutely phenomenal as a comedy. The movie concerns one of those genius kids you could only meet in the 1980s who teaches college courses and invents a bright yellow robot named “B.B.” (voiced by the same guy who voiced Roger Rabbit).
The robot, which is like a big yellow Johnny Five from SHORT CIRCUIT if Johnny Five had less motility but still a decent pickup game, and if he’d lacked Steve Guttenberg as a calming influence and thusly been willing to crush the nuts of neighborhood punks in a vise-like grip, is the equivalent of problem dog. The kid loves him, but he bites, and eventually he’s got to be put down. The one holding the shotgun is the one-of-a-kind Anne Ramsey – you know her from THE GOONIES, THROW MOMMA FROM THE TRAIN, and SCROOGED. She plays the mean neighborhood lady who shoots up the kid’s robot. A sad day.
Meanwhile, the kid has managed to befriend his troubled next-door neighbor, who is played by a very young, distressingly-cute Kristy Swanson. The girl, Sam, suffers under an abusive father, who ends up knocking her down the stairs, which sends her into a coma. Insanely, the doctors comply with Dad’s decision to pull the plug. Having now lost his two only friends in the world, what else can the science kid do but put B.B.’s robot personality into Kristy Swanson’s body? If this were any other 1980s teen movie, there’d be sexual overtones concerning having your very own Kristy Swanson robot at home, but it’s a Wes Craven flick, so the robot Sam has to end up going on a killing rampage, despite the fact that, no offense, Kristy Swanson isn’t all that scary.
Come for the STORY OF RICKY-esque scene where Kristy Swanson destroys Anne Ramsey’s skull with a basketball, stay for the hilariously non-frightening end-credits song where B.B. the robot raps his own name over ominous synthesizer strains. There’s no way to tell what on earth anyone was thinking, but the end result is a nutball classic.
This is an expanded version of an article that appeared on the great movie site Rupert Pupkin Speaks. Please go visit!
And me on Twitter: @jonnyabomb