Dir. Joseph Ruben (1987)
A serial killer inserts himself into the lives of single mothers and their children and then kills them.
CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
Happy Father’s Day! I thought, to celebrate the holiday, I’d bring to you an 80’s classic about a guy who is totally father of the year material. I’m talking, of course, about 1987’s cult classic The Stepfather, starring Terry O’Quinn (Lost) as the titular bastard and Shelley Hack and Jill Schoelen as his next victims. Full disclosure: this was my first watch of this one, and I actually did see the 2009 remake with the dudes from Nip/Tuck and Netflix’s You and remembered quite enjoying it. This one was… ehh, maybe a little disappointing.
”Really? The script just says, be boring?”
The opening scene shows us O’Quinn, covered in blood, standing in a bathroom. He strips down and gets in the shower, washing the blood away, and gives himself a shave once he gets out to rid himself of the scraggly beard and hair. He dresses himself in a nice business suit, thereafter going downstairs to reveal that he has massacred an entirely family in their home, including their children. It’s a wonderfully gory and intriguing opening scene, setting the stage for what’s to come. Unfortunately, this scene is one of the most effective in the movie, and what follows is an extremely slow burn of a film with a handful of entertaining scenes scattered throughout the remaining runtime.
Thankfully, for the purposes of the movie, he quickly finds another family in which to insert himself. His modus operandi is to find a family where he can serve as the Stepfather, seeking to find the perfect family that won’t disappoint him. As we all know, no family is perfect, especially families from which the father is removed due to untimely death or divorce. In his new family, stepdad pretty much immediately oversteps his boundaries, calling his new stepdaughter pumpkin and telling both her and her mother that “daddy knows best.” As a stepfather myself, this is absolutely not something that is to be done, and things will not end well for you if you decide to take this path. The kids don’t like it, momma don’t like it, and you’ll find yourself becoming an ex-stepfather very quickly if you’re not careful.
While the movie does follow a relatively predictable path, there are some genuine moments of tension throughout, and O’Quinn really does do a great job of portraying a slightly-unhinged dad. Perhaps the most disturbing part of the film is that the screenwriter based the teenaged stepdaughter character on his own stepdaughter, with whom he was not getting along. As this character has a nude scene, and the entire film is about her stepfather wanting to kill her, this is all kinds of fucked up. Like, surely the wife and stepdaughter weren’t okay with this? How do you watch a movie like this that your stepfather makes and be like, yeah, he’s an awesome stepfather, this is exactly the kinds of thoughts I was hoping were in his head! It would be like if Friday the 13th was written by a mother who lost her son to a drowning accident and hated summer camp counselors. You just can’t create these kinds of stories out of your real life, dude. People are gonna start asking questions.
Like this one.
Who this movie is for: Cult horror fans, People (like myself) who somehow haven’t ever seen it, New dads
Bottom line: The movie isn’t bad, and there are a billion horror movies out there that are worse, but this one finds itself almost squarely in Lifetime movie territory. It’s not overly gory, and while the final scene is a nice little slashery setup, the movie as a whole kinda drags. I don’t really get the cult appeal of this one, as its relatively forgettable and formulaic. Unfortunately, it garners the dreaded “B word,” because most of the film is just kinda boring. The acting is decent, the direction is fine… I dunno, it just leaves a meh feeling that these types of movies have to fight to avoid. All in all, this one isn’t one I’ll find myself rewatching anytime soon.