Deadly Friend (1986)

Paul, the teenage hero of Deadly Friend, not only designs advanced robots and A.I., but he teaches college courses, dissects human brains, and somehow finds the time to hang out with his friends. The robot he’s created, “BB,” looks like a robot from any other 80s movie. It, too, can do just about anything, including cracking locks, playing basketball, and moving heavy furniture. The only thing this robot can’t do is dodge shotgun spray, which we learn when it ding-dong ditches the neighborhood’s resident crazy lady, played by Anne Ramsey from The Goonies and Throw Momma from the Train. Don’t you just love her?

Meanwhile Paul’s love interest (Kristy Swanson in her first leading role) is repeatedly abused by her alcoholic father. In one of the film’s three or four dream sequences, which are filmed Nightmare on Elm Street style, she stabs her dear old dad with a broken flower vase. What follows is a jarringly bloody scene. Jarring because watching Deadly Friend is like getting thirty minutes into Short Circuit before discovering it’s an R-rated horror movie.

And here’s where my objectiveness flies out the window. I love killer robot movies. Terminator, Runaway, Chopping Mall, Screamers… I just can’t get enough of this shit. What’s disappointing about Deadly Friend is they dispense with the actual robot twenty minutes in. The movie instead goes the Donovan’s Brain/Frankenstein route: after Swanson’s father accidentally kills her, Paul implants BB’s brain in her head. As expected, the world’s first robo-girl doesn’t come in peace. How she got superhuman strength isn’t explained nor is it entirely important in a movie like this.

This is an 80s movie, through and through, no doubt conceived by coked-up movie executives who wanted a gorier E.T. The Extraterrestrial. I mention E.T. because that’s exactly what Deadly Friend’s plot structure feels like. Genre movies back then simply moved at a different pace than they do now. While most “slow-burn” horror films bore more than anything, this one has a pleasant pace. It really takes its time, but never takes more than we’re willing to give it. It makes the absurd climax, which is cram-packed with unintentional laughs, all the more entertaining.

J.J. Abrams said he got the idea for one of his Force Awakens characters from Phantasm. I’m beginning to wonder if he got BB-8’s name from this movie.

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