the stepfather | joseph ruben | donald e. westlake | terry o'quinn | jill schoelen | shelley hack | slasher | thriller | united kingdom | canada | charles lanyer | stephen shellen | stephen e. miller | robyn stevan | jeff schultz | lindsay bourne | anna hagan
Film: The Stepfather
Director: Joseph Ruben
Writer: Donald E. Westlake
Starring: Terry O’Quinn, Jill Schoelen and Shelley Hack
This film I learned about thanks to seeing the remake. I don’t know if that is necessarily true, as I feel I knew this was out there before seeing it, but it pushed me to want to seek out this original since I saw the newer one first. Aside from knowing the basic premise, that was about it as well coming in. The synopsis here is after murdering his entire family; a man marries a widow with a teenage daughter in another town and prepares to do it all over again.
We start with a man entering a bathroom. He is washing his hands of blood. We will learn a bit later this name is Jerry Blake (Terry O’Quinn). The man takes a shower and then changes his appearance. He shaves his beard, puts in contacts to alter the color of his eyes and tosses the disguises into a briefcase. As he leaves the house, we see that he isn’t too bothered with the aftermath of what has happened here. An entire family was murdered. He walks out of the door and moves on.
The movie then shifts one year into the future. A young woman of Stephanie Maine (Jill Schoelen) comes home to where her mother is raking leaves. Her mother’s name is Susan (Shelley Hack). The two of them play a bit in the leaves, but that stops when Jerry comes home. Susan meets him in the driveway. It appears that Stephanie is not a big fan of him, even though he brings a puppy home to try to sway her. She loves the dog, but still not budging on her feelings.
Stephanie is a seeing a therapist, trying to deal with the death of her father. Her therapist is Dr. Bondurant (Charles Lanyer). He is trying to help her with her feelings, but she doesn’t think she has issues. She feels it is her stepfather. He points out that she getting into fights at school to the point where she gets expelled. She wants to go to boarding school, mostly to get away from Jerry, but he is doing what he can to keep her around.
During all of this, we get to meet the brother of Jerry’s previous wife. His name is Jim Ogilvie (Stephen Shellen). He is looking for Jerry, but there’s not a lot he has to go on. He is working with a newspaper guy in Seattle of Al Brennan (Stephen E. Miller), but there’s only so much he can do. He does find a lead from a magazine that was left at the house that Jerry shared with his sister.
This article that Al wrote upsets Jerry and Stephanie sees that he’s unhinged. When she reads it, she starts to wonder if Jerry could have done this. Her best friend of Karen (Robyn Stevan) thinks she is grasping at straws as does the guy she into of Paul Baker (Jeff Schultz). We know what Jerry is capable of and the more she looks into, the more unhinged he becomes. It all comes down has Jerry found his perfect family or is this one going to be his next victims?
Now where I want to start with my analysis is going back to something I said previously. I have seen both this and the remake twice now. I did see the remake first this time around as well. What I think works better here is the time period. It was much easier for Jerry to hide his identity than it would now so we lose that element here. We also get an interesting way for Jim to track him down. I think most people younger than me might not realize that libraries would hold older magazines for a time like they do here. Since the internet wasn’t a thing, I do like this movie showing a different way of doing the investigations with a library and Stephanie even writing a letter to the newspaper that wrote the story that caught her attention.
Getting away from the plausibility of things which I think are good, I want to go to the concept. I really like the idea. This is in the latter part of the slasher boom that started early in the 1980’s. We are getting a serious one here, which I like. This feels like a take on the ‘black widow’ where we normally would get a woman who would marry a man and then they would die for the money. That isn’t the case here, but we do have a man looking for the perfect family. How he does it is with widowers or divorcees that have children. They are more vulnerable. Jim brings this to a cop of Lt. Jack Wall (Blu Mankuma). He wants to help, but his hands are tied. This being taken place in the 1980’s, before we have things like social media or getting a job needed less paperwork, I could see him setting up a different life like he does. I will give credit to the remake as it would be much more difficult.
Going along with this, I like the concept of Susan rushing into things. She is lonely after her husband died so she is susceptible. This does take away an element as we don’t have to worry about him in the equation. Her rushing things are causing Stephanie to act out. I do like this. It makes people less likely to believe her as she has been acting out. She doesn’t have a boyfriend. She is interested in Paul, but her interactions are more with Dr. Bondurant and Karen. That just gives us a difficult element and we get to see Jerry more going about his day as well.
To move away from the story, this movie is a slasher. This is more so than the remake. I like how brutal this movie goes. The aftermath of the first murders right there in the beginning is shocking to set the tone. We also get to see Jerry get violent with those that get in his way. The blood and the effects look good to me. They were done practically of course so that always helps. What I also like is seeing how dramatic the changes to Jerry’s appearances are. Seeing him in the beginning to what we see for the most of the movie is different. We then get to see a third near the end. I liked that. From there, the rest of the cinematography was well done.
I think next I should go over to the acting. I really like O’Quinn as Jerry. He just plays this psychopath that is trying to hold on to his ‘perfect’ life. When people are challenging that way of life, I like to see how far his rage goes. I’m also a big fan of Schoelen. She is one of my favorite final girls. I think she has a cute look about her and I like her husky-ish voice. She works in this movie as this daughter that is bothered by Jerry. We also briefly see her nude so there is that. I like Hack as the mother, Lanyer as the psychiatrist and Shellen as this brother who is doing what he can to look into what happened to his sister as well as her family. The rest of the cast rounded this out for what was needed.
Then really the last thing to go into would be the soundtrack. I don’t think everyone will enjoy it as much as I do. It isn’t a great one that will go down as a classic or anything like that. It is a product of the 80’s and I have a soft spot for it for sure. It fits for what the movie needs in my opinion.
So then in conclusion here, I think this is a solid little slasher film. We have an interesting concept with this stepfather looking for the perfect family. I think that the acting here is solid across the board. The effects are good and the soundtrack works for me. If I do have any issues, we are light on the kill count until the climax, but a lot of slashers tend to be more of slow-burns. I still think this is on the spectrum of ones in this sub-genre of films out there in my opinion. For me, this is a good movie. I would recommend giving this a viewing for slasher fans.
My Rating: 8 out of 10