The Stepfather (1987)

Dir: Joseph Ruben, 1987. Starring: Terry O'Quinn, Jill Schoelen, Shelley Hack, Stephen Shellen. Horror.
The Stepfather (1987)

The whole "death to remakes" wave didn’t really hit me until there was a remake of this film. It seems as though when one produces a remake of a movie that was very popular or influential to a genre, such as The Thing or Clash of the Titians, audiences will keep in mind the differences and critical aspects of both, often remaining loyal to the original or the "better" of them. At the very least, every generation is aware of the fact that it was a remake. With The Stepfather, it seems as though no one really remembers the first, which is a shame. Along with Arachnophobia, it remains one of the few films, horror or otherwise, which can get under my skin in a good way. I’ll admit that I am not a horror buff, which I’d argue is very common for people born after the mid-'80s. Horror films seemed to stand out, if not dominate audiences back then, as they should following a baby boom that left a considerable amount of teenagers and young adults who expected the ultimate theater experience. Many of the films that I’ve just been introduced to are some of the most well designed films around, in any genre. Not just for story, but for the lack of computer effects and some notorious soundtracks by awesome conductors.

The Stepfather plants its tactics in the home, unlike most other horror films. There are no (fictional) monsters—no radiated zombies or blood thirst beasts. The film opens with its most psychologically disturbing scene. A peaceful suburb is overlooked and all the attention is placed on a beautiful home. A man washes his bloody hands in a bathroom. He looks like a gangly lumberjack. Within minutes, he is showered and begins to change his appearance right down to his eye color. Standing in the mirror now is a clean-shaven gentleman in a nice suit. The look on his face both before and after his transformation tells us that there is a screw loose up there in his big head. He puts his old clothes, spectacles, and wedding ring into a suitcase and walks into the hall, where the buzz of a phone off the hook has spread throughout the house. He returns some toys to their bin (he's a tidy man, after all). You see adorable photos off-kilter on the stairway and still you are not alarmed, until he reaches the bottom of the steps and blood is smeared on the wall. The mangled bodies of his wife and young daughter are on the floor; it becomes obvious that he is the killer. But what does he do before he leaves the grizzly scene? Places the blood-smeared phone back in its cradle and puts the cushion of a chair back where it belongs. It’s as if he’s thinking that when the cops find the massacre, they will note that barbarians didn’t live there.

Time passes, but of how much you are unsure. We’re in a new suburb, and with a new family. Here Jerry (Terry O’Quinn) has found himself a new home with Susan (Shelley Hack) and her daughter Stephanie (Jill Schoelen). Stephanie is a teenager and very spunky. Settling into the idea of having a stepfather is nearly impossible as she is still mourning the death of her biological one. But her mother seems happy with the man we’ve recently seen covered in blood. He seems loyal and eager to make things work in his flakey rationalization of the All-American family. Meanwhile, in the old suburb miles away, Jim Ogilvie (Stephen Shellen) is hard at work trying to convince authorities to reopen the case that surrounds the murder of his sister and her children. Officials are hesitant at first, therefore Ogilvie does most of their work for them, discovering the past crimes and methods of Jerry and the other families that ended up "disappointing him." Soon the case is reopened and the massacre that everyone forgot about hits the papers and eventually finds its way to Jerry. Stephanie was always suspicious of him, and confided only in her therapist and friends about his bizarre personality and overbearing rules. When his attitude becomes more and more aggressive after news of this reopened case that should have nothing to do with him, she takes matters into her own hands and tries to find out more about Jerry and what connection, if any, he has to the murdered family.

Meanwhile, Jerry has become disappointed yet again and has quit his job, using what time he is usually working to begin plotting his next move miles away. As tensions rise and the heat is on, Jerry plows through everyone in his way of the perfect family and starts to get sloppy. But will his fumbles be the end of him, or will they go undiscovered and help him take Stephanie and Susan out of the equation forever?

Just writing about it makes me want see it again. The fact that it we already know the identity and pattern of this mortal killer makes it an excellent blend between mystery/thrillers and the more obvious terror in horror films. The combination makes it fun to re-watch, and I guess for the industry, remake. But I beg of you, see the originals of films before watching the remakes. Like literature, where things are undoubtedly lost in translation, a lot is lost in adaptation and recreation as well. The music in this movie, unlike others in the ‘80s, is nothing to boast about, but certainly not missed overall. If you’re looking for a thrill, some laughs, and mild paranoia, look no further.

Posted by:
Edythe Smith
Jul 21, 2010 6:25pm
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