31 (More) Days of Fright: Creep

On the plus side, there is a free whiskey at the top of the stairs.

This January, in support of the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre / Multicultural Women Against Rape, friends and family have raised over $1,500 (which, when matched by my employer, totals $3,000). As a result, I now have to watch and write about thirty-one horror movies: one each night. Any donors who contributed over $30 were given the option to choose one of the horror movies I must subject myself to. After each viewing, I will write some things about said movies on this website. Be forewarned that all such write-ups will contain spoilers, and many of them will refer to unpleasant and potentially triggering situations. Today’s film is one considered the first horror film in the relatively new mumblecore genre, Creep, directed by Patrick Brice (The Overnight), and chosen by ECW Press’s Digital Production Manager and Art Director Jessica Albert. You can stream Creep via Netflix (even in Canada!).

What happens:

Trigger warnings: talk of sexual assault, stalking.

Freelance videographer Aaron Franklin (director Patrick Brice) answers a Craiglist ad: $1,000 for a day of filming; discretion is appreciated. He drives to the mountaintop address: a cottage on the cliff side with a yellow door (and old-school doorbell). But no one answers, and the client has no voice mail. The only signs of life are an axe embedded in a tree stump outside. Aaron opts to wait in the car for his video subject to arrive.

The subject, Josef (a magnetic Mark Duplass), scares Aaron by banging on his car door. Dressed in his running gear, he introduces himself to Aaron (who he declares has a kind face), and announces it’s going to be a great day. Josef encircles Aaron in a big hug, then lets him into his family’s old vacation home. Then he explains the job: Josef is a cancer survivor, but a short while ago, he learned he has an inoperable brain tumour. He has two or three months left to live. His wife, Angela, is pregnant with their first child, whom he may never meet. So, just like Michael Keaton in My Life, he wants to make a video diary for his unborn kid. Aaron is to document him over the course of the day as he dispenses advice, goes about his errands, and so on.

“Rubber Ducky, you’re the one!”

Josef pays Aaron in cash, up front, and after a few high-fives and hugs, he runs up to the washroom for the first scene. Josef immediately begins to strip off his clothes, which sets Aaron at unease. Josef, however, explains: he wants to talk his future child through his first “tubby.” “It’s okay,” Josef assures Aaron. “We’re going to go a lot deeper places than this.” Josef, seated naked in the tub, then mimes playing with a child in the bathtub for an extended period of time. He concludes by confessing to Aaron that he can’t stop thinking about how little time he has left, and wonders if he should just end it now. Josef slides under the water. When Aaron leans over to make sure he’s not drowning himself, Josef leaps out of the water screaming. “Sorry! That was supposed to be a joke,” Josef apologizes, noting he has a strange sense of humour.

The next scene take the duo on a hike up the mountain, but when Aaron goes to borrow a jacket from Josef, he finds an alarming discovery in the cottage closet: a terrifying wolf mask. Josef explains the mask is just “Peach Fuzz,” a character and mask his dad made to entertain the family. He dons the wolf mask and sings a little song about Peach Fuzz to prove his point. With the wolf mask fully explained, they don matching hunter’s caps, and head out to the mountain in search of “The Miracle Waters of the Heart,” a legendary spring on the mountain supposed to possess healing powers. But it only works on the pure of heart.

Test screenings for Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”

In their journey to this mythical body of water, Josef takes several opportunities to surprise and spook Aaron, saying that the experience of being truly scared is like a near-death experience. “Anybody you need to make peace with,” Josef asks his documentarian, “before you leave this world?” If that question weren’t disconcerting enough, he then asks Aaron if – when he saw the axe outside – he was worried that Josef would kill him. He’s delighted to find the thought crossed Aaron’s mind!

Their search in the woods is looking dire: they find signage for sewer pipelines more readily than natural spring water and Josef confesses to not knowing the way back. But then Josef finds an overlook and what does he find but a waterfall that cascades into a little heart-shaped lagoon! (It’s literally in the perfect shape of a heart.) They both wade in the waters up to their knees and Josef scratches “J + A” into the rock face. After the purifying waters, Josef offers to treat Aaron to a pancake lunch at local diner, Billy Bear’s.

Aaron is further unsettled when Josef seems baffled by the restaurant menu. (Didn’t his family eat here every summer?) But Josef changes the subject and asks Aaron if he’s ever done something he’s felt truly ashamed of. Aaron tells a bizarre story about his childhood history of wetting his pants. Josef uses this as an invitation to talk about his own secret (and far more recent) shame: he photographed Aaron when he first arrived at the house. Josef only pretended to not be home: he was stalking Aaron from the shadows. He says he was nervous about meeting him and apologizes for his deceit. Aaron admits he finds it weird, but he can get past it.

Affordable family fare and awkward conversation at Billy Bear’s.

Night descends and Aaron hopes to put the strange day behind him, but Josef wheedles him into staying for one drink. As they re-enter the vacation home, Josef again jumps out to scare Aaron. (It never gets old!) Over their tumblers of whiskey, Josef asks Aaron why he accepted the job. “Money problems?” he wonders. Aaron admits money hasn’t been flowing in, but declines Josef’s offer of financial assistance. Josef says he has an excess of money and is happy to help. (The funniest bit in the film is when Josef tells Aaron he’s hidden a cheque in his boot. When Aaron looks for it, Josef yells “Gotcha!” and says the fact he looked for it means he needs the money.)

Exhausted by Josef’s condescension and weirdness, Aaron starts to leave, but Josef stops him and says he needs to tell him a secret. A secret he doesn’t want on film. He asks Aaron to turn the video camera off, but Aaron leaves the audio recording. Josef then reveals the real story behind the Peach Fuzz mask. Josef did something very bad four years ago. When his internet service was slow, he checked his browser history and found a cache of sites full of animal pornography. Given he wasn’t looking at those sites, it must have been his wife, Andrea. When Josef confronted her about it, she denied it and it drove a wedge between them.

Josef later organized a little vacation for he and his wife – to the family summer home. One night, he went out for a walk and purchased a wolf mask. He broke into his own house wearing the mask, tied his wife to the bed, and proceeded to have “ravenous, animalistic sexual intercourse.” He left and neither of them mentioned the event ever again, and his internet returned to normal service. Aaron cuts off Josef’s concluding statements for the video and begins to rummage around for his car keys. Understandably, he’s in a hurry to get home. Josef is worried he may have freaked out his new friend with the story about essentially raping his own wife. Though Aaron tries to leave, his keys have gone AWOL. Josef talks him into having another drink and just staying the night.

The two men sit down for another drink and Josef feels the whiskey that Aaron poured tastes a little strange. Before long, he’s passed out in front of the fireplace, lazily fondling himself and moaning about “Peach Fuzz.” Aaron riffles through the sleeping Josef’s jacket on the hunt for his keys, but can’t find anything. However, Josef’s mobile phone rings, so Aaron grabs it and runs downstairs so it doesn’t wake Josef. Aaron answers the phone. Andrea is on the other line and recommends that he – whoever he is – leave immediately. We also learn that Andrea is not Josef’s wife, but his sister. Her brother, she cryptically reveals, has problems, and it would be best if he left.

Josef’s Dream Windbreaker.

Following the phone conversation, Aaron returns upstairs to find Josef is no longer sleeping in front of the fireplace. Aaron creeps around the house, terrified, and realizes the balcony door is ajar. He ventures outside into the dark, where Josef scares him. “Death. It’s coming,” Josef cries. “Nothing we can do.” He starts to sob uncontrollably and hugs Aaron, who he declares to be such a good friend. Aaron tells Josef that he spoke to Andrea and knows what’s going on, but he’s not angry about the lies. Josef – looking like a trapped animal – panics and rushes downstairs.

Aaron ventures down the steps after his new, unstable friend, and finds Josef with the Peach Fuzz mask on, blocking the front door. “Are you going to let me go?” Aaron asks, but the wolf shakes its head no. Peach Fuzz begins to writhe against the front door, so Aaron makes a break for it, rushing Josef and bowling him over. The video image cuts out.

When the video image returns, we see Josef trudging up a hill, draggind two heavy garbage bags. He drops them at the top of the hill and returns with a shovel and starts to dig. The camera then turns toward Aaron, who explains that – after a scuffle at the door – Josef ran away and Aaron returned home. But a few days later, he received this DVD of Josef shovelling in the mail. Aaron is a little worried that Josef knows his address, but isn’t sure what the video is supposed to mean: is Josef digging a grave? His grave? What’s in the garbage bags?

That night, Aaron makes a late-night video confession: he’s been having disturbing dreams. In them, he’s hot-tubbing with Josef in the heart-shaped natural pool, and they’re both wearing Peach Fuzz masks. The water in the pool gradually turns to blood. Next, Aaron receives a large box with no return address. He opens the box on camera (as one does) and discovers a butcher knife and another DVD inside. He puts the DVD on immediately.

Everybody loves to receive a package in the mail!

The DVD is another message from Josef, who apologizes for his last video. He also realizes that Aaron drugged him with Benadryl at the vacation home, but he’s no longer mad about it. He tells Aaron to search the box thoroughly: there’s a third gift inside. Aaron pauses the video and digs into the box further to find a wolf cub stuffed animal. Josef explains: he loves wolves because wolves love deeply. But often, they murder the things they love. (It happens.) Josef encourages Aaron to embrace his inner wolf: he tells him to murder the wolf cub with the knife and find the surprise he’s hidden there. The surprise, of course, is an engraved locket – “J & A Forever” – with their photographs inside.

Aaron does something he should have done days ago: he changes his locks and calls the police. Unfortunately, he doesn’t know Josef’s full name or address, and the police are unable to help him much. (One might point out that Aaron, in theory, has hours of video footage of Josef, which would probably make for good evidence.) Aaron’s nightmares persist. As he recounts another one on camera, he hears a large bang and freaks out. Aaron grabs his knife and turns on all the lights. As he patrols the house, we (viewers) see Josef lurking at the front door, though Aaron doesn’t see him. Aaron heads outside and slowly searches around the building, but only sees that his garbage has been torn apart – by raccoons, he presumes. (That rhymes!)

J & A Forever.

When the camera next starts recording, we seen Aaron sound asleep (so, obviously, he’s not recording this part). Josef leans in and snips a lock of hair from his head. When he awakes, Aaron discovers one more DVD, entitled “My Last Video,” inside his bedroom window. Extremely distressed, he watches the final video. Josef speaks to Aaron from the side of a lake. He went through Aaron’s trash and is disappointed that Aaron discarded the necklace he made for him. He says it sent him into a downward spiral and led him to some inappropriate thoughts. But Josef then had a realization: he and Aaron aren’t friends.

Josef confesses that he’s a liar: he’s pretended his whole life, and it’s driven away friends and family. But he hopes that Aaron’s kindness will allow him to explain in person. He asks Aaron to meet him at Lake Gregory (the spot where he’s filming) at 11 AM the next day. It’s a public spot, wide open, he notes, so there’s no need to fear. Josef says he’s just a lonely, sad person who needs a friend.

Who could say ‘no’ to this face?

Aaron pauses on the sad face of Josef and can’t help but empathize. The next morning, he drives to the lake, but keeps 911 on speed-dial and keeps the camera rolling. He then leaves the camera on the dashboard of his car and waits on a bench facing the lake. From a distance, we watch in terror as Josef silently creeps up from behind. He then puts on the Peach Fuzz mask, and pulls out an axe from beneath his coat – all unseen by Aaron, watching the lake. Without ceremony, he drops the axe onto Aaron’s head.

The video then cuts to Josef, who comments that watching the scene keeps getting better and better. He can’t imagine why Aaron didn’t just turn around or face away from the lake so he could see Josef coming. But then, he realizes why he didn’t: because Aaron Franklin is the “greatest person who has ever lived.” Josef says, “You always believed I was good,” and that’s why Aaron will always be his favourite murder victim.

Josef (in the past) then leaps in front of the car windshield and screams, scaring himself (while watching the video). The final scene of the film is Josef (now calling himself ‘Bill’) on the phone, explaining a job to a new videographer. As he goes over the details, he places the DVD of Aaron’s death in his closet, alongside dozens of other DVDs and VHS tapes, all marked with a victim’s name.

Just a calm day at the lake … wait a minute!

Takeaway points:

  • As the hosts of the popular true crime podcast My Favourite Murder say, “fuck politeness.” Creep is a horror film that demonstrates how easily people die at the hands of murderous sociopaths for wanting to appear nice. Aaron was paid up front in cash; there is no monetary reason for him to stick around, other than Josef has convinced him that he believes Aaron is a kind man, and Aaron wants to maintain that image. This is why he stays for that drink. This is why he never turns him into the police – though he doesn’t have his name or address, he literally has a day of video footage of Josef. But to rat him out to the police shatters that idealized image of a good friend. You will note that this dynamic (trying to maintain niceness) is often a gendered one (though not here in Creep). How many women have had to play nice with predators of various kinds? Either through cultural indoctrination or fear for personal safety. I imagine they, more than anyone, feel the horror embedded in the host’s push to just have “one drink.”
  • My wife Meg noted halfway through the film that this is a horror movie as awkward as it is scary. Mumblecore, a genre of which this film is an example, is all about low-budget productions with use of natural and improvised performances. And often, the situations and dialogue turn awkward (as that’s what often happens in real life). Originally this largely improvised film was intended to be a dark comedy, but after showing some scenes to friends, they were convinced to re-write and re-shoot it as horror. Part of the horror of Creep comes from the compellingly awkward figure of Josef. If he were socially adept, rather than so painfully weird and awkward, perhaps Aaron would have known how to react. Would not have felt compelled to react with such performative kindness.
  • The real enigma of the film is Andrea. There is an Andrea, though she seems to be Josef’s sister, rather than wife. But how much does she know? She knows Josef is troubled, but does he know he’s killed? And if so, is she not just as monstrous as her brother? Maybe these are questions that Creep 2 – which does exist – answers. (Don’t think I’m not watching that!)

Truly terrifying or truly terrible?: Creep genuinely spooked me. The entire film, you sort of expect what’s coming, but it’s a neat little self-contained creep-out. If it’s any indication, Creep is the only film I’ve had an associated nightmare about immediately afterward. (In my nightmare, the creep was a noted sexual predator in the book world who kept insisting I attend his cousin’s birthday party. But the scenario was otherwise quite similar.)

Josef, in a winter photo spread for Running Room.

Best outfit: Josef is looking pretty good in those form-fitting track pants and that moisture-wicking top.

Best line: “Tubby time!” – Josef, indicating the point when Aaron really should have left.

Best kill: There’s only one kill, but it’s a great one. It honestly seems like Mark Duplass maybe just killed the director of the film. (I guess that’s the magic of filming at a distance.)

Unexpected cameo: The cast literally consists of two people, but the voice of Angela, Josef’s wife or sister, is Katie Aselton, a regular actor and director of mumblecore films like The Puffy Chair and The Freebie, and Jenny McArthur on television’s The League.

Unexpected lesson learned: I was unaware you can recycle DVDs. Also, never trust a man who readily references the Michael Keaton film, My Life

Most suitable band name derived from the movie: Peach Fuzz, obviously.

Next up: The People Under the Stairs (1991).

31 (More) Days of Fright: Deadly Friend

Fun fact: this film popularized the dance move, ‘The Robot.’

This January, in support of the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre / Multicultural Women Against Rape, friends and family have raised over $1,500 (which, when matched by my employer, totals $3,000). As a result, I now have to watch and write about thirty-one horror movies: one each night. Any donors who contributed over $30 were given the option to choose one of the horror movies I must subject myself to. After each viewing, I will write some things about said movies on this website. Be forewarned that all such write-ups will contain spoilers, and many of them will refer to unpleasant and potentially triggering situations. Today’s film is one often referred to as the director of Scream, Last House on the Left, and Nightmare on Elm Street Wes Craven’s worst film, Deadly Friend. Follow me as I decide whether this is a fair assessment. Deadly Friend was rented by Toronto’s extensive video emporium, Bay Street Video.

What happens:

Trigger warnings: child abuse.

A thief in a hunter’s cap breaks into a Volkswagen bus parked outside of a burger joint at the opening of 1986’s Deadly Friend. His attempts to rob the bus are prevented by B.B., an anthropomorphic yellow robot who mumbles robotic gibberish and says its own name a lot. B.B. chokes the thief and forces him out of the van, then locks the door. The van’s driver, single mother Jeannie Conway (Anne Twomey), and her genius son who built the robot, Paul (Matthew Labyorteaux), re-enter and drive off, none the wiser there was an attempted to break-in. They soon arrive at their new house in the town of Welling.

The first person they meet in their new town is Tom ‘Slime’ Toomey (Michael Sharrett), the paperboy who lives down the street. He is suitably impressed by B.B. and can’t believe that Paul actually created this fully independent feat of artificial intelligence. Tom asks Paul if they’ll be in the same class at school, but obviously not! This guy built a fully functioning robot in 1986; he’s going to the prestigious Polytech University. A professor there, Dr. Johanson (Russ Marin) shows him the personal lab they’ve reserved for Paul’s A.I. experiments.

In the distant future of 1986, even real estate agents will be replaced by robots.

Paul soon meets the girl next door, Samantha Pringle (Kristy Swanson), while B.B. is mowing the lawn. They chat a bit about Paul’s robot creation, and Paul can’t help but notice the bruises on Samantha’s arm. Her menacing dad, Harry (Richard Marcus), soon appears on the porch and Sam runs back home. Paul later inquires with friend Tom about his neighbour Samantha, to which Tom crassly responds “great tits” (his nickname is ‘Slime,’ after all) but warns that her father is very strict and doesn’t let her date. Paul, Tom, and B.B. then pass the house of Elvira Parker (the incredible Anne Ramsey), which Tom notes is locked up tighter than Fort Knox. She doesn’t want anyone near her property (which makes it difficult for his work as newspaper delivery boy).

You know it’s a good dirt bike gang when 75% of the members look like Rowdy Roddy Piper.

While Paul assesses how quickly B.B. could break the combination lock on her front gate, Elvira walks out with a shotgun and warns the boys and robot to steer clear of her place. (Tom, amazingly, is pretty blasé about being threatened at gunpoint.) The boys and B.B. then encounter a local dirt bike gang, up to no good. They push B.B. around a bit, call it a tin can, but B.B. then clamps onto the ringleader’s crotch with its metal hands and squeezes. Only when Paul instructs does B.B. release him. The gang jets away on their dirt bikes.

Samantha drops by the Conways’ house that evening, bearing the gift of store-bought cookies. Paul, clearly delighted by the attention, invites her in and gives her a tour of his science-themed bedroom. (Posters of Newton and Einstein are given great prominence.) But before long, Sam’s dad shows up, insisting she return home and stop bothering the Conways. That night, Harry Pringle shows up drunk and sweaty in his teenage daughter’s bedroom. He implies that she’s been fooling around with Paul, and he doesn’t like it one bit. Harry holds down Sam, so she breaks a vase on her nightstand and stabs her father in the chest. Blood spurts through the vase flute all over Sam and the bedspread, but Harry just laughs. “You can’t hurt me,” he insists. And then Samantha wakes from what was a telling nightmare. (Phew!)

Chillin’ out, maxin’, relaxin’ all cool. Shooting some b-ball outside with a tool.

At Polytech, Paul is busy lecturing students nearly twice his age on artificial intelligence. Later, the three human friends and B.B. shoot some hoops, but when they pass the rock to the robot, B.B. launches it onto Elvira Parker’s front porch. Paul offers to hop the fence, but Elvira steps outside just as he’s scaling the chain link. She takes the ball and tosses it inside. B.B. stares menacingly at her door long after she leaves.

Back in Paul’s Polytech lab, he’s progressed from robots to doing brain surgery on cadavers. He finds that running electrical impulses through the corpse’s brain causes it to twitch. Dr. Johnson, understandably, looks at Paul with grave concern. Shortly before Halloween, Paul and his mom have some good old-fashioned fun, carving a jack o’lantern. Sam arrives at the door with a nosebleed, and requests some ice. While Sam insists she often gets nosebleeds, Mrs. Conway knows her dad is abusing her. “He’s my father,” Sam explains ashamedly. “Sometimes I wanna’ roll a truck over his face, but he’s still my father.”

On Halloween itself, that gang decides to play a prank on Elvira. (My personal advice would be to never play a prank on someone so ready with a shotgun, but whatever.) B.B., using its computer brain, tries every lock combination until the gate swings open. They run inside, but Sam (the only one of the group dressed in costume – as a Greek goddess) sets off flashing alarms on the front porch. The human kids run and hide behind some bushes, but B.B. is not so fast (or inconspicuous). Elvira spots the mobile yellow Dumpster almost immediately and opens fire with her shotgun. She blows the robot apart as Paul howls in agony. Elvira smiles a lopsided grin and returns inside.

Harry Pringle, jockeying for Dad of the Year 1986.

Afterward, Paul is inconsolable in class. The Conways have Sam over for Thanksgiving and give thanks that her dad is passed out drunk on the couch. That night, Sam and Paul share a tentative first kiss. It will be (spoiler alert!) Sam’s last kiss, as well, as she returns home to find her dad is no longer asleep on the couch. On the second floor landing, he confronts Sam about her absence and slaps her. He then verbally abuses her and punches his daughter, which sends her flying down the stairs. Sam never gets up; her eyes flutter and blood dribbles from her mouth.

Paul and his mom see Samantha being loaded into an ambulance. Her father, Harry, insists that she fell on junk she left at the top of the stairs. Dr. Johanson and the other doctors at the university hospital do their best to repair her damaged brain, but there’s no way to save her. Sam is put on life support, but shows no signs of improving. Paul confronts Dr. Johanson; he’s simply not trying hard enough, Paul insists. Johanson says Sam is a lost cause; her dad has instructed them to pull her life support at 10 PM the next night if her vitals show no sign of improving. Incensed, Paul runs back to his room and hatches a monstrous idea. He pulls out the microchip that contains B.B.’s artificial intelligence and wonders.

Paul ensnares his friend Tom into his scheme. He needs Tom’s help, and his dad’s keys. (After all, Tom’s dad – conveniently – works security at the hospital.) Though Tom initially refuses, Paul reminds him that the prank on Elvira was Tom’s idea; it’s kind of his fault B.B. no longer exists. Tom stays over at the Conways that night for a sleepover. (Who has non-sexual sleepover in high school?) Paul then drugs his mother’s coffee (!) and waits for her to nod off. Unfortunately, they learn that the timeline has accelerated: they’re pulling the plug on Sam at 9 PM instead!

Luckily, Mom falls dead asleep soon after, so the boys steal her van and drive to the hospital. Paul dons a medical smock and grabs a laundry cart. He instructs Tom to stay in the utility room, where he is to turn off the power at a minute to 9. That’s when Paul will – in the dark – abscond with Samantha. However, a few things go wrong with this plan: (1) Samantha’s dad instructs the hospital staff to turn off the life support several minutes earlier, and (2) Tom panics and pulls the power while Paul is still in the elevator. Nevertheless, Paul still races out of the hospital moments later with Samantha’s body in his laundry cart. The only difference is that she’s dead. Her heart stopped minutes ago.

“It’s my creation … Is it real? It’s my creation …”

In the van, Tom and Paul argue. Tom didn’t agree to stealing corpses; just run-of-the-mill kidnapping. Paul is insistent: though Samantha is technically dead, there are still things they can do to revive her. They head to Paul’s lab at Polytech and conduct a little experimental brain surgery. Paul inserts the self-contained, battery-powered computer chip from B.B. into Sam’s brain. He tries to use the remote to boot Samantha up, but nothing happens. Then, a breakthrough: her leg kicks wildly. Tom, at Paul’s side, promptly faints.

Very early the next morning, Paul and Tom secret Samantha’s body in Paul’s shed, and cover her up in a sleeping bag. They then return inside and see Mrs. Conway still asleep. She can’t be awakened. “I think you killed her,” Tom cries. But not even the very dark Deadly Friend is dark enough to have Paul inadvertently kill his own mom. She eventually rouses. Tom, feeling uneasy about the night’s events, tells Paul they’re now even.

Paul visits the cyborg Samantha in the shed and wakes her up. She is breathing, and Paul begins to teach her how to sit up and move like a human being (more or less) again. But soon the police are buzzing around the Pringles’ house, investigating Sam’s missing body. That night, Paul is awakened by a crash. He runs to the shed and sees that Sam, now with dark circles around her eyes, has learned to stand. She watches her father through the shed window. (The robot Sam, it should be noted, holds her hands like the clamps of B.B. and cannot speak a word.) Paul, realizing Sam’s cybernetic anger, tires to restrain her and eventually has to power her down.

Samantha, using Pris from Blade Runner as makeup inspiration.

The next morning, Mrs. Conway finds Paul’s expensive new sleeping bag in the yard: is that any way to treat camping equipment? The android Sam, however, is on the move. Harry Pringle wakes up on the couch, sweating bullets. The house is extremely hot: in fact, it appears to be on fire. The coal furnace – somehow the house has a coal furnace, as if it’s a steamship from 1925 – is on overload. Harry goes to the basement to see what’s the matter and spots a bottle of bourbon on the basement steps. He reaches for it and Sam grabs his wrist from under the stars and throws him to the ground. (Fell for the old bourbon trap!) When Harry sees his daughter still alive, he begins to scream. Robot Sam moves toward her father and bends his wrist backward with her pronged hands. She then shoves him up against the burning furnace and finally breaks his neck.

Outside, Paul sees black smoke billowing from the Pringles’ chimney. And given they aren’t selecting a new Pope, he knows it must mean trouble. He enters the basement to see Mr. Pringle half in the furnace with Sam standing over his body. Paul drags Harry Pringle’s gruesomely melted body out of the furnace and hides him in the basement’s coal chute (!), covering over his mangled body with chunks of coal. He then brings Sam into his bedroom to hide until he can figure out what to do next.

Across the street, nosy Elvira Parker thinks she sees a ghost: the Pringle girl in the Conways’ window! She alerts the police, but the police think she must be crazy. Elvira continues watching her old movie when a basketball slowly bounces into the room. Being naturally paranoid, she retrieves her shotgun and locks the door. But after hearing a bang, she sees the front door has been damaged: someone must have broken in. Sam appears behind her. In one of the greatest moments in film history, robot Samantha then hurls the basketball at Elvira Parker, smashing her head into bloody chunks against the wall. The headless Elvira lurches around and spurts blood for a while before collapsing in a heap.

Kristy Swanson, doing her best John Stockton impersonation.

In his bed, Paul Conway awakes to see something moving towards him under the covers, Tremors-like. When he edges himself to the very top of the bed and removes the covers, he sees Samantha’s charred dad, reaching up for him in anguish. But it’s just a nightmare. (So many nightmares in this movie, you’d think they lived on Elm Street.) Paul goes downstairs to chase away his nightmare with a glass of milk, but is spooked by Sam, who is down there waiting for him. He realizes he has to keep Sam in the attic to make sure his mom never finds her. But when he tells her to stay hidden there, robot Sam looks incredibly forlorn.

Paul and his mother hear ambulances and police cars across the street. According to a busybody neighbour, both Mr. Pringle and Mrs. Parker have been found dead: “Elvira’s head is all over the walls in there.” The next day, Sam breaks out of the attic and finds a photos in Paul’s room: Paul, Tom, Sam, and B.B. Given that robotic Samantha now contains the consciousness of two of the four people in the photograph, she becomes disoriented and frustrated. When Paul returns home from school, his mother tells him she heard a stirring upstairs. He finds his android crush in an emotionally distraught state. Paul tries to reassure her, but is interrupted by a phone call from Tom.

Bad news: Tom is beginning to crack. He can’t handle the guilt anymore and needs to tell someone about what he and Paul did at the hospital. Paul begs him not to squeal. Meanwhile Dr. Johanson finds Mrs. Conway at her work and tells her Paul hasn’t been at school for several days; something’s not adding up. Paul brings Tom back to the attic to see Sam. Tom, having not seen Sam since they stole her body, is horrified to see her up and about like a more rational zombie. Tom immediately runs downstairs and threatens to call the cops, calling Paul a creep. (Fair.) Paul, in his struggle to stop Tom from leaving, punches him in the schnozz, causing another nosebleed. That’s when Paul’s mom enters and says they need to have an honest talk.

Tom takes this opportunity to run out and tells Paul, again, he’s calling the cops and putting a stop to his madness. That’s when Sam leaps out the attic window and comes crashing down on Tom. She tosses the boy around some, then shoves Mrs. Conway aside when she tries to intervene. Paul runs up to cyborg Sam and slaps her across the face. In return, she begins to throttle the boy mad scientist, but stops short of killing him. She runs away.

Samantha, keeping Welling clean and taking out the trash.

Paul follows her through the night. He doesn’t find Sam before the leader of the dirt bike gang finds him alone, without a giant yellow robot to back him up. The gang leader starts to rough Paul up. Paul gets a few solid punches in, but he’s no match for the leader of a dirt bike gang. But then the dirt biker hears a howl of “B.B” in the robot’s voice. Samantha arrives and lifts the confused hooligan over her head. Police cruisers rush into the abandoned lot and Samantha tosses the teenager into the police car’s windshield, killing him instantly.

Samantha runs further, but nearly a dozen police cars are in pursuit. They surround her several times before she escapes to the Conways’ shed. Paul realizes that’s where she’s hiding, and finds her in the dark. He pleads with her to remain calm. Maybe he and Dr. Johanson can help her. Then Sam’s P.O.V. turns from a digital display to regular human vision: Sam is slowly regaining some of her humanity. But it’s come much too late: the police have arrived at the shed and demand that Sam come out and give herself up.

As Sam and Paul leave the shed, the police draw their pistols on her. Paul tries to pull the cops’ guns away, but they restrain him. Samantha yells out “Paul!” in her human voice, then runs toward him, her claw-like hands outstretched. The police officer shoots her once in the gut. Samantha dies in Paul’s arms.

In an epilogue, the coroner and Dr. Johanson discuss the strange case of Samantha Pringle as they slide her body into a morgue drawer. They look forward to cracking her open tomorrow: it’ll be one for the record books. After they extinguish the lights, Paul breaks in – this guy never learns – and opens up Sam’s morgue drawer. Paul gazes upon her face and Sam’s hands suddenly pop up and begin to strangle him. Sam’s face slowly peels off, revealing a monstrous version of B.B. underneath. “Come with me, Paul!” she insists, and Paul screams. The end credits play a terrible industrial song in which the chant “B.B.” happens over and over again.

Film’s ending: Does. Not. Compute.

Takeaway points:

  • As horror buffs likely already know, the original version of Deadly Friend, as director Wes Craven intended it, was more of a PG-rated, dark science-fiction thriller about misguided affection. But test audiences expected serious gore from a Wes Craven film, so the film was re-written to include several grisly nightmare sequences and gruesome deaths. (In fact, they went a little too far with the revisions, as the original cut of the film saddled it with an ‘X’ rating.) To Craven, the real horror lay within the character of Samantha’s dad. And he’s a nightmarish figure, to be sure. Underneath the ridiculousness, you can see the glimpses of a heartbreaking story of an abused girl and the failure of her friends and neighbours to protect her from her monstrous dad. (This is helped, in a huge part, by a really excellent Kristy Swanson performance.)
  • Deadly Friend kind of works as a dark, gory inversion of a film that premiered the year prior, Weird Science. It’s almost as if Craven saw the John Hughes comedy and thought it was having too much fun to be a real warning to teenagers eager to play God. As such, Deadly Friend has more in common with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, sharing themes of the dangerous pursuit of scientific knowledge, and how secrecy only leads to disaster.
  • An added element to this film (that Frankenstein lacks) is male entitlement to women and their disinterest in female agency. Paul, simply because he has a crush on Sam, feels he needs to revive her from the dead. Is this something Sam would want? Paul doesn’t even pause to consider this question: he wants her back. The fact that the revived, robotic Sam only looks like his old friend – does not act or sound or move like her – just emphasizes the divergence between Paul’s desires and the dead Samantha’s autonomy.
  • One of the principal questions the film is: What exactly is Samantha’s father’s job? He owns a rather large house, but we only see him drinking and abusing his poor daughter like it’s a full-time occupation.
  • As my friend Andrew, who watched the film with me, noted upon seeing one of the film’s credits, “That medical advisor should be ashamed of himself.”

Truly terrifying or truly terrible?: People deride Deadly Friend, but it’s really not that bad. Some of the nightmare sequences – Samantha stabbing her father, the melted Mr. Pringle appearing in Paul’s bed – are genuinely scary. Deadly Friend is just an ambitious film that fell short of its goals. But I respect the genuine effort.

Samantha Pringle never met a pink she didn’t like.

Best outfit: Let’s just agree it’s a bold choice to wear a sweatsuit that incorporates three different shades of pink – and on Thanksgiving, no less. Samantha Pringle, I salute your style confidence.

Best line: “Oh, I love these. I love them. Thank you, come in.” – Paul Conway, playing it real close to the chest when Sam gives him a box of cookies.

Best kill: Forget this particular movie: there are few kills in film history better than Elvira Parker’s unceremonious dispatch by a powerfully thrown basketball. (Watch it online if you doubt me.)

Unexpected cameo: The voice of B.B., Charles Fleischer, was also the voice of Roger Rabbit in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

Unexpected lesson learned: Don’t rely on medical professionals to strictly obey the times at which they terminate life support down to the very minute.

Most suitable band name derived from the movie: Slime Toomey.

Next up: Creep (2014).