Deadly Friend is a schizophrenic movie, thanks primarily to studio interefrence in post-production. The executives at Warner Bros. weren't entirely thrilled with Craven's understated and slightly macabre teenage take on Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, so they forced the director and screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin to create new sequences with the mandate that they each be more bloody than the last. On the one hand, this demand on the studio's part guaranteed Deadly Friend's inclusion in my series. Unfortunately, it almost assuredly ruined the film in the process. Craven has spoken about these issues at length (in John Kenneth Muir's Wes Craven: The Art of Horror and Brian Robb's Screams & Nightmares: The Films of Wes Craven--I recommend both books heartily for fans of Craven's unique brand of horror cinema), so I'll not dwell on them here.
Click the "read more" button to learn more about Deadly Friend and get a full look at one of its most infamous death scenes.
Deadly Friend is, at it's core, a teenage romance and a modern homage to Frankenstein--albeit one infused with Craven's favorite themes (particularly his fascination with families that are falling apart) and some wildly out of place gore sequences. Matthew Laborteaux stars as Paul, the nerdy genius new kid in town (which was a fairly archetypal character in '80s cinema in general for some reason). Paul doesn't have any friends so he's made his own--a stunningly articulate robot named BeeBee. He meets neighbor girl Samantha (Kristy Swanson, in her first role) and they hit it off. Unfortunately, dual tragedies occur in short order and Paul's life is changed forever: BeeBee is destroyed by the cranky neighbor lady (Anne Ramsey) and Samantha is killed by her abusive alcoholic father. Naturally, Paul gets the bright idea to put BeeBee's processor chip in Samantha's brain--but things don't go quite as planned and Samantha turns into a murderous zombie-esque cyborg.
One of BeeBee/Samantha's first acts is to get revenge on Ramsey, which she does by obliterating the old woman's head with a basketball. I'm not making this up. Samantha literally picks up your standard basketball and wings it Ramsey's head with enough force to shatter her skull into a million pieces. I'm no physicist, but I'm not entirely convinced that such a thing could actually happen. Doesn't matter, though, because the scene is hilariously gruesome--particularly when a headless Ramsey stumbles around for a few seconds shooting geysers of blood out of her neck stump.
Craven insists that the original sequence of this historic splatter moment was even more ghastly, but the MPAA had a stroke and made him cut it severely (according to Wes, he had to take this film before the board 13 times...). I'm curious as to what the uncut version looked like, because this clip is still surprisingly graphic. I'll never forget sitting in the theater watching this movie at 14 years old and seeing the scene for the first time--it was one of those "holy shit" moments that came completely out of nowhere and has stuck with me ever since.
Some folks have claimed that Deadly Friend is Craven's worst film. I disagree (it's hard to beat The Hills Have Eyes 2, for starters. There are no dogs having flashbacks in Deadly Friend, which would seem to make it a better film by default). The basketball to the head scene alone makes it worth seeing at least once (even if the rest of the film pales in comparison to those glorious 35 or so seconds). I'll grant you the argument that the ludicrous ending of Deadly Friend is almost equal to the dog flashbacks in The Hills Have Eyes 2, but watching a thrown basketball obliterate a human skull apparently makes me far more forgiving than I truly ought to be.
Enjoy the clip. I'll be back with more gore next week.