Deadly Friend/Hardbodies 2/The Bikini Shop

November 7, 2011

Swanson takes aim: Deadly Friend.

A scouting report from the megaplex at your nearest mall:

Deadly Friend. Wes Craven’s last film was the terrifying Nightmare on Elm Street, an inspired horror movie that wreaked havoc with the audience’s sense of security by playing complicated games with dream vs. reality. Deadly Friend, however, is closer to his recent work on the new “Twilight Zone” TV series, which is to say it’s clean and professional and occasionally jarring, but doesn’t quite fling itself into anything special.

Even so, it’s pretty effective. It begins unpromisingly, with a boy genius (Matthew Laborteaux) tending to his talking robot. Another talking robot! Luckily, this jumble of metal is blown away by a shotgun-toting neighbor during a Halloween prank, and never beeps again.

The kind invented the robot, and he also invents a spindly doohickey that can re-animated dead people, by stimulating the brain. When his new girlfriend (Kristy Swanson) is killed by her brutal father, he grabs the body, takes it home, and sticks the doohickey in her brain.

So she starts walking around with blue eye makeup and goes after the people who bugged her before; the father and the neighbor. The latter is killed through decapitation by a basketball.

A lot of this is fine, with great residential atmosphere a la Nightmare. The last reel or so goes oddly flat as the script runs down; Craven seems to be at his best when he’s working from his own material.

Hardbodies 2. There are exploitation films that are coy about serving up nudity, giving you a peek and a giggle and a lot of well-placed bedsheets. Not so Hardbodies 2, a forthright film that floods the screen, if such a verb is appropriate, with tanned naked flesh.

This can happen because it all takes place in Greece, where it seems everybody goes topless while sunbathing. (Everybody is slim and gorgeous, too.) The plot revolves rather freely around the making of a low-budget exploitation movie. The men are required to be funny and romantic, which they are not; the women are required to be topless, which they very much are.

The Bikini Shop. About the most I can say for this little movie is that writer-director David Wechter gives evidence that sometime, somewhere, he saw a few classic movie comedies. There’s a hint of Frank Capra about the story, albeit updated and degraded for the 1980s.

A woman (cameo by Rita Jenrette) who owns a bikini shop dies. The store is willed to her nephews; one is straight-laced and level-headed, the other is a beach bum. Both must come and take over the store, and naturally save it from bankruptcy, by inventing a new fashion craze in bikinidom: combat bikinis.

The must also suffer through the attentions of the three beach bunnies who still work at the store. At least one great sequence here: the ready-made music video that shows the gals dancing in their new camouflage bikinis, while a war goes on around them. Sadly, the rest of the film rarely approaches this level of vulgarity.

First published in the Herald, October 15, 1986

A trio made for Joe Bob Briggs, it seems. Hardbodies 2, I see now, has James Karen top-billed, an actor who has known his way around a few exploitation movies in his long, long career. In The Bikini Shop, one of the nephews was played by Bruce Greenwood, proving once again that you have to start somewhere. If the name Rita Jenrette doesn’t ring a bell, you’ll have to look up the history of D.C. political scandals, although hers doesn’t seem very outrageous anymore.