My Favorite Movies – The Stepfather (1987)

28 Apr

By Tanner Smith

it’s easy to dismiss “The Stepfather” as just another ’80s slasher film. But it’s more than that if you look underneath the surface.

Terry O’Quinn stars in chilling lead performance as a complicated psychotic, which elevates some of the dumber material. (Among the “dumber material”–a newspaper runs a year-old story about a fugitive killer and doesn’t bother to print a picture of him??) I find this killer more creepy and unsettling than Freddy or Jason (…but no scarier than the crazy aunt from Jack Ketchum’s “The Girl Next Door”–she still faces no competition, in my opinion), because of two things: one is how little I know about him (and when he has his little freakouts, he seems to repeat things that were said to him in his past, but even that’s sort of vague), and the other is what he stands for.

He wants to live a life like the father characters in ’50s-’60s sitcoms because he sees them as pleasant and wholesome, and he can’t live in reality–a world where things can get difficult and sometimes uncompromising. And when he doesn’t like the changes in the new family he marries into…he slaughters them and goes searching for a new one.

How deranged is that?! And what makes it even scarier is that he could fool anybody into thinking he’s a good guy, because HE sees himself as a good guy!!

The suspense of “The Stepfather” comes from how he may react when his new teenage stepdaughter Stephanie not only causes trouble and gets expelled from school (thus ruining his image of a “perfect daughter/Daddy’s little girl”) but also suspects that her stepfather is the killer mentioned in the newspaper. And we know that if Stephanie keeps pushing this further, she and her mother are going to wind up murdered like “the stepfather’s” other victims. And you don’t want anything bad to happen to them.

This is smart, clever filmmaking, and Terry O’Quinn portrays one of the most interesting and creepy antagonists I’ve ever seen. “Who am I here?”

My favorite scene: the creepy-as-hell basement scene, in which Stephanie witnesses one of her stepfather’s manic freakouts…and when he finally notices he’s not alone, he immediately switches back to calm. (“Hi, honey.”)

This is one that I definitely disagree with both Siskel and Ebert on–Ebert gave it a mixed review, praised O’Quinn’s performance but criticized the violence; but Siskel was much more harsh, likening the violence to “Friday the 13th” and “I Spit On Your Grave” (that’s a bit of an overreaction, in my opinion).

“The Stepfather” is one of my favorite thrillers…but seriously, why didn’t they print the guy’s picture in the newspaper? Did the editor think it would ruin the serial killer’s sex life??

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