Imagine Casting
Imagine Casting

Friend by Dawson Joyce; Based on the Novel by Diana Henstell and a Screenplay by Bruce Joel Rubin

My introduction to Wes Craven's 1986 film Deadly Friend was in the year 2010, when I saw James Rolfe's compilation of cinematic head explosions on his website Cinemassacre. One particular clip came from that film, where an old lady — played by Anne Ramsey, best known for her performances as Mama Fratelli in The Goonies and Momma Lift in Throw Momma from the Train — had her head exploded by, of all things, a basketball, thrown at her by Kristy Swanson, the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It ended up sticking with me for a long time. I watched the film in full in around 2013, and it was in the summer of that year when I became familiar with its original source material, the young adult novel Friend by author Diana Henstell. I was entertained by the film but I grew to adore the book, which I bought on my Amazon Kindle.

I also read extensively online about how the film adaptation wasn't what the late Craven nor screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin intended. The two originally wanted to create a much more subtle, challenging film, dealing with dark subject matter but with a much heavier emphasis on the heart of the story. What was originally supposed to be a twisted yet poignant teen romance from beyond the grave was lambasted by test audiences, which primarily consisted of hardcore Craven fans, which gave the studio the bright idea to force Craven to turn his film into a needlessly gory splatter film a la A Nightmare on Elm Street. The end result was considered a mess. There was even a petition online to get the original cut restored and released to the public. Shout! Factory was interested, but couldn't get the rights from Warner Bros. Pictures, who had no interest in revisiting the film.

While that was a considerable bummer, it's hard to blame them since the film was a critical and commercial failure upon its theatrical release, although they once toyed with the idea of a 3D re-imagining back in 2010, with rumors of Kristen Stewart being approached for the lead role, but that never came to fruition. It's because of all this that the film ended up becoming a rather strange obsession of mine. It was actually one of the things that got me interested in filmmaking and researching behind-the-scenes information on other films. For a long time, I've had several ideas in my head of how a new adaptation of this property could be approached. I jotted my ideal plot, a remake of the earlier film that sticks closer to the tone and spirit of the original book if not necessarily in content, down on Google Docs back in 2016 and I've been adjusting it for years since.

Friend is classified as a romantic science fiction horror thriller. I envision it having an R rating, specifically for sequences of disturbing violent and sexual content including bloody images, and for language. The projected length of the production is approximately two and 3/4 hours.

The target audience for Friend is people of any and all genders, races, ethnicities, and sexual orientations, who are fans of romance, sci-fi, horror, or all four of those genres, and aren't in any way squeamish towards uncomfortable subject matter and intense depictions of violence.

An intelligent boy tries to revive his dying girlfriend by implanting a robotic microchip into her brain, only to turn her into a terrifying monster seeking revenge on those who wronged her.

Paul Conway is a smart but troubled teenager who is dealing with the divorce of his parents and the death of a classmate that he accidentally caused at his previous school. Paul, his newly single mother Jeannie, and BB, a robot he built and his only friend, move to the town of Welling (Paul McCartney's “Young Boy” plays on the soundtrack). Paul now has to attend Mason High School, where he studies neurology with Dr. Henry Johanson. Paul and BB become friends with Tom Toomey, a classmate who’s on the bottom rung and is nicknamed “Slime” because he’s the son of the funeral home director. However, Paul is mocked and despised by the rest of the town, being called a troublemaker and a spectacle and chastised for being an agnostic. Bullies at school tease him for being overweight, nicknaming him “Piggy,” and insult BB.

While cleaning the front yard one afternoon, Paul meets his next door neighbor, the beautiful Samantha “Sam” Pringle. The two befriend one another and Paul finds himself falling in love with her. However, back home, Sam is physically and sexually abused by her father Harry, who lets his rage out on Sam because of his wife Grace having an affair and leaving him due to his violent ways. Harry is also an alcoholic, drinking heavily at the local pub every night. Sam is further hurt by the townsfolk knowing about the abuse but keeping quiet about it, rendering them complicit in her torment.

While walking around the neighborhood after school one day, Tom, Paul, and BB encounter ill-tempered recluse Elvira Williams, who threatens the boys with a shotgun and expresses instant dislike for BB, with the robot taking notice of her hostile attitude. The three then get into trouble with a gang led by one of the bullies at school, Carl Denton, who finally decides to leave them alone when BB violently gropes him. At night, Sam delivers a housewarming gift to Paul and Jeannie as Paul takes Sam on a tour around his new house. Harry then comes by looking for her and angrily takes her back home.

Harry’s abuse leaves Sam with bruises that she attempts to cover up whenever she visits Paul. Sam reveals to Paul that she can’t bring herself to tell the authorities about the abuse because she fears what he would do if she did and he found out about it, as well as knowing that the townsfolk will stay silent about the abuse. Sam tells him about her mother Grace abandoning her and her hatred towards both her and Harry. Paul sympathizes with Sam as his estranged father Tony cheated on Jeannie with another woman before they divorced. After Paul comforts her, they both admit that they have feelings for one another and share their first kiss, which leads into them having a romantic relationship, beginning with them having a picnic together during the weekend (Nick Drake's “Northern Sky” plays on the soundtrack).

Paul, Sam, and Tom plan on pulling a Halloween prank on Elvira (Warren Zevon's “Werewolves of London” plays on the soundtrack). Harry overhears them and heads over to Elvira’s house, paying her to destroy BB since they both share hatred towards him. On Halloween night, BB cracks the gate combination open and Sam rings the doorbell. As alarms go off, Paul, Sam, and Tom hide in the shrubbery. BB stands near the porch, reluctant to leave. Elvira pulls her shotgun on him and shoots him, destroying him and satisfying Harry. BB’s death devastates Paul and makes Tom feel guilty. Knowing he owes Paul one, the next day, Tom puts together a memorial service for BB with Sam’s help (Pink Floyd's “Wish You Were Here” plays on the soundtrack). Paul appreciates it and forgives him. One day at school, Carl tastelessly mocks BB, which provokes Paul into fighting him in the cafeteria, getting both of them suspended for a week.

Paul and Sam’s relationship continues to bloom as time goes by. One night, Sam comes over to Paul’s house and they dance together in his living room (Patti Smith Group's “Because the Night” plays on the soundtrack). When she sleeps in his bedroom that night, he has a nightmare about the incident at his former school. His classmate was a boy named Bertram Lennard, who was constantly giving Paul a rough time and making fun of BB. One day in class, Bertram and Paul got into a fight. Paul accidentally knocked over a tube filled with liquid chemicals. Bertram dropped his lighter on them, causing a fire that fatally burned him. Paul has had nightmares of this event ever since, feeling guilty for Bertram’s death.

As Sam returns to her home, a drunk Harry is outraged that she has come back so late. He thinks she and Paul were “fooling around,” enraging him. When Harry violently beats her and tries to rape her, Sam retaliates by hitting him in the head with his beer bottle. Harry then slaps her and pushes her down the stairs, rendering her brain-dead and unconscious. Sam is taken to the hospital, where a doctor tells Paul that Sam will be put on life support for twenty-four hours until the plug is pulled. A distraught Paul runs away, overwhelmed by the thought of losing her. After Jeannie comforts him, Paul then remembers that BB’s A.I. microchip can interface with the human brain, so he concocts an idea to use the chip to bring Sam back to life.

Convincing a reluctant Tom to help him, the two enter the morgue and retrieve Sam’s body. The body is then taken to the lab at Mason, where he inserts the microchip into Sam’s brain. During a rainstorm outside, lightning strikes the building and goes into the microchip in Sam’s brain. After finding himself waking up in his room, Paul is visited by Tom, who reveals to him that he took him to his room after the strike knocked him out unconscious and that Sam is hiding in the equipment shed at the football field near the school. The two find her, only to notice rats biting her toes, frightening them. Paul touches her elbow pit, acting as an on and off switch, and Sam awakens. Her resurrection was caused by a combination of the microchip and the lightning, but her mannerisms are completely mechanical, suggesting that BB is in control of her mind and body.

Keeping Sam a secret from Jeannie and the rest of the town, Paul takes her back to his home and helps her re-learn how to act human. He also bathes her and gives her a set of clothes for her to wear. However, Sam’s body decomposes as time goes by, with yellow pus oozing out of her eyes, a scarred and rotting face, and skeletal toes. Blue eye shadow also forms itself around her eyelids, representing her humanity gradually fading away. Even as her body falls apart, Sam continues to adapt to her new form and show greater skill at movement and understanding.

The town police, including sergeant Charlie Volchek and deputy Emmett Sidowsky, arrive at Sam’s house one afternoon and inform Harry that her body has disappeared, with Volchek suspecting that Harry stole her corpse and is also responsible for her death. Meanwhile, Jeannie, who’s currently going out with Peter Bayard, the principal of Mason, struggles with giving Paul space and wanting to mother him and also struggles with dating Peter and wanting Tony back in her life. This, along with Paul trying to keep Sam a secret, ends up putting strain on their relationship. One day while visiting Dr. Johanson, Paul asks him if he’s ever thought about life after death. Johanson, a devout Catholic, believes that science should be concerned with implementing life and not replacing life, and says that those who try to play God would have to pay the ultimate price.

At night, while Paul’s asleep, Sam returns to her house to avenge her death at Harry’s hands. When Harry hears a noise in the basement, Sam attacks him by pushing him down the stairs, the same way he did when he killed her, knocking him unconscious. When he wakes up in Sam’s room, she breaks his wrist. Horrified, he pleads with Sam not to further hurt him and that her death was an accident. Sam seems to understand at first, but then kills him by stomping on his head and crushing his skull. After finishing off her father, Sam now targets Elvira Williams. Elvira quickly catches a glimpse of Sam outside her bedroom window, but thinks it’s just her imagination. Elvira also finds her shotgun missing. She turns around slowly when she hears someone cocking her shotgun and Sam, having broken into the house, shoots and decapitates her. Paul wakes up in the middle of the night, after having a nightmare where Sam stands beside him covered in blood, and discovers that Sam is gone.

Paul convinces Tom to help him search for Sam and they end up discovering Harry and Elvira’s corpses. They eventually come to the conclusion that Sam is going on a murderous rampage to right the wrongs committed against her, Paul, and BB. Jeannie discovers what’s been going on with Paul and Sam and calls out Paul for his entitlement. Wanting to put an end to this, Tom leaves to contact the police, which leads into him getting in a fight with Paul. Seeing their fight through the attic window, Sam jumps out and attacks Tom, fatally stabbing him in the chest with a shard of glass, with Jeannie intervening. Paul convinces Sam to stop, but not before she tries strangling him. Sam, quickly coming to her senses, lets him go and then runs away, with her vision constantly switching between human and robotic. While Jeannie stays with a dying Tom, Paul goes after Sam. Paul is soon confronted by Carl, who gets into a fight with him. Carl gets killed by Sam by being brutally stabbed in the back and through his heart with a lug wrench.

With the police discovering her, Sam causes mayhem and destruction in town, injuring and killing several people in the process. Sam then runs back to Paul’s shed, frightened and confused. Paul finds her and tries to persuade her to let him get them help but fails. A distraught Paul apologizes to her and starts to cry, feeling guilt and remorse over his decision to resurrect her. Resenting himself for using her as a vessel for BB, Paul calls himself a monster. Sam’s vision keeps switching between human and robotic, which Paul discovers. She then tenderly says his name, indicating that she is regaining her humanity and is now in control instead of BB, and the two embrace.

However, BB takes control of her once again when they’re discovered by Volchek and Sidowsky, resulting in the officers’ deaths. Paul and Sam then steal their car and drive to the bridge, getting in an accident that renders them momentarily unconscious. Paul crawls out after waking up and drags Sam with him. Believing she might be better off dead, Paul says goodbye to her. However, Sam eventually wakes up, vomiting blood and having finally regained her humanity. But knowing she’s about to die a second time, she tells Paul to come with her as she doesn’t want to be alone in death. She also tells him that she loves him and gives him a kiss. Paul, realizing that their love for one another outweighs everything else, decides to go with her. Sam jumps first, with Paul following her shortly afterwards into oblivion (Foreigner's “I Don't Want to Live Without You” plays on the soundtrack).

• Jeremy Ray Taylor as Paul “Piggy” Conway (14, white cisgender male, heterosexual): A young boy troubled over his parents' divorce and an accident he caused at his previous school. He's wise beyond his years and frequently bullied for his social awkwardness and being overweight and an agnostic.
• Angourie Rice as Samantha “Sam” Pringle (15, white cisgender female, heterosexual): A girl who lives next door to Paul, who develops a crush on her. She's very sweet and friendly, but back at home, she suffers constant physical, psychological, and sexual abuse at the hands of her alcoholic father. She becomes the “friend” of the title, and a deadly one at that.
• BB (3, robot): Paul's extraordinary creation, a powerful robot with artificial intelligence who resembles the offspring of Bumblebee and Johnny-5, and has the curiosity and adorableness of R2-D2 and BB-8. He, like his creator, is subject to constant mockery from the townspeople due to their fear of what they can't understand. This character would be aesthetically identical to how he appeared in “Deadly Friend” — shining sun-yellow body, glistening silver chest, glowing baby-blue eyes — and would be created entirely through computer-generated special effects.
• Caleb McLaughlin as Tom “Slime” Toomey (15, black cisgender male, heterosexual): The local paper delivery boy who's made fun for being the son of the town's funeral home director, to the point where he's derisively nicknamed “Slime.” He befriends the lonely Paul and charms him with his sympathy, street-smarts, and sharp sense of humor. He eventually begins to have some regrets over this, for reasons that are not entirely hard to justify.
• Sarah Paulson as Jeannie Conway (42, white cisgender female, heterosexual): Paul's mother who, like her son, is troubled by recent events. For as much as she loves Paul with all her heart, the ice their relationship is on gets slowly but increasingly thin. She often flip-flops between wanting to move on and wanting things to be like the way they were before, and it's something she struggles with constantly.
• Jason Clarke as Harry Pringle (46, white cisgender male, heterosexual): Samantha's abusive father, who lets all his rage out on his daughter because of his wife leaving him years ago, for obvious reasons. Even taking the abuse of the equation, he treats Samantha more like a housewife than a daughter, making her cook and clean. Every day, he kills his body more and more with the constant alcohol he devours.
• Kathy Bates as Elvira Williams (75, white cisgender female, heterosexual): A bitter, paranoid elderly woman who lives right across the street from the rest of the characters above. Her outlook on life and reality is harsh and cynical. She carries around a double-barrel shotgun in case of trespassers, and lives alone in an old, old house with a chain-link fence surrounding it, completely isolating herself from everybody around her.
• Mike Vogel as Peter Bayard (36, white cisgender male, heterosexual): The principal of Paul's school. A man of reasonable authority, often stern but ultimately a kind soul. He wants to make sure Paul lives up to his potential and even takes an interest in Jeannie, approaching romantic.
• Cary Elwes as Dr. Henry Johanson (54, white cisgender male, heterosexual): A warm-hearted, accomplished neurologist who studies the brain with Paul as part of the latter's extracurricular activities. Although a devout Catholic, he respects Paul's being an agnostic and has no qualms with it. But he does become concerned over Paul's playing God.
• Jeffrey Wright as Sgt. Charlie Volchek (45, black cisgender male, heterosexual): A sergeant for the town's local police department. He shares the kids' disdain for the townsfolk and their needlessly hateful ways but does the best he can to keep everyone safe and sound. He eventually becomes tangled in a dark, twisted web when Sam's death and eventual resurrection come into play.
• Nicholas Hamilton as Carl Denton (17, white cisgender male, heterosexual): The school bully and leader of the town's local goon squad, like someone you'd see plucked straight out of a Stephen King coming-of-age novel. He goes out of his way to mock and humiliate Paul, Sam, Tom, and BB for no other reason than because he can, and he's able to get away with his vile behavior due to his family having connections.

The character of Paul is a rather complex one, to say the least. What makes the character so special in the book is that he feels real, and that's what I want to convey here. He's a troubled, lonely kid who clearly has issues stemming from his past. What makes him unique is that while the character is a sympathetic one, you still understand that the path he goes on and the actions he takes in regards to Sam's death are very dangerous.

The character of Sam is the heart of the story. In contrast to Paul, whose pain lies in the past, Samantha's pain is still ongoing. It's through abuse and tragedy that the two connect and form a very close bond with one another. Sam's a victim of abuse, and I'd want to portray that side of the character as realistically as possible. She wants it all to stop but is afraid of what her father would do to her if she resisted in any way. Paul can relate to Sam's ongoing pain and her anger as a result of her parents' separation from personal experience. Even when Sam is turned into a murderous vengeance-driven creature, Paul can't let her go nor let nature take its course no matter what she does. She's a monster, but he still loves her, because he understands why she's become a monster. The image of a lonely boy dragging his dead friend through the streets in the dark of night and cold of weather is undoubtedly effective.

One of the most interesting characters in the story is Harry, Samantha's father who routinely beats her and makes her do everything around the house, from cooking to cleaning. He uses her as a vent for his rage and feelings of jealousy and rejection. What makes him so interesting is that there's no attempt to make Harry's character sympathetic because of his actions but at the same time we are able to understand why he is the way he is. Samantha, even when she's brought back to life as a monster that kills people, isn't the true villain of the story.

The true villains are the townsfolk. People who don't care about the world around them. People who know what's going on with Samantha and Harry but don't care enough to do anything about it. They just go on with their lives. It's this type of callousness that's arguably the most frightening aspect of the story. It's them where the true evil resides within, not Samantha, living or dead. It's a story about the unpredictability of those around her and the evil that men do. It's a story about the misguided nature of meddling within the domain of a much grander power.

This is undoubtedly a very dark, gloomy, and depressing tale. I'd really want to focus on the danger of this situation and the brutality of the carnage that ensues, but I'd also want to let the audience take a breath and relax with moments of Paul and Sam getting closer and forming a strong, loving bond. A good balance needs to be achieved because otherwise, it would come off as tonally all over the place. For Sam's rampage, I wouldn't want to compromise on the violence — with my approach to the story, a tamer, tween-friendly PG-13 rating is entirely out of the equation — but at the same time, I wouldn't want to go needlessly over-the-top with it, because it will come off more funny than disturbing. A recreation of the infamous basketball scene is also out of the equation. For one, you can't top the sheer so bad it's good insanity of the original scene no matter how hard you try. Second, incorporating that scene would fit poorly with the grim tone I'd go for and immediately take you out of the experience.

Director Results

Director Total Votes: 1

  1. 1. Dawson Joyce 100% 

Cast Results

Paul "Piggy" Conway Total Votes: 1

  1. 1. Jeremy Ray Taylor 100% 

Samantha "Sam" Pringle Total Votes: 1

  1. 1. Angourie Rice 100% 

Harry Pringle Total Votes: 1

  1. 1. Jason Clarke 100% 

Jeannie Conway Total Votes: 1

  1. 1. Sarah Paulson 100% 

Tom "Slime" Toomey Total Votes: 1

  1. 1. Caleb McLaughlin 100% 

Elvira Williams Total Votes: 1

  1. 1. Kathy Bates 100% 

Dr. Henry Johanson Total Votes: 1

  1. 1. Cary Elwes 100% 

Sgt. Charlie Volchek Total Votes: 1

  1. 1. Jeffrey Wright 100% 

Dr. Peter Bayard Total Votes: 1

  1. 1. Mike Vogel 100% 

Carl Denton Total Votes: 1

  1. 1. Nicholas Hamilton 100% 


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