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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Wes Craven’s robot movie has more to offer than a splattering head

Illustration for article titled Wes Craven’s robot movie has more to offer than a splattering head

Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by the week’s new releases or premieres. This week: That adorable walking weapon Chappie inspires five days of robots, androids, and sentient machines.


Deadly Friend (1986)

Deadly Friend is the story of a boy genius, Paul (Matthew Labyorteaux), and his pet robot, BB, who speaks in bleeps, blurps, and growly gibberish that makes him sound like an auto-tuned Jawa. Arriving in a new town where he’s lecturing and doing neurological research at the university, Paul befriends local paperboy Tom (Michael Sharrett) and fetching neighbor Sam (Kristy Swanson), the latter of whom is being abused by her drunken degenerate father. Then, in quick succession, Paul suffers two horrible losses—the murder of BB by a witchy old local (The Goonies and Throw Momma From The Train’s Anne Ramsey), and the killing of Sam by her dad. What’s Paul to do? Implant BB’s artificially intelligent processor into Sam’s dead brain, thus reanimating her and affording them a second chance at love… at least, until Sam turns out to be even more violent and uncontrollable than BB was becoming before his untimely demise.

While this might sound like the setup for a comedy, it’s actually played for nightmarish terror by director Wes Craven, who in his second outing after A Nightmare On Elm Street delivers a story whose antiquated elements are bound to elicit unintentional laughs. Nonetheless, his 1986 thriller remains a mesmerizing time-capsule portrait of ’80s-era hopes and fears about computers. Sam is cast as a modern-day Frankenstein monster, equal parts fearsome and pitiable, and Craven goes to great lengths to depict her saga as one rooted in mankind’s desire to transcend natural boundaries of life and death through cutting-edge innovation. To satisfy horror fans, the filmmaker embellishes his tale with jolt-scare dream sequences and plentiful bloodshed, as well as an unforgettable over-the-top murder scene involving a basketball and a human head. Yet despite its dated drama, it’s a strangely touching romance—not only between a nerd and his blonde, buxom living-dead dream girl, but also between a mad scientist and technology.

Availability: Deadly Friend is available on DVD, which can be obtained from your local video store/library. The film can also be rented or purchased from the major digital services.