As the 80s were coming to an end, quite few horror movies were released that basically told the world they didn’t give a shit the decade was closing out, they were going to keep showing up in theaters until people stopped going to see them. Since 1987 was a big year for a lot of movies—not only horror—this one year became memorable for me because of a lot of flicks I’d seen back then. There was A Nightmare on Elm Street 3,The Lost Boys, Creepshow 2, and…The Stepfather. And let’s be clear here. In no way am I talking about the remake released a few years back, but the original 1987 cult classic, starring John Locke himself, Terry O’Quinn.
Once again, as I go over these reviews that I’m writing, this month is the best time to watch these types of movies. Certain horror films are okay to see during the summer months, but most should be viewed when it’s dark outside and that they be seen throughout the month of October.
Even though I was quite familiar with this film at the time of release, I didn’t get a chance to see it within a theater or drive-in setting. Instead, like most movies I’d seen back then, I waited until it was released onto VHS—usually close to a year after theatrical release—and rented it from the local rental shop (Blockbuster Video was probably around at that time, I’m sure), taking it back home and trying to see it without any interruption. Because, let me tell you, it was tough back then, living at home and resorting to sit in the family room, hoping my parents wouldn’t walk in on the movie if it happened to show some boobage, get too gory, or just get crazy with F-bombs galore. But besides that, looking back at my time when I had little to no responsibilities, just going to my part time job and then coming home to watch a movie or two, life was great. But enough of this sidebar, let’s discuss The Stepfather.
The story is about a man who adopts the name of Jerry Blake (Terry O’Quinn), who wants to be the patriarch of a perfect family. He goes from town to town, finding a divorced mother with a family and marries into it. Whenever things don’t turn out the way he imagined it would be, he kills them off and moves to the next town to start all over again. He finally meets and marries a divorcée, Susan Maine (Shelley Hack), who has a teenaged daughter, Stephanie (Jill Schoelen). But, as always, things don’t work out as he’d like them to as Stephanie grows suspicious of Jerry. So, once again, he makes his plans to move to his next town, but not before taking care of this family before he goes.
For years I’ve associated Terry O’Quinn with his character in this film. Any time I’d seen him in any movie, I’d say to myself, “There’s the stepfather!” It wasn’t until his role on “Lost” that I finally identified with him as John Locke and not for the role in this thriller, but I’ll always remember him for this one; he just has that rage that’s needed for the times he goes nuts in this film. There’s really no other actor who can pull this off as well as he can, which is probably why this franchise went into the dumpster when O’Quinn didn’t reprise the character for part three. He really knew how to be the charming gentleman in this film, making you believe the impossible (as getting a job and setting up a home without proper identification and a social security number), although seeing this was the 80s, little details were not important to involve in the exposition of a story. However, Quinn knew how to turn on the crazy and just snap into a scary nut-job at the blink of an eye. You go from liking the guy to wishing he were dead, all in the span of a short scene. Yes, Quinn was perfect for this role.
Jill Schoelen’s portrayal of Stephanie was your typical 80s heroine or survival girl that you’ve seen in numerous movies. It’s not to say you’ve seen Schoelen herself in numerous movies—I don’t think I’ve seen her in anything besides this film—it’s the archetype of her character that you’ve seen. She’s sort of the poor man’s Phoebe Cates for lack of a better explanation. However, Schoelen’s performance was pretty cool and you didn’t see any cheesiness from her that you’d see from characters of that sort from other 80s films.
Playing Susan is Shelley Hack and she’s another actress you may feel you’ve seen somewhere before, but can’t place. The only other movie I’ve seen her in was Troll, playing the same matriarch type of character, basically in the background and not exactly the focus of this film. As the story really revolves around the character of Jerry Blake and the stepdaughter, Stephanie, the character of Susan is not really in the forefront. But Hack plays a believable wife who trusts her new husband and doesn’t really see there’s something wrong until it’s too late.
Joseph Ruben does a fine job directing this film as he made it a more seriously toned film rather than the run-of-the-mill slashers that were being released year-after-year during that time. He actually directed a favorite film of mine, before this one, called Dreamscapewith Dennis Quaid…sort of a precursor to Inception. If you can find it on home media, I highly recommend it. But Ruben knew how to set the right atmosphere inThe Stepfather and kept a great pace to keep your interest throughout.
It’s kind of difficult to put this film in the genre of horror; it’s more of a suspense thriller than anything else. Not until part two came along did this franchise take a turn for the slasher side of the horror variety. But The Stepfather is still a staple of the 80s, although it’s a little known gem to the world of that era.
So, my final “bit” on The Stepfather?
As I’d said, this isn’t really a slasher, but still a solid movie with an interesting premise. Adding to that, the story is based on a true life crime which makes it all the more thought-provoking. The Stepfather is one to watch and make sure to have a double feature with part two—I’ll talk about that one soon.
Well, that’s it for now…thanks for reading and have a Happy Halloween!