All Jerry Blake (Terry O’Quinn) wanted was the perfect life. The perfect wife, the perfect kids, the perfect home in the perfect neighborhood. All Jerry wanted was the “American Dream”. But people aren’t picture perfect and relationships are messy and teenage daughters get into fights at school and make out with boys on the front porch. Most parents would take those kinds of hurdles and chalk them up to the sporadic nature of existence. But not Jerry. Those kind of behaviors “disappoint” Jerry. And when Jerry is disappointed he expresses that disappointment with the business-end of a gleaming stainless steel blade…or maybe a nearby 2×4.
The Stepfather is a scary film, because it’s really based in a world most people walk around in everyday—suburbia. Blake is just another mild-mannered dad who spends his evenings down in the basement building birdhouses. He just wants to keep his family together. The problem is, Jerry is a psychopath. The second anything pushes Jerry outside his comfort zone of Leave it to Beaver normality, he skips right past the guard gate of sanity and dances his way into the loony bin.
When Don Westlake (The Grifters) wrote the screenplay for this 1987 film over a decade earlier, he based it on the story of John List, a New Jersey man who, in 1971, after losing his accounting job, meticulously set-up a new life for himself before returning home one day to murder his entire family. List was so successful in pulling off this heinous crime it would be a month before anyone discovered what he had done and 18-years before he was ever caught—thanks to a profile on Americas Most Wanted.
Released 2-years before List was even caught, The Stepfather is not a subtle film. It opens with Blake, covered in blood, cutting his hair, trimming his beard, applying contact lenses and changing his clothes. When the new fresh faced Blake descends from the upstairs bathroom, the audience is chilled to witness the terror he inflicted on his previous “family”. The walls are painted with blood, the living room is a shambles and the dead body of a child is lying in a pool of gore with a stuffed animal just inches out of reach. Blake is the bad guy and make no mistake about it, O’Quinn plays him with the masterful and malicious charm of Ted Bundy. He looks so serenely perfect on the outside but if you look closer you can almost see the world crumbling in his eyes.
Joseph Ruben’s (Sleeping with the Enemy) film might not seem that shocking today. Something of a sad comment on a society that has seen more than its share of parents and husbands and wives kill off their kids. But the film’s opening is still unflinchingly raw and unnerving even if the rest of the film suffers from its age and the somewhat contrived nature of its plot devices.
80’s horror princess Jill Schoelen (Popcorn, Cutting Class, Phantom of the Opera) is young and fun in her role as Stephanie Maine—the stepdaughter with a knack for getting into trouble and the only one that suspects that Blake is really a serial killer. Ex-Charlie’s Angel Shelly Hack does an acceptably oblivious job as Stephanie’s mother Susan, but this is really Terry O’Quinn’s film. So much so that, even though it appears in the film frames that Stephanie has killed the killer, O’Quinn managed to reprise his role just two years later to terrorize Meg Foster in The Stepfather 2.
With the remake imminent, Shout Factory has seen fit to re-release The Stepfather in a deluxe special edition DVD featuring a pretty comprehensive documentary with interviews from director Ruben and star Schoelen. I know it was too much to ask for O’Quinn to make an appearance in the supplements, but it’s still a shame he’s not around. It would have been nice to hear his take on what was essentially his first major starring role–despite the fact that he’d already been in some 20 other films. The disc also features audio commentary by Ruben.
With the re-release of The Stepfather (and The Stepfather 2 courtesy of Synapse) we’re just that much closer to getting the trilogy out on DVD. I hope you’re listening Lionsgate. You better get Part 3 out ASAP. After all…you wouldn’t want to “disappoint” the film’s fan base. You know what happens when you disappoint daddy!
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