Deadly Friend

Facial Expression Follies
★★★
☆☆☆
Released: 
1986
Director: 
Wes Craven
Starring: 
Matthew Labyorteaux, Kristy Swanson, Michael Sharrett, Anne Twomey
The Setup: 
Super-smart kid turns his dead friend into a robot that, naturally, runs amok.
Discussion: 

I knew nothing about this movie except that it sounded like cheesy fun. That is to say, it was only AFTER I rented it that I discovered to my delight that it's about a killer robot on a rampage, that it's from 1986, that it's by Wes Craven, and that the killer robot in question is Kristy Swanson! Wow! And even with all that, it's STILL got more surprises in store! So let's get going with Deadly Friend!

We open with a man breaking into a VW van and rifling through the purse carelessly left on the front seat. He gets distracted by something in the back seat, and says "Hey, you're kind of cute," as we hear a little meow like a cat. Then! A robotic claw reaches out and clenches his neck! It makes as though it's going to strangle him, but Mom and Peter return to the van, and the robot let's go and the guy gets away. Welcome to Deadly Friend! It would seem that Mom and Peter are on their way to their new town, located, you know, somewhere, and that Peter has brought along his friendly robot, BB. Peter is a bit of a genius and has gotten a deal at a college to teach and use their labs because of his advanced intelligence in robotics. BB is akin to the robot from Short Circuit, with a bright yellow body and oval head with two red cameras for eyes and two little awnings over his eyes that allow him to "blink."

So Peter is in town for literally two minutes before he meets his new best friend, Tom, and soon after, Kristy Swanson as Sam. She lives next door, and has bruises from her abusive dad, who doesn't like her socializing with anyone. She comes over to say hi to Peter, soon followed by her dad, who makes her apologize for bothering those people. Next she comes over with a bloody nose, but won't acknowledge that there's any problem. Meanwhile I'm thinking "Gee, she's quite well socialized and maintains a rather chipper, sunny disposition for someone who is physically and likely sexually abused. She also gets to spend rather large amounts of fun time outside the house for someone whose abusive father insists that she be kept locked inside at all times and have no friends." But you know, sometimes life is like that! Sometimes physical, emotional and sexual child abuse causes no more long-lasting effect than some trifling inconvenience, and minor hurt feelings.

Now, when I first started this site one of the big things I wanted to point out was certain totally fucked-up things I was seeing in movies, that might be disguised as something else, but with a little interpretation, can be plainly revealed as really dirty or whatever. So here we see Kristy Swanson, whose, umm, acting skills have not quite reached their greatest potency, asleep in bed. Then her dad, who looks a bit like Butt-Head if he were a real person, comes in and makes it quite clear that he's expecting sex from his daughter. He seems as though he is about to force her into sex when she takes a long-necked vase from next to her, breaks off the bottom, and stabs him in the heart with it. So now Dad, who came in the room for incest, now has this long, phallic thing sticking out from his chest, and then it starts ejaculating blood, in numerous rhythmic spurts, all over his daughter! Including all over her face!

That's our old, totally inappropriate Wes Craven!

Anyway, I forgot to mention that we've been lining up victims that one's Deadly Friend could kill later in the movie. The first is this gang of thugs that menace Peter and end up being driven away through intense crotch squeezing. Obviously Sam's abusive dad is high up on the victim list. Then theres the mean old lady from across the street, played by Anne Ramsey, the mean old lady from The Goonies and Throw Momma From the Train. She keeps her yard chained up and responds to any intrusion with a shotgun. Anyway, throughout here, we've had lots of happy times with Peter, BB the robot, Sam and Tom, which I've skipped over, because they're stupid, but alas, those good times must end. Because the old lady gets pissed at BB the robot--and he IS pretty annoying--and she blows his ass into multiple screws and washers, never to be repaired again. Thank GOD. Then, before you know it, ye olde abusive Dad has thrown Sam down the stairs, and given her brain damage, and now she's lingering in that shadowy netherworld between life and death! Geez--if only we could puzzle out where this movie was HEADED!

SPOILERS > > >
So Peter makes out a plan to steal Sam from the hospital seconds before they pull the plug on her life support. There's a drawn-out comic scene in which he and Tom drug his mom, and there's suspense while they wait for the powdered sedative to sink in her coffee before she notices. They rush to the hospital, where Sam's dad is all eager to pull the plug--come on, the guy could show SOME remorse that his only child is dying--and Peter and Tom effect a quick body snatch. You'll notice that snatching a body from a hospital has no repercussions and no one goes looking for her. Then it's off to Peter's lab, where they cut her head open and stick a Dell Pentium II processor in her brain. Then Peter stows her on a sleeping bag in his garage and--on with his day!

So now poor Swanson, who has strained her abilities to register so much as "happy" and "sad," now has to act "blank zombie," and let's just say her blank is a bit blanker than most people's blank might be. When Peter goes looking for her that night, she's GONE! Well, she's gone straight over to kill Dad, which she does handily. She has somewhere gained super strength in here, by the way. Now, this film has had its share of exaggerated facial expressions, but it goes into overdrive from here on out, to the point where it becomes distracting and funny. If you get this movie, watch for the cornucopia of ludicrous facial expressions from 57:00 to 57:10, one of which is reproduced in the photo here. But believe me, that is just one of many in just those short ten seconds. Anyway, she kills dad and throws him in the boiler, where his head receives a sumptuous golden browning.

Next it's over to the mean lady's house. Now this woman had previously taken a basketball from the kids earlier, and she is soon being menaced by it bouncing around her house. What happens next is considered a highlight of the movie and mentioned in every review on the IMDb, but it came as such a shock to the uninitiated, I'm going to let you discover it for yourself. Let's just say that Sam has developed a mean pass.

Peter gets Sam back in his custody and parks her upstairs in his attic. Only, she's not so disposed to stay put. You will notice that her hair stays fluffy and bouncy, with added body and volume, despite being a reanimated corpse who hasn't been washed in several days. She also develops a comely blue tinge around her eyes. Anyway, Tom has had enough and is going to the police, which for some reason he needs to come by Peter's and announce first. But before they know it, Sam is jumping out the attic window, in full view of Mom, and running off into the neighborhood. Rogue Deadly Friend!

Well we could use one more victim, so who should show up after a long absence, but the bully from earlier? He's menacing Peter when who should show up but Peter's Deadly Friend, who once again gives the bully the crotch-squeeze of death. This dude needs to invest in some protective undergarments, although soon after its a moot point. Then the cops show up. They're harassing Peter when Sam runs at them in slow-motion with one of the most ludicrous faces she can muster (see photo) and she is soon shot. The Deadly Friend is now dead. Dead Deadly Friend.

Then the much-maligned ending. Apparently the studio forced Craven to go back in and add a lot more gore, which explains the episodic, not-quite-integrated nature of the gore scenes. It also makes this scene, which doesn't make a great deal of sense, seem like something tacked-on later to give a little shock at the end. Peter steals Sam's body from the morgue, only for her to grab and start strangling him. Then a BB-like skull emerges out of her face, and mechanical arms rip out of her flesh, and that's it! You have to just assume it was a dream, even though he don't see Peter wake. Then the credits, where we have a very 80s song with "BB!" repeated to the beat. Love it!
< < < SPOILERS END

It was just the kind of silly, super-80s, ludicrous crap that I love. It melds a young adult Afterschool Special tone with humor and over-the-top violence, for an ungainly combination that is precisely what makes it so fun. The whole thing is light and silly enough to remain fun, even as you can see where it's going even before you rent it. That the light teen vibe is broken by the extreme gore only keeps you on your toes and from getting bored. Then there's all those facial expressions and poor Swanson's feeble attempts at acting (the rest don't escape unscathed, either), that it remains quite fun and amusing.

Anyway, if you like cheesy 80s teen horror with a lot of silliness and unexpected gore and terrible acting, this one out the waiting for you. This, a rainy or snowy Saturday afternoon, and a bowl of macaroni and cheese is all you need.

Should you watch it: 

If you love cheesy 80s teen horror, this is sure to deliver.