Cocktail Hour: In honor of Wes Craven, the Deadly Friend

This week's drink toasts one of Wes Craven's least successful, but still fun, flicks.

Last weekend, the horror world lost one of its heavyweights: director Wes Craven.

Craven gifted us with controversial early films such as Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes that pushed the limits on bloodshed and brutality. Later in his career, he turned out clever, self-aware and lucrative mainstream horror such as Nightmare on Elm Street, The Serpent and the Rainbow and Scream.

Of course, Craven also made some less successful films during his career. For my money, one of the most enjoyable of that bunch is Deadly Friend, his 1986 riff on the Frankenstein tale.

Teen genius Paul (Matthew Laborteaux) moves into a new town, along with a robot of his creation named Bee Bee. While Bee Bee is an amazing engineering feat, his artificial intelligence has a dark (some might say psychotic) side. It doesn’t take Paul long to fall hard for Samantha (Kristy Swanson), the wholesome girl next door. Problem is Samantha’s the victim of an abusive father, and during an argument, dear old dad pushes her down the stairs.

Samantha lapses into a coma after the fall, and Paul implants Bee Bee’s AI components into the girl’s brain to bring her back. Like you do.

Of course, reanimated Samantha — now buffed with a robot’s strength and walking in a stiff and Karloff-like gait — also inherits Bee Bee’s dark side. To Paul’s horror, she begins killing off all the townsfolk who treated her badly.

Robot Samantha delivers the game-winning shot.

The movie’s primary flaw is that it can’t decide whether it wants to be a slightly dark sci-fi kid’s movie or a gory terror flick. Reportedly, that’s the result of a conflict between Craven, who wanted to make a lighter PG-rated film, and the studio, eager to capitalize on the recent success of Nightmare on Elm Street.

Despite the confusion, Craven’s wit and dark humor shine through. The gore — including the film’s money shot: a beheading by basketball — is too campy to take seriously, and the director drops in some clever nods to reward attentive viewers. Look for the scene where one of Samantha’s victims dies as her television plays The Bad Seed, a movie about a little girl with a taste for homicide.

Is Deadly Friend a Craven masterpiece? Not by a long shot, but it’s a fun, largely forgotten slice of ’80s horror that (mostly) works despite the changes the studio forced on its creator.

It’s also the inspiration for this week’s cocktail, the Deadly Friend.

This drink is a spin on the similarly named Old Pal, a classic cocktail of rye, dry vermouth and the bitter, deep red Italian digestif Campari. I substituted another bitter Italian aperitif, Cynar, which is less sweet and hits a different array of aromatic notes. Watching Deadly Friend may leave you wanting something that feels less like kid’s stuff, and this cocktail’s bitter, savory qualities definitely satisfy adult tastes.


1 oz. rye whiskey
1 oz. dry vermouth
1 oz. Cynar

Stir all three ingredients in an ice-filled glass until thoroughly chilled and pour into a cocktail or coupe glass. Optionally, serve garnished with a sliver of orange peel.


Cocktail Hour: The Scarlet Gospel

Today, I’m debuting a regular feature in which I’ll highlight a science fiction-, fantasy- or horror-themed cocktail and discuss its inspiration. Today’s drink is an appropriately hued gin concoction themed around the recent release of Clive Barker’s The Scarlet Gospels.

Barker’s first adult horror novel since 2001, The Scarlet Gospels is essentially a hard-boiled version of Paradise Lost. It matches Harry D’Amour, the private-eye demon hunter who first appeared in “The Last Illusion,” against Pinhead, the lead Cenobite from “The Hellbound Heart,” the novella that launched the “Hellraiser” franchise.

Those expecting the kind of skin-crawling horror Barker executed so well in “The Hellbound Heart” and his groundbreaking Books of Blood will likely be disappointed. Sure, there’s plenty of trademark viscera and lush language. One expects that as the characters trek through through Hell in search of Lucifer, who’s pulled a Howard Hughes-style disappearing act. But missing is the sense of creeping dread that made “The Hellbound Heart” such a compelling read in the first place.

That said, The Scarlet Gospels still succeeds as dark fantasy. Barker’s prose is vivid, even if stripped down compared to his earlier work. The opening scene, in which Pinhead dispatches the last of the world’s great magicians, is alone worth the price of admission. During the course of the novel, Barker does a superb job at making us care about both the dedicated and loyal Harry and the immortal and world-weary Pinhead, even as the demon exacts cruelty after cruelty.

The book’s namesake cocktail combines gin with Cynar, a bitter Italian aperitif made from artichokes. Beyond its color, I chose Cynar because we learn during the course of The Scarlet Gospels that Pinhead isn’t only a ruthless sadist but a rather bitter fellow. Among his many grievances: the hardware store-inspired nickname with which he’s been saddled. The cocktail’s use of blood orange, aside from deepening its red color, provides sweet and sour citrus notes as a foil for the Cynar’s bitterness.


The Scarlet Gospel

1 oz. gin
1 oz. Cynar
3/4 oz. fresh-squeezed blood orange juice
1/2 oz. simple syrup

Shake the ingredients over ice in a cocktail shaker and drain into a coupe glass. Serve ice cold.