FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Oct 1, 2009

Day 1: "Wait a minute...who am I here?"

Okay, I KNOW. The Stepfather came out in 1987. It's a veritable cult classic. I reviewed Stepfather 2 during my inaugural SHOCKTOBER event. And yet, I'd never seen the film in its entire entirety. In fact, I'd only seen a little bit of the ending in some clip show like "The 100 Scariest Movies Ever" or some such. Practically unbelievable, yes? But now I've seen it and that's the point. The past is the past, isn't it? We should let it go before I bring up that time you passed out in a puddle of your own drool after a wild night of Boone's Farm Blackberry Ridge, a box of Little Debbie Star Crunches, and 16 back to back episodes of The Golden Girls.

Wait, that was me. Well, moving on...

The Stepfather begins as a bloodied, be-wigged and be-bearded Terry O'Quinn showers and transforms himself into a squeaky clean slice of white bread.

He packs his bloody clothes into a suitcase and heads out of the house, leaving behind an incredibly gruesome tableau of dead bodies. It's quite a wonderful character setup- we assume that the man walking out the door is responsible for the carnage; the big body count, smashed up furniture, and ubiquitous blood sprays clue us in that Mr. White Bread is, in fact, rather psychotic. The dude doesn't even spare the wee ones from the deadly violence.

A year later, we discover that Mr. White Bread is actually Jerry Blake, and he's up and married himself to Susan (Shelley Hack), a sweet and passive young widow. Her teenage daughter Stephanie (Jill Schoelen) is, as you might expect, resistant to her new stepfather. It goes deeper than that, however: Stephanie thinks there's definitely something hinky going on in Jerry Land. We know, of course, that she's right.

No one believes her, but Stephanie has seen glimpses behind Jerry's nice guy facade, whether it's a passing scowl from him or one his secret basement-bound flipping out sessions. As Stephanie gets closer to the truth and destroys her stepfather's attempts at building a "perfect family" by repeatedly getting into trouble at school, Jerry's grasp on sanity loosens to the point of breaking...and when he breaks, he effing breaks. He systematically removes anyone who may find out his secret by whatever means necessary.

Really, the plot is the same as every other Lifetime movie ever made since the beginning of time immemorial, though the violence is amped up. The "stranger among us" thriller is almost always an enjoyable genre, but The Stepfather really separates itself from the pack on the virtue of its performances. Terry O'Quinn is so convincing as Jerry that one suspects the actor is a bit tapped in real life. It's a layered performance that lends a bit of sympathy to the man capable of cold-blooded murder- we see in his eyes that this homicidal nature is borne of an upbringing made of suffering. It's subtle, though, and director Joseph Ruben wisely stops himself from indulging in Jerry's past.

The violence in The Stepfather is shocking. It's not explicit per se, nor does it permeate the film...but when it comes on it comes out of nowhere with a viciousness that's really sold by O'Quinn. He doesn't just hit someone with a piece of wood- he lets loose and beats them to death. Jerry doesn't hold back, and in a sense he's far more depraved than even Jason Voorhees.

My only true complaint about this film is that the music, at times, is a bit dated. I'm not referring to the songs by, say, Pat Benatar and DiVinyls- rather, it's the "action" music that's firmly ensconced in the '80s and, as such, comes off a bit laughable. The same is true for A Nightmare on Elm Street, too, so whaddaya gonna do? It's just one of those things. The 1980s weren't always kind.

There's also a weird, gratuitous shower scene with Stephanie towards the end of the film- yeah, Jill Schoelen was 24 when the movie was made, but she's playing a 16-year-old. Nudity and sexiness out of nowhere are misplaced not only in terms of the film, but...umm...she's 16.

That said, the performances are top rate, and The Stepfather is well-deserving of its cult classic status. The film drops on DVD for the first time ever on October 13th, so check it out. The disc also features a documentary about the Stepfather "legacy", and includes some tasty trivia, such as the fact that the film is based on real-life murderer John List.


Bryce Wilson said...

I love Terry Quinn, and worship Donald Westlake (who wrote this I think) with the fiery passions of a thousand suns.

Will I be seeing this movie? Oh I think so.

Dean said...

The 3rd one was soooo bad...
Not even on an interesting level.
Loved what they did with the second one, though. One of the best sequels in the genre IMO.

bizarre_eye said...

Great stuff Stacie.

I do a Halloween film marathon each year too. My rules are simple: at least one horror a day... have managed 9 so far. I also do a brief review and a few screen grabs.

Great reviews btw. ;)

Anonymous said...

I have still never seen this! I must!!
I also believe that O'Quinn may be slightly insane. That's fine by me, I <3 him.
This post only made me want to see it mooooooooooore!

Ashlee Blackwell said...

One of those 'no, it's really good' films i've seem to have watched passively and only in bits and pieces.

is it bad that seeing the name Shelley Hack drove me to imdb to remember I know that actresses name from Troll?

The movie automatically gets 10 points for that indirect relation alone.

I'll put this one on the Halloweenie marathon list as well. It'll be nice to see something I haven't seen a million times over.

Bloody Mary said...

What?! The kinda-now, kinda-wow Revlon Charlie girl is in this?! I only knew about "Troll". That, and your screencap of "bloodied, be-wigged and be-bearded" Terry O'Quinn just sent this skyrocketing to the top of my queue! I may also be one of the few looking forward to the remake (easy when you haven't seen the original) because the first few seasons of Nip/Tuck were a big guilty pleasure for me and I can't wait to see Sean be the insane murderer for a change.

dementia13 said...

I love this movie, but when it comes to that slow ride to cuckooland, I like The Dentist a little better. They're very similar movies, with both characters violently obsessed with corruption. The Dentist carries that idea a little further, with an oppressively white set design that reflects the ideal of purity that the doctor is trying so desperately for.

Trivia time: the dated music is courtesy of Patrick Moraz. He was formerly a keyboardist with Yes and the Moody Blues, and probably married somebody really hot like Rosanna Arquette, because that's what those guys do.

Unknown said...

can't believe you didn't mention that she saws his pole off at the end. wait, shit...spoilers! don't read what i just wrote, if you don't want to ruin the ending...