Wes Craven’s “Deadly Friend” was a modern-day re-imagining of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”

By on September 28, 2018

In our “Fall Horror Preview” — which originally aired on September 26, 1986, and you can now watch on Night Flight Plus — announcer Pat Prescott previews horror movies released that same year, including From Beyond, metal monster movie Trick or Treat, Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, and Wes Craven‘s creepy sci-fi horror/thriller Deadly Friend.

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Warner Brothers’ Deadly Friend — released theatrically on October 10, 1986 — was a modern-day re-imagining of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein novel, directed by horror maestro Wes Craven from a screenplay written by Bruce Joel Rubin.

The story — adapted from Diana Henstell’s 1985 novel Friend – revolves around an emotionally-disturbed 15-year old computer whiz kid named “Paul Conway” (Matthew Labyorteaux).

Conway’s mother “Jeannie” (the great Anne Ramsey) moves them to a small town in Pennsylvania, where “the new kid in town” is befriended by his super-smart next door neighbor “Samantha Pringle” (future Buffy the Vampire Slayer film actress Kristy Swanson, just sixteen at the time).

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Samantha and Paul share a common bond because both have suffered tragedies in their life.

In Samantha’s case, her abusive father, “Harry Pringle” (Richard Marcus) treats her more like a battered wife than a daughter, forcing her to cook and clean for him, while Paul’s psychic pain is more repressed and internalized.

He’s troubled by his parents’ recent divorce and haunted by daydreams and nightmares about a violent “accident” which resulted in the fiery death of a classmate.

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Conway’s only other friend is a robot he built himself, named “B.B.,” who becomes essential to the “Frankenstein” part of the story when a microchip from its”brain” is transplanted by Paul — with help from a local paperboy pal “Tom” (Michael Sharrett) — into Samantha’s body after she lapses into a coma after her father pushes her down the stairs in a drunken rage.

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This creepy transmogrification takes place in a science lab on a dark and stormy night, complete with flashes of lightening which aid in bringing Samantha back to life, although she’s now mute and walks funny, just like Frankenstein.

She’s also become a killing machine, which is how she becomes Paul’s “deadly friend,” taking revenge against her father in the basement of their home, as well as eventually causing the death of several more victims (which Paul tries to keep secret).

Read more about Deadly Friend below.

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Wes Craven decided to direct Deadly Friend because his agent — who’d recommended he work on a big studio film — had said “otherwise you’ll be stuck doing small films for the rest of your life.”

Craven couldn’t write the script himself because he was was preoccupied with directing episodes of TV’s newly re-booted The Twilight Zone at the time.

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Bruce Joel Rubin — who’d only earned a “Story By” credit for the idea behind Brainstorm (1983) — was picked to adapt Henstell’s novel based on the fact that he and producer Robert M. Sherman had both liked his un-produced screenplay for Jacob’s Ladder (it was finally lensed in 1990).

Rubin says he took the job because he’d recently moved his family from Indiana to L.A., on the advice of friend Brian De Palma.

The $36,000 he was paid kept him from having to file for bankruptcy during the four-month Writer’s Guild strike, and also helped him throw his son Joshua’s Bar Mitzvah.

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Rubin tried to re-focus Hentsell’s story to make it more than just a tender teenage love story with artificial intelligence elements (his screenplay had originally been titled Artificial Intelligence and also A.I.).

Craven had other ideas, apparently, at one point telling Swanson that he was making a romantic fantasy film similar to John Carpenter‘s PG-rated supernatural thriller Starman.

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However, in the summer of ’86, when Deadly Friend was test-screened in front of an audience of heavy metal, hardcore horror fans, they weren’t too happy with the results.

Mark Canton, Warner Brothers president, had Rubin write six additional gore scenes, each one bloodier than the last, which Craven shot — including nightmare sequence that could have come straight from his 1984 classic A Nightmare On Elm Street – enhancing the film’s scare quotient.

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Deadly Friend was submitted thirteen times to the MPAA before they finally gave it an “R” rating due to the film’s graphic violence.

Rubin ended up largely dismissing Craven’s finished film, openly criticizing what Craven did tone-wise with the screenplay he’d turned in.

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Movie critics weren’t too kind in their mostly-negative reviews of Deadly Friend either, particularly Variety‘s Joe Leydon and Hollywood Reporter‘s Henry Sheehan, who both pointed out the film’s lack of originality.

They and other film critics were extremely critical of how Deadly Friend borrowed its ideas so openly from better movies like E.T. (1982), Short Circuit (1984), Re-Animator (1985) and David Cronenberg‘s The Fly (1986).

Not to mention that, in the fall of 1986, when Deadly Friend finally arrived in theaters, it seemed too similar to several other recently-released movies, including the previous year’s Weird Science and Real Genius.

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Craven ended up being removed from two major projects he’d planned to direct, Beetlejuice and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, both which were to be distributed by Warner Brothers.

Deadly Friend would end up being Labyorteaux’s last appearance in a theatrical film. Most of his later projects were voicework in films, animations, games and minor roles in two made-for-TV movies.

Watch Night Flight’s 1986 “Fall Horror Preview” — which also includes an hour-long mashup session of horror throughout forty years of film history, featuring clips from Beast With A Thousand Eyes, Luis Buñuel‘s & Salvador Dalí‘s Un Chien Andalou and the classic Nosferatu — on Night Flight Plus!

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.