Joseph Ruben’s “The Stepfather” (1987) showcases a towering efficiency by Terry O’Quinn (Locke on “Lost”) and a screenplay by crime novelist and “The Grifters” screenwriter Donald E. Westlake.
Although Ruben’s movie usually makes an annual record of horror sleepers, it by no means gained the widespread consciousness (for horror followers and simply movie buffs normally) that it deserves.
Few horror movies start in addition to this one, as a crane shot takes us to the second story of a beautiful, two-story dwelling in a pleasant suburb. Inside, we see a bearded man, performed by O’Quinn, lined in blood, showering and shaving till he seems to be like a brand new man.
Although the hair is a bit too neat (he even rounds it within the again), there may be finally a proof for this. As the person walks down the steps, we see he’s leaving a slaughterhouse behind him.
It’s a horrifying begin. As he casually walks away from the scene of the crime, he whistles “Camp Town Races” and the digital camera pans up, indicating that this man goes to get away and begin over.
We minimize to One Year Later, and the monster within the opening scene now goes by Jerry Blake.
FAST FACT: “The Stepfather” barely made a ripple within the field workplace waters in 1987, generating just $2.4 million stateside.
In the time because the opening crime, Jerry has married a single mom, Susan (Shelly Hack) and now lives in a pleasant dwelling with Susan and her daughter Stephanie (Jill Schoelen). Westlake’s screenplay is sensible sufficient to not waste time with Jerry and Susan’s courtship however, as a substitute, displaying us this union is doomed.
It’s only a matter of time earlier than he implodes once more.
The film is 10 minutes outdated and has its premise arrange. This is neat, tight storytelling.
It’s been shot with aptitude by John Lindley, who would later be the Director of Photography on “The Serpent and the Rainbow” (1988), “Field of Dreams” (1989) and “Pleasantville” (1998).
Patrick Moraz’s rating is overly incessant and makes use of the synthesizer too closely, a type of ’80s scores that doesn’t maintain up. The terrible rating even blunts the affect of the ultimate scene.
The greatest drawback is when the B plot kicks in: the brother of Jerry’s murdered spouse comes in search of him. It’s terrible, like an intrusion from a foul cop TV present. “The Stepfather” by no means required the B-plot, as Jerry is so compelling (and the character so unstable), we don’t want the plot gadget of him presumably being ID’d by outdoors forces.
He clearly is at all times only one extra breakdown away from ruining his newest façade.
That O’Quinn later performed non-villainous characters (like his heat tackle Howard Hughes in Joe Johnston’s “The Rocketeer”) is a testomony to his skills as an actor. He is petrifying right here.
There’s a scene the place he comforts his stepdaughter as she grieves, admitting that the demise doubtless introduced them nearer collectively – the distress of others brings him satisfaction. O’Quinn additionally has scenes the place he stares proper into the digital camera, which at all times make me freeze and maintain my breath.
Jerry’s weak point is that he talks an excessive amount of. The extra he yaks about his rock-solid values and self-aggrandizing previous, the extra he can’t preserve his story/tales straight. On the job, he declares “What I sell is the American Dream,” although he’s additionally promoting that off responsibility, too.
Stephanie calls her Stepdad “Scary Jerry” and says he “wishes we were like families on TV, smiling and laughing.” She’s proper. Schoelen’s ’80s teen dealing with Jerry’s obey-or-else mindset is a black comedy portrait of a era hole.
An enchanting subplot reveals us Jerry’s plan to begin over whereas nonetheless dwelling in his present iteration. He takes a ferry to a brand new location, units issues up elsewhere in disguise, even flirts with a sort widow, then returns to being “Jerry Blake” and is dwelling earlier than dinner.
Even when the script will get pulpy (giving Jerry one liners like “You’ve been a very bad girl” is just too Freddy Krueger-esque), O’Quinn continues to be unbelievable.
Jerry espouses all-American values over all else. We even see him watching “Mr. Ed” and citing “Father Knows Best’ and “Rin Tin Tin.” While displaying a home, Jerry declares “the south side gets the most light,” which makes me marvel if Westlake meant that line to land as social commentary (I’m nonetheless uncertain).
Whatever the topic, Jerry refuses to acknowledge any perspective past his personal and turns violent every time his authority and punctiliously established home pageantry is questioned. When Jerry asks his stepdaughter a query, it’s actually a menace or an ultimatum in disguise.
Anyone who disagrees with Jerry that household is a very powerful factor is in dire bother. Like Bob Balaban’s “Parents” (1989), right here is a superb satire that makes use of the horror style as an example the uneasy energy recreation dad and mom play with their kids.
Ruben’s movie presents a high-concept horror movie that also carries social and dramatic weight: what if a ’50s-era father turn into the dad of ’80s-era teen. Ultimately, although Jerry is at all times fascinating and even type of humorous, we’re on Stephanie’s aspect. She doesn’t need to hear her mother and stepfather from the bed room subsequent door at night time and neither will we.
The botched finale and rating apart, “The Stepfather” is strong, smarter than anticipated and is powered by O’Quinn’s Oscar-worthy efficiency.
“The Stepfather” made Entertainment Weekly’s 1999 record of “The Scariest Movies Ever Made.” The sequels and the unlucky, closely neutered 2009 remake didn’t come shut.
At the time of its release, “The Stepfather” was seen by many as a satire of President Reagan’s “It’s Morning Again in America” view of renewal. The political connection can’t be unintended as there may be, in spite of everything, a distinguished image of Reagan within the principal’s workplace of Stephanie’s faculty.
Actually, Jerry isn’t totally not like Chip, the psychopath Jim Carrey performed in “The Cable Guy” (1996), who was additionally raised and educated by an excessive amount of tv and whose actual title we by no means know.
It’s a creepy idea, that the “normalcy” depicted in watered-down TV sitcoms is identical regular Jerry makes an attempt to amass and preserve, in an age the place these values are seen as dated, corny and inappropriate.
This facet of “The Stepfather” is troubling for the way related it stays, maybe extra now than in 1987: within the twenty first century, there are nonetheless folks dwelling up to now, who enable nostalgia, lengthy held and unquestioned traditions and an unwillingness to vary to create their model of actuality. Maintain and submit, or else. Jerry Blake by no means went away.
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