Review: Deadly Friend (1986)

John Ohno
2 min readJan 22, 2022

When you have a monster you’re supposed to empathize with, the charisma of the actor is vital. That’s why Dracula’s Daughter is so much better than Son of Dracula. Case in point: Deadly Friend. It’s two great tastes that taste great together: 80s wacky robot movie meets Gothic ghost story, where a teen wunderkind resurrects his cute next door neighbor with a microchip after her abusive dad kills her.

Everything about it is perfect — except the female lead, the titular Deadly Friend, who plays the pre-death Samantha too wooden and the cyborg zombie Samantha not wooden (or alien) enough.

It’s not easy to pull off. Bride of Frankenstein managed it for, what, twenty seconds? The direct imitators were far less successful. Doing that with an actress who’s young enough to play sixteen is hard, and it’s harder because of how smart and grounded the movie is.

The robot in the first half of the movie is a highly accurate (if absurdly advanced) extrapolation of the kind of self-teaching personal hobby robots that some folks built in the 80s. It even talks like an audio GAN without enough training data. The idea that a learning chip could be used with electrodes as a kind of pacemaker-for-cognition for neurological disorders like stroke or dementia was floating around extropian circles in the 80s. Ten years after this movie was released, it was the premise for Neal Stephenson’s pseudonymous novel Interface (as Stephen Bury). The in this, old training data (from the robot learning about violence from bullies) pops up — basically the premise of the Child’s Play remake. This actress is supposed to play a mix of chatbot and stroke patient and vengeful ghost, in 1986. How do you even explain that to somebody?

Nevertheless, this movie was a flop. I think I can confidently say that this performance sank it. Audiences didn’t necessarily know what they should have gotten, but they knew it wasn’t this. Like Nightmare On Elm Street, Wes was stuck with a clearly studio-note nonsense ending sting, but I think audiences for whom this is not precisely their exact shit would have checked out much earlier.

If anything deserves a remake, this is it: a great movie that flopped due to exactly one flaw. Kids these days interact with AI enough that I think a good actress could give a better performance in that (still challenging) role & that it’d be understood.

John Ohno

Resident hypertext crank. Author of Big and Small Computing: Trajectories for the Future of Software.