31 Days of Horror(1)


The Original

Jerry Blake is the current alias of a psychotic man who assumes new identities and goes around the country looking for the perfect family.  “Jerry” courts single mothers in hopes of attaining that perfect ideal nuclear family but he’s far too picky and impatient.  When “Jerry’s” family doesn’t live up to his insane expectations he murders them and moves on.  The Stepfather is the story of the time he gets caught.

The Stepfather isn’t quite a cinema classic as some people would make it out to be.  It’s a type of movie that was fairly popular in the 80s and early 90s where a person was obsessed with one thing to a certain point that it caused them to go batshit and kill people in ridiculous ways.  Most of these movies trended toward the absurd side of the scale with stuff like Uncle Sam, The Dentist, and The Ice Cream Man.  Compared to those movies, The Stepfather is a fairly grounded affair, but it feels like a Lifetime movie directed by a disgruntled slasher filmmaker who’s trying to get fired.

But, The Stepfather is good for one main reason; Terry O’Quinn.  O’Quinn is mostly known these days for his role as John Locke on Lost, but he’s been a reliable character actor and genre staple for decades.  Terry O’Quinn is an amazing actor and elevates anything he’s in and the way he transfers from likable step-dad to rageaholic lunatic is an example of a master at work.

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The Sequel

So, it’s revealed that the gunshot and butcher knife to the chest at the end of the first movie didn’t kill “Jerry.”  So after killing a moronic psychiatrist he escapes from Puget Sound sanitarium and assumes a new life as “Gene Clifford.”  Soon enough he finds a new family in the form of Carol Grayland (Meg Foster) and her son Todd (Jonathan Brandis).  As usual, Jerry moves in and turns on the charm but things become complicated when Carol’s ex-husband rolls back into town and her mail carrier neighbor (Caroline Williams) becomes suspicious of “Gene.”  And we all know what happens when The Stepfather finds things to be too complicated.

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Does It Hold Up?

Yeah, pretty well.  There is no marked decline in quality between the first and second movie, in fact Stepfather 2 has a leg up on its predecessor in a couple places.  For one thing, the cast is majorly improved.  Meg Foster enters the film sounding like a commercial for The Bahamas but as the film progresses her soft-spoken robotic tone finally betrays emotion and her outburst near the end of the film is great.  Caroline Williams brings her charm to the role of the snoopy neighbor lady and Jonathan Brandis is a pretty good kid actor.

The problem is there’s not a lot of difference between these two movies.  Viewed alone, Stepfather 2 is as good as the first one but the problem is that it’s a sequel and a lot of it feels like a rehash because of it.  We never get anything quite as chilling as the daughter walking in on Jerry mid-outburst and watching his demeanor completely change when he notices her, there’s no moment comparable to “Who am I here?”

Furthermore, Stepfather 2 doesn’t have the sense of urgency that the first one does.  There are reports of Jerry Blake’s escape all over the news but they don’t feel the need to put up his picture?  The way that Caroline Williams finds out who he is convoluted and the way that Meg Foster figures out he’s a killer is even dumber.  So Jerry kills someone and makes it look like a suicide, he walks out whistling Camptown Races which is heard by the victim’s blind neighbor.  Foster figures out it’s Jerry when she hears her son whistling the tune and asks him where he learned it, to which he explains that “Gene” taught it to him.  Here’s the thing, though, Camptown Races is not an obscure song.  People know it, especially kids.  It would be as ridiculous as the song being Row Row Row Your Boat or Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.

One thing I do like more about Stepfather 2 is its sense of humor.  Jerry is pretending to be a relationship counselor now and a middle-aged woman tells a ridiculous story about her husband’s requirement for her to learn a show tune every year on their anniversary because he likes her to hum it when she gives him a blowjob.  At another point, Jerry sits and watches dating videos and the look of disgust on his face as the women talking about wanting a rich man or being on the pill are hilarious.

Jerry’s still terribly interesting and now the other characters are too, it’s just familiarity that diminishes returns here.  This is certainly better than the third film which features Jerry getting a facelift in an insane asylum because Terry O’Quinn had the good sense not to come back.

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Watch, Toss, Or Buy?

This is a solid buy.

Where Can I Find It?

There’s a DVD from Synapse, no blu-ray though.