With shades of Carpenter, the camera zooms in on a typical suburban home that might as well be on the tree-lined streets of Haddonfield, Illinois. And the address could very well be 1428 Elm Street, based on the neo-Colonial architecture. But this is The Stepfather, a film which takes elements of thrillers from the late 80s like Fatal Attraction, and adds elements of the slasher genre to produce something pretty unique. It’s since become a minor franchise as really only the first one has had a major impact.
Director Joseph Ruben is responsible (He’s also behind Sleeping with the Enemy, which we detail in our list of Scary Classical Music Pieces). He has the camera leering at a post-massacre milieu, where our antagonist, Henry Morrison, is cleaning up after his bloody handiwork. This includes trimming his beard and adopting a new identity as button-up, straight-laced family man, Jerry Blake, and dumping his incriminating duds in Puget Sound.
Fast forward (that mainstay of horror films) and Jerry Blake (Terry O’Quinn) has hooked up with widower Susan (Shelley Hack) and is stepfather to her 16-year old daughter, Steph (Jill Schoelen).
Blake is trying to recreate the American dream of a white-picket fence, and a wholesome family (he even works as a realtor for American Eagle Realty) and is obsessed with Eisenhower era staples like Father Knows Best, Mister Ed, and “the way we were…” (the song rights were too costly, so viewers were spared that execrable Streisand tear-jerker). Instead, Blake whistles the royalty-free “Camptown Ladies” Sing this Song (you know the rest).
Unfortunately for him, Steph is not the model daughter, but rebels against her tight-ass pops. This sends Blake into a rage, frequently acted out in his basement, where he has a wide assort of power tools including a circular saw.
This does not bode well.
When Steph’s family therapist, Dr. Bondurant, pretends to be a prospective home buyer to get a better sense of Blake’s mien, Blake gets mean, and beats him to death with a 2X4.
The Stepfather is not without expository cheesiness, and silly fringe characters. However, when it gets going, it really brings the goods, thanks in large part to the incredible performances of O’Quinn and Schoelen.
***1/2 (out of 5)
[CHECK OUT OUR PODCAST DISCUSSION OF THE STEPFATHER]