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Thursday, April 9, 2020

The Stepfather (1987)



The time has come for me to take a critical look at an old video rental favorite of mine. The Stepfather stars Terry O’Quinn as a man in search of the perfect family. Now as all of you out there know that is an impossible task. Unfortunately, when O’Quinn’s character realizes that his current family isn’t going to fit his idea of familial bliss he bails and goes in search of a new one. Though unlike most people he doesn’t get a divorce he murders them all instead! We know this because we see him changing his appearance and walking over the bodies of his current family in the opening scenes of the movie.

With that setup we see him married again, now going under the name Jerry Blake, and trying his best to be a good stepfather to Stephanie. Things are going a bit rough, but it looks to be getting better as teenage Stephanie starts to appreciate Jerry. But then the brother of the woman he killed earlier (the first family) convinces the local newspaper to bring the story back up a year after the crime. The jig is up for Jerry and he knows it is only a matter of time before he is found out. Plus, it just isn’t working out with Stephanie and her mother, so it is looking like he needs to try again fresh. Yep, time for more killings.

Let me start off by shooting down the idea that this is a “classic” of the eighties. The Stepfather is a very good movie but in no way is it on the level of Evil Dead or Re-Animator. Those movies bring a lot to the table and have so many reasons to love them. The Stepfather has one thing going for it and that is Terry O’Quinn as the titular character. He gives one of the best performances in any horror movie from a decade filled with some good ones. There are scenes where he is saying all the “right” things but there is a look in his eyes that tells you he is contemplating the best way to murder you at that very moment. It is subtle and disturbing on so many levels.

This is one creepy dude
The character also hardly every raises his voice even when he is stalking and killing people! So, when he does it is used to great effect. Specifically, I’m thinking of the basement scene where he reacts in private to the news article in the paper about the earlier killings, and his total overreaction to Stephanie getting a goodnight kiss. This allows those scenes to be even more powerful than they otherwise would have been because the audience can see the character getting desperate and knows what happens when he feels the need to run away.

Now I don’t want to imply that other than O’Quinn the movie is subpar. The writing does a good job supporting and setting up his performance. The best example of this is a bit early on when he steps over the body of his young daughter that gets called back to several times as he deals with the kids of his clients. They think he is just a charming family man who they can trust, but we know that he flat out murdered a child and thought nothing of it. That brings an additional level of creepy that helps set the tone. My point is that while there are some good things here, they all are either in support of or overshadowed by the main character. Remove him and the rest of it feels rather generic.

Sure he kills people... but he also is an animal lover.
Speaking of generic the kills in the movie are disappointing. Other than some fun with a two by four and a stabbing we only see the bodies afterwards. Both of the kills that I mentioned cut away before anything too graphic is seen. Though the lumber inspired beatdown has a brutality to it that was interesting. I know that many might make the point that this isn’t the kind of movie that hangs its hat on a bunch of gore. While I don’t disagree, some good kills would have been a nice addition to The Stepfather and ties back into my original point of not quite reaching the level of classic.

Perhaps I’m splitting hairs with this review. Clearly, I like it and will be recommending the movie. Terry O’Quinn is awesome in the role and that alone is worth a watch. I just have always had this feeling that they could have taken that performance and supported it with a bit more horror in the gore and scares. The Stepfather could have been a bona fide classic but ended up as a very good movie instead.  


© Copyright 2020 John Shatzer

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