Monday, October 27, 2014

Stepfather 2: Make Room for Daddy

In the world of horror movies, if there’s one rule that applies to all icons of fright is that they never stay dead.  Jason Voorhees has been stabbed, sliced, given a machete to the head, but he had always returned for the next movie.  Michael Myers was burned alive for a number of minutes after an explosion, shot multiple times (six times!) in the body and a few to the head, yet he returned.  It’s always a golden rule for a filmmaker to never kill off your boogeyman…sometimes it’s even WRITTEN in a contract clause.

So even though it seemed like the title character died at the bottom of the stairs in part one of this franchise, miraculously he returned for Stepfather 2: Make Room For Daddy.

Although, by this time, I was an avid moviegoer, this film fell off my radar and I hadn’t seen it until it was released onto VHS sometime later.  Being that I had loved the first film, I had no reservations in watching its sequel, hoping that it would be as good, if not better, than its predecessor.  Since it was truly one of the last horror films of the 1980s (it was released in November of 1989), I was on board with it wholeheartedly.

It’s funny because I remember when I had seen this initially and thought it was way better than its predecessor, considering it superior and headed in the right direction.  Years later, as I’ve aged and looked at films differently, I’ve changed my mind a bit.  I don’t know if it’s the story, the actors and actresses in the film, how it was filmed…I really don’t know, but I’ll go over it after this brief synopsis.

The story picks up with Jerry Blake (Terry O’Quinn), surviving the events of part one and incarcerated in a high security mental institution, gaining the trust of his assigned doctor and then
killing him.  After beating a guard to death and taking his uniform, Blake easily escapes the prison and checks in at a motel.  He alters his appearance, takes on the identity of Dr. Gene Clifford—which he finds the name in an obituary—and leases a house across from single mother, Carol Grayland (Meg Foster), and her son, Todd (Jonathan Brandis).  Soon, he gets to know the mother, starting a relationship with her and beginning to plan marriage.  But, as always, complications seem to arise and Blake—now Dr. Clifford—goes back to his evil ways.

You can’t really say that this is more of the same story that we saw in the first film, because some of the aspects are turned around here in this sequel.  But then you can say it’s more of the same story that we saw in the first film for the same reason.  Regardless, in the first film, you had the character of Blake marrying into the family of a mother and daughter, but in this one, it’s a mother and son.  The first film had the mother oblivious and not caring about Jerry’s past, while the daughter was suspicious and tried to investigate his history.  In this sequel, the son totally gets along with Jerry and has no qualms whatsoever, while the mother is the one who begins to be apprehensive about her soon-to-be husband.

Looking at the franchise as a whole, I’m glad that O’Quinn returned for this sequel.  A lot of actors and actresses will usually get big in the head when they become famous for a horror film and believe that returning for a sequel, or to the genre for that matter, is beneath them.  But he jumped back into the psychotic role of Jerry Blake and solidified it as his own.  You can imagine that this franchise would’ve ended here if he didn’t return just by looking at what happened in the next sequel (where O’Quinn didn’t return).

Although I love this sequel, one minor problem I have with it is that it seems like two different films.  As a whole, the movie feels like a made-for-television thriller, like something you’d see on the earlier days of ABC, NBC or CBS.  What’s funny about that is the interjection of horror scenes that give the film its rating.  It almost feels as if the filmmakers wanted this movie to be a straight-to-television production, but then decided to make it a full-fledged horror movie and added the R-rated scenes to make it so. 

Another problem I have is with the casting of Meg Foster.  Now, I have nothing against her, I think she’s a fine actress and I’d enjoyed her part in John Carpenter’s They Live the year before this film, but I guess it just falls on her eyes.  The woman has unusually light blue eyes, almost appearing white in color.  I know it’s a stupid reason to dislike a person’s performance in the film, but I’m just being honest; it throws one off when watching the film.  But as I had said, it’s not her performance that affects my judgment, just her eyeballs.  Maybe they could’ve had her wear contacts or something…?

Jonathan Brandis had done a great job as Todd, playing the everyday and all-around young boy.  The actor seemed like he had such a great career ahead of him and it’s a shame he cut his life short back in 2003.  But one can respect and remember him by watching this film, as well as his take as Bill Denbrough in Stephen king’s It.  Brandis definitely wasn’t the typical young actor who that would be cast in a film like this.  He’s believable and had an adult sense of how to perform in a film.

I believe director Jeff Burr was able to get better performances out of the players and get the type that was needed to display a distinctive film from that period.  He went on to direct Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III the following year and seemed to thrive in the B-movie horror genre.  Where Joseph Ruben made the original The Stepfather more of a serious toned film, Burr infused the current (at the time) craze of slasher films to give this flick the horror formula everybody wanted back then.  The movie poster says it all, just by looking at it, as we see the crazed face of Terry O’Quinn while he’s about to plunge a huge knfe into a wedding cake.  If you don’t think 80s horror when seeing that artwork, then you haven’t lived in that era.

Of course, when watching this film all the way through, you’ll realize by the time the credits roll—and especially if you’ve seen a lot of these horror films from the 80s—that there would be a sequel.  The third part, however, leaves something to be desired, being that it was an inferior film.  O’Quinn didn’t return and they used the “killer gets plastic surgery” plot device to solve the problem of his absence.  But, from what I’d remembered, the actor who plays Jerry Blake just didn’t have the mannerisms to make it believable enough.  Unless you really love this franchise, by the time you get through parts one and two, I’d say skip the third film.

So…my final “bit” on Stepfather 2: Make Room for Daddy?

With minor complaints noted, this film is still a classic gem that one should watch to capture the feel and nostalgia of the 1980s.  O’Quinn is awesome as the stepfather horror icon and I think you’ll love it as well.  Both films make for a good marathon to watch during this time of year, so grab a tub of popcorn and enjoy both Stepfather flicks.

Thanks for reading and have a Happy Halloween!

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