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Deadly Friend (1986)
Deadly Friend, directed by Wes Craven -- best known for A Nightmare on Elm Street -- has much of Craven's positive attributes, while at the same time bordering on a silliness that may turn some horror fans off.
The story concerns "Paul" (Matthew Laborteaux), a teenaged genius, who has built a truly artificially intelligent robot and who has just received a scholarship to college to study neuroscience. He moves into a new home close to the college with his mom, and has to contend with some unruly neighbors, chief among them the abusive dad of the cute girl next door. At school, Paul is discovering how to reanimate dead brains, and when a couple close friends are killed, he puts his knowledge to use in a manner not completely unlike Dr. Frankenstein.
Much of this sounds silly, and in ways it is. It's not easy to create an atmosphere of horror with a cute robot, and at times, the robot's voice is irritating. Still, Craven displays his directing skills throughout Deadly Friend, and the robot scenes are entertaining nonetheless. The best material comes with the showpiece of the film, Paul's next door neighbor "Sam" (Kristy Swanson). Once she becomes the focus, Deadly Friend is often scary and it's occasionally gory. There could be more gore, I'm sure, in the opinions of some horror fans, but the gore scenes here, particularly the scene featuring the "old witch" of the neighborhood, are brilliant. Quality over quantity remains desirable.
Craven also creates suspense through the use of something that must be kept a secret. The chance of discovery never moves far from the surface, and you feel for the character who needs to keep the secret. There is also a subtle campiness that is never far from the surface of Deadly Friend. For some of us, able to suspend disbelief to a greater extent and amenable to camp, Deadly Friend can be magic, even if it is in many ways predictable.
This is an extremely well made film that many people will unfortunately find too unbelievable or just too silly to be able to enjoy it. Still, horror fans, and fans of Craven's work, at least, should check it out, and anyone else who thinks they'll not be too put off by the premise and the cute robot should give Deadly Friend a try.