The Stepfather [Reviewed by Zeb Carter]

The Stepfather90 min., 1987
Directed by Joseph Ruben
My rating: 4 stars
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Who am I here again?

* * *

First off, yes that’s the dude from Lost. Second of all, yes this is awesome and somehow doesn’t really feel dated (overall) considering it came out in 1987. The plot of this near 90’s flick is as follows: A middle aged man travels the countryside not unlike David Carradine in Kung Fu in search of a family. Once he finds a middle aged woman with children he inserts himself, a wedding ring, and mixes vigorously for one year until you have presto: instant family. At some point, either the child or the parent becomes suspicious or he eventually grows unhappy with them resulting in their swift and imminent murder. Then, in the immortal words of Jay-Z, it’s on to the next one.

Having entered the film at the end of this wash-rinse-repeat cycle, the stepfather as played by Terry O’Quinn, unbloodies himself, showers, shaves, and having taken on his new persona walks out into the world past his former families corpses to start anew. This is where the Winnie Cooper look-alike (Jill Schoelen) enters the picture. She plays Stephanie, the daughter of a middle aged love interest living in the suburbs. Her name is Shelly Hack, whom you may remember if you are old enough from the Charlie’s Angels TV show or the Woody Allen flick Annie Hall. Hack’s character Susan and O’Quinn’s character Jerry really seem to be in love, however, Susan’s daughter Stephanie just can’t seem to cut poor Jerry a break. In a therapy session, it’s revealed that Stephanie’s father is dead and that she had been acting out at school as a result. This seems to be a reason that she just can’t cut Jerry a break as well. Jerry’s day job is selling real estate and in a conversation with the daughter of some potential buyers he seems unable to keep his daughter’s names straight. It doesn’t so much look like a slip up as it does him being lost in a pleasant memory of one of his step children that obviously ended up going the way of the dodo.

Without going into spolierific detail, which is my normal routine, I’ll just say the story moves forward at a pretty good pace from here on. The dynamic between the mother and daughter seems genuine and believable. The struggle for the daughter to accept someone that’s not her “real” dad seems genuine as well. The main characters feel believable throughout without any exceptions. Other than some normal tension in the household, Stephanie’s creep factor doesn’t go up until after the brother of one of Jerry’s victims convinces a reporter to run a follow-up story that circulates in the local paper sending Jerry through the roof once he believes he’s alone in the basement. Having witnessed this psychotic episode of epic proportions, Stephanie becomes absolutely certain that Jerry ain’t quite right in the head. Even though Jerry gets her back into school, she convinces her therapist that she’s scared of Jerry and so he goes to investigate.

The therapist, using a false name, sets up a house viewing and uses this as an opportunity to shrink Jerry’s head. Jerry figures out it’s all a rouse and at 43 minutes and 6 seconds we have our first kill. There is something about being bludgeoned to death by a 2 x 4 that gets me right in the ole ticker. Once Jerry realizes it’s his stepdaughter’s therapist his level of panic goes up. But then like magic he takes control of the situation and disposes of the body and starts a whistlin’ down the road like nothing’s happened. Stephanie, having sent off to newspaper for more information, is shocked to see that the photo (that Jerry switched) is not of him and thusly forced to accept that’s she’s just been an angsty, unrelenting cunt this entire time.

The brother of the previous victim gets himself a gun and keeps searching his sister’s house for clues to Jerry’s whereabouts. After he finally stumbles upon a key piece of evidence, he’s off in hot pursuit. Jerry and Stephanie have bonded over the “accidental” death of her therapist, until that is, all the events coalesce and end quite spectacularly. I’m not going to give away the ending, so stop waiting for it. I will, however, give my impressions of the performances.

Susan’s character in all honesty could have been played by a rock with a wig on which would have made for a very awkward sex scene in the film, but I still stand by my statement. It’s not that she did a bad job but more so that her role seems so minor that she didn’t truly have to act for the film to progress. Stephanie’s character, however, seems sharp and insightful and I can say carried 30% of the film with her performances alone. Her presence was believable and her dialog well written and her intensity, like baby bear’s porridge, was just right. When talking about Jerry I had to literally leave the room during this review, go buy a hat, come home, sit at the computer, then put it on, just so I could take it off again at the way he expertly walked the line between psycho and sweetheart to his wife and kid. He legitimately seemed like he was trying to just find his place in the world in a real loving family. The way he spoke throughout the film made you feel like he wasn’t making any threats or attempting to intimidate you, you were just taking his words the wrong way.

I have to say I love the film more than I did when I saw it several decades ago. You’re in for a treat if you truly want to be entertained. I highly recommend it. For a different opinion check Lackey’s review, but as for me, I bid you all a fond farewell and until next time, may all your films bring you fright.

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About Zeb Carter

About Blick Tolkien: The bastard half brother of Zeb Carter, he grew up in Chicago's urban jungle, forced to be the victim of racial injustice and daily bullying until the day he saw Night of the Living Dead. the immersion into violence on film gave him the tools to externalize his hate and make the world a horror show for all his enemies. A card carrying member of the Black Panther party, he hates whitey and all forms of coonery including any and all Tyler Perry films. You have been warned. About Zeb Carter: The younger brother of Blick Tolkien, he used horror films as a way to open him self up to the social and story telling aspects of cinematic fear as well as his love of the silver screen. After seeing Gremlins at the drive in he was hooked. He also writes short fiction, has 2 daughters and a pack of animals that he is currently serves as the alpha male over. You can read his fiction at forums.drabblecast.org.
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