Twisted Terror: Deadly Friend Review
The problem with Deadly Friend is that it doesn’t know what film it wants to be. Does it want to be a Disneyesque movie about a nerdy teenager and his cute robot? Perhaps it would like to be a gothic romance about love transcending death? Or maybe a good old fashioned gory romp in which an old lady gets her head crushed by a basketball thrown by a robot dressed as a rather sulky teenage girl? Part of the problem is that director Wes Craven was forced to add some splatter scenes following a disastrous preview. But it’s hard to believe that this project – geeky scientist teen turns his dead girlfriend into a robot - was ever a coherent film even in its original form. It's allegedly inspired by The Bride of Frankenstein but we'll draw a veil over that one.
It does, however, has to be admitted that there’s rather a lot of campy fun to be had with Deadly Friend, presuming that one doesn’t make the mistake of taking it seriously. Everything but the kitchen sink is thrown in, presumably in an attempt to satisfy the Craven fans who expected something a bit edgier, along the lines of Nightmare On Elm Street. We have some close-up brain surgery (impressively achieved without leaving any apparent scar), an exploding head, a flayed skull emerging from under a teenage boy’s bedclothes, the sleaziest alcoholic father this side of the Jeremy Kyle show, a hideously cutesy robot and Kristy Swanson wearing several gallons of black eye-shadow. Entire scenes are so ludicrous that it beggars belief that Craven could ever have intended them to be taken seriously; none more so than when the two gormless teenage heroes manage to steal Kristy Swanson’s body from hospital, fit her corpse into a small wheelie bin and then operate on her using enough electricity to power a small town – WITHOUT ANYONE NOTICING.
Given that there are no scares to be had here, the mind keeps wandering into other areas. Is there meant to be a gay subtext here or are those lingering looks that Tom keeps giving Paul merely signs of admiration? If Tom does have unspoken lusts for Paul then his frustration at the attempts to revive Sam would make a lot more sense than his otherwise unexplained transformation from wilful trespasser to boy scout. It might also explain why Sam is so cross with Tom. Perhaps she knows what he wants to get up to with the object of her frustrated affections. And while we’re wondering about subtexts, there might be some truth to Joe Bob Briggs’ suggestion that the message of the film is that even if you get a robot girlfriend, she’s still not going to do what you say. Although she will, on this evidence, have perfect make-up even when she’s dead.
On a purely technical level, the film is competent enough although Wes Craven’s sluggish pacing suggests that his heart really wasn’t in it. He can’t seem to get any momentum going and by the time the film starts to garner a bit of tension, it’s all over. The inclusion of the gory scenes, although done against Craven’s wishes, does at least add entertainment value with the basketball to the head sequence standing out as particularly gratuitous. This bit of the film also offers the best moment of acting when Anne Ramsey’s headless corpse staggers around the sitting room before collapsing to the ground. The worst acting comes from the robot Bee-Bee who, for some inexplicable reason, hasn’t been taught to speak properly despite being cleverer than anything else ever invented in the whole history of the universe. Ever. Or something like that. Oh and as for the ending, if anyone can explain it to me then I’d love to hear your views.
Although the cover of Deadly Friend shows that it has an ‘R’ rating, the version included on the disc is actually uncut and contains the full basketball death scene along with a couple of other gory moments.
That’s certainly good news and more good news is that the film looks quite nice in this DVD incarnation. It’s presented at a ratio of 1.78:1 and has been anamorphically enhanced. It’s a rather grainy image throughout, more so than necessary, and the print has some obvious damage in places. But the colours are exceptionally good – check out those different shades of 80s denim – and the level of detail is more than acceptable. The mono soundtrack is also absolutely fine with Charles Bernstein’s soundtrack coming across well – or as well as this kind of synthesiser nonsense ever comes across.
The only extra is the original theatrical trailer.
The film has optional subtitles in English, French and Spanish. As you know, those poor chaps at Warner Brothers can no longer afford to include a scene selection menu on their DVDs. I hope you’ll join me in praying for them.