Thursday, January 24, 2013

Daddy's Gone Off The Deep End: The Stepfather Triple Bill Review: The Stepfather (1987), Stepfather 2 (1989) & The Stepfather III (1992)

The Stepfather (1987)
Rating: ***
Starring:  Terry O'Quinn, Jill Schoelen and Shelley Hack

TV series' Lost's Terry O'Quinn stars as this film's titular serial killer who systematically murders every household he becomes a part of whenever he deems them unfit for his perfect vision of an American family.

Early in the movie, we catch a glimpse of a fresh massacre as our psycho dad grooms himself, leaving to start his life anew with another potential family. A year later, our killer now named himself Jerry Blake and married a former widow, though his relationship with her daughter, Stephanie, is somewhat bitter despite his strains to get along with her, a suspicious desperation fueling Stephanie's uneasiness with him. In fact, with Blake's strict sense of White Fence idealism, Stephanie's more or less restricted from doing anything he disapproves of such as dating boys, a fact that isn't winning the girl over her new father.

Meanwhile, Jim Ogilvie, an amateur detective who is also the brother of one of Blake's previously murdered wives, tries to track down his sister's killer and ends up roaming in the same neighborhood Blake is at. As Jim manages to publish the story of his family's murder in the papers, this unnerves Blake to the point his good father persona begins slipping away again.

Taking notice of this, Stephanie becomes more mistrustful of her new father and speculates that he might be the infamous family killer. But with Blake one step ahead of everyone and killing any people who might be a threat to his ideals, can Stephanie save herself and her mother from a killer already living in their home?

What worked well in The Stepfather is the realism of the situation; technically, any guy out there can just pretend to be the man of every woman's dream before backlashing his true self at them. The uncertainty and dread of this possibility is well played here, giving a potentially terrifying villain all the depth and intrigue needed to be a true monster. I guess that's what you get when you base the movie's plot on the crimes committed by notorious serial killer John List, who murdered families and covered his tracks by changing his identity, the same manner as our movie killer's own modus.

However, what didn't work for me is that while O'Quinn's character has his moment of creepiness and intimidation, his hammy lines whenever he's in "father mode" kinda thins (if not kills) his good parent disguise. This might just be me, but who can say "You know something? Until this moment I never really knew what Thanksgiving was all about." without expecting anyone laughing or rolling their eyes at them? You can definitely tell this guy's up to no good with cheesy lines like that. (That or he's a nerd. A potentially dangerous nerd) Ironically, this cheesy persona might as well be the trigger point for the character to turn psycho, as his inability to accept the reality of imperfection somewhat forces him to take matters into his own hands. Deadly, murderous hands.

That being said, The Stepfather is a unique kind of a slasher film, wherein the build-up focuses more on the killer's attempt to live in a normal life while still exhibiting hack-and-slash movie antics around the last half our of the movie. The bodycount is surprisingly low in terms of onscreen murders, but so long as the killer's ploy is thrilling and engaging enough to keep me watching, and too, being graced with the presence of Jill Schoelen, one of my fave Scream Queens around, I'm okay with it.

While not the best slasher I've seen, it is good enough to earn its recognition. Soap Opera-tendencies mixed with a bodycounter build, The Stepfather is a worthy cult classic that deserves its following.

1 females and 1 girl seen slaughtered with knife
1 male bludgeoned to death with a wooden board
1 male stabbed to death with a knife
Total: 4

Stepfather 2: Make Room for Daddy (1989)
Rating: **1/2
Starring: Terry O'Quinn, Meg Foster and Caroline Williams

I never really saw the necessity to franchise The Stepfather. Personally, that's just pushing it; last time we saw our Family Killer, he gets a knife buried deep into his chest. So following that with something like him surviving the attack only to continue his deranged mission just threw away the realism of the first movie and puts this sequel into cheesy slasher territory.

Terry O'Quinn returns to play the killer stepdad once again, now institutionalized and building progress in rehabilitating himself. Or so claims the ward's psychiatrist. After a one-on-one session with his psychiatrist, though, stepdad proves him wrong (and dead) when he sticks a disguised pick into the doctor's neck and murders a nearby guard, escaping once again to try living his prefect dream life.

This time, taking in the persona of a family psychologist named Dr. Gene F. Clifford (oh, the irony), he drives to Palm Meadows, LA and manages to own a house, which so happens to be right across a real estate agent and her son. Eventually, he tries courting her and is almost successful of getting the blissful normal life he wanted until, that is, people start popping up between them, such as an ex-husband and a family friend who spots something odd about "Dr. Clifford". So what does he do? He kills them, of course! After all, who wouldn't kill for a perfect family? 

Following the usual slasher franchising clichés, Stepfather 2 brought more onscreen murders and a little more splatter than the previous entry. Other than that, the film is pretty much a rerun of the first movie, minus any suspicious family members, giving more light to the Stepfather character and how he tries to keep his identity and his vision of a perfect family completely intact. So it's basically him running around and trying to be a good dad for most of the time, making Quinn's character more sympathetic in this entry. This is okay for my book, but despite the more character-driven take on the familiar story, it's still ridden with some cheesy plot points and complete dumbassery like the fact some of the characters here seem to have never heard Camp Town Races before. ("Where did you heard that song?" a concerned mother asks. I was waiting for someone to say "What planet did you come from, lady?" But alas, it never came to be)

With little on the plotting department, the movie passes as a franchise entry with a fair cast (Meg Foster from Masters of the Universe (1987) stars as the lady apple in stepdad's eye and Caroline "Stretch" William from Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 as a family friend who got too close to finding out the stepdad's true identity) and some good atmosphere. The gore effects are a little dodgy, though, something that O'Quinn himself really disliked about the finish film as you can tell them blood splashes are just desperate and cheap.

Nothing further to discuss, Stepfather 2 is really just that. Unnecessary sequel but overall still watchable. 

1 male stabbed on the neck with a pick
1 male beaten to death with a nightstick
1 male had his hands crushed on a car trunk, killed
1 male stabbed to death with a broken bottle
1 female strangled with a scarf
Total: 5

Stepfather III (1992) (AKA The Stepfather 3: Father's Day)
Rating: **1/2
Starring: Robert Wightman, Priscilla Barnes and Season Hubley

Some years passed after, again, surviving a fatal chest wound (a hammer claw to the chest! Who lives through that?!), the stepfather escapes from another institution and seeks a back-alley plastic surgeon to alter his appearance so no one would recognize him. The result? Goodbye O'Quinn and hello Robert Wightman, who proceeds to reward for the surgeon with a throat sliced open with a bonesaw.

Skipping nine months further and the stepfather, now taking in the name "Keith Grant", finds another small town to start his life anew and marries Christine Davis, a divorced school principal he met at an Easter Sunday dance, after a couple of dates. Things would have gone smoothly, but with his new son Andy being in a wheelchair and disinterested with having a new dad, as well as discovering his new wife is infertile, Grant starts to lose his noggin. Again. So he cheats on his wife in hopes of finding a better partner and plans to murder his current family before moving on. But with Andy growing more dubious of his new father and many other unfortunates getting into Grant's nerves, it won't be long before we're back to familiar roots as the stepfather lies and murders his way to perfect his ideal family.

So that's three movies with the same plot now, only here you can really tell they're just sugar-coating it. Gone is the depth of the first two and in comes the slasher film stereotypes wherein our killer must utter one-liners for every kill he makes and said murders have to be butcher shop bloody.

Frankly, I think the gory kills are The Stepfather III's only selling point as its redundant plot and hammy acting really fails to bring in the scares that the first movie (and a little bit of the second) have. The opening murder might as well have foreshadowed the movie's cheesiness, too, with the whole slow-motion shtick that just made everything look trippy. The next following murders similarly lack any build-up or intensity, losing any attempt to properly generate a workably terrifying tone. 

But should it be watched as a standalone movie, The Stepfather III is still popcorn-friendly enough to be not taken seriously (computer wiz kid in a wheel chair that miraculously walked in the end anyone?) and its messiness is something gore-hungry fellers can enjoy. Me included. Also, you can give this movie some credit for at least ditching any lean possibilities for another follow-up and ending a franchise in a splattery way that not even our killer dad can survive. I guess they're finally aware that what they're doing is close to being shit and just decided to end it here (Hallelujah...), so I'm very thankful for that.

Whether we really needed this sequel or not, The Stepfather III is a half-and-half good/bad movie with varying levels of entertainment. If cheese works for you, then this'll be a fine flick. But if you're the kind of folk who prefers realistic thrills than cartoon gore, then I guess you'll be disappointed in this one.
1 male had his throat cut with a bonesaw
1 male beaten and hacked to death with a shovel
1 male repeatedly hacked with a rake
1 male beaten to death against a steering wheel, immolated in car explosion
1 male shredded through a woodchipper
Total: 5


  1. I originally hated Stepfather III, but in hindsight realize it was so bad it's good, with bits like the football scene, or the one where he's ranting crazily about babies while trying to knock up one of the girlfriends.

  2. I would rate the first one ***1/2 - really love O'Quinn and the creepiness of it - and his cheesy lines were supposed to stand out as a little weird even 25 (!) years ago. I would rate the second one **1/2 or *** - depending on my mood. O'Quinn is still great, and Foster and Williams are cute and fun. I would rate the last one ** - a real drop down the quality ladder. Top notch reviews - and wild to me that they never went bigger with the body counts in any of the sequels - a straight five each time!

    1. I'm not too familiar with O'Quinn outside of the Stepfather, but he is good. Never a LOST fan so this is his highest sellpoint for me. Part 3's a mess, but I love that mess! haha

      Oh and the bodycount? yeah, what do you expect with three movies with the same plot? XDDD

  3. I pretty much agree with everything you said here, kaijinu. The first film is my favorite of the series. If you haven't seen it yet, Jeff Burr's FROM A WHISPER TO A SCREAM is worth seeing; a really gruesome anthology from the late 80s.

    1. I heard that one! It looks kinda standard, but that's what I said when I first heard of TAG! The Assassination Game! It proved me wrong...

  4. The Stepfather is a freaking classic and I kind of love everything about it. Part two was a bit of a rehash but that whole wedding sequence is pretty great, you gotta admit. Never even knew for the longest time that there was a Stepfather 3 - I think I may have to give a go now. But... no Terry O'Quinn? Is it really worth it?

    1. The wedding Sequence is the only thing that makes Part 2 stand out. Not that I'm complaining 9w9

      A Stepfather with no O'Quinn you ask? It kinda worked, but you might need to adjust cuz it's a whole lot hammier, luv...