THE STEPFATHER FRANCHISE: A look back at the 80’s and 90’s much loved franchise.
THE STEPFATHER (1987)
Directed By Joseph Ruben
I was eleven when the film The Stepfather came out. Lucky back then I was unaware of the film. My horror thirst was already born with love for all things Myers, Jason and Freddy because back then the slasher genre was in full boom. Yes it was all set to burst but as a young lad my love for a man with a knife hacking young teens to death was overwhelming. I needed to watch any new horror and those days and with the Internet not even heard of, the only hope I had was seeing film titles at the local video store. Those were great days! Cardboard cut outs of Freddy staring back at you, films of such bonkers title that when I even see them now it brings me back to those great days of old. If I had seen the trailer of Stepfather then there is no question that I would wanted to have seen it. But the film came into my life a year later, it was 1988 and my mother had just rented it out.
What I was about to see blew my mind away.
While those under the age of 30 will know Terry O’Quinn has the one and only John Locke from LOST fame, for me he will always be Jerry Blake. Even watching him running around that island for six long seasons did not rid the memory of such an evil bastard. You only have to see The Stepfather to realise just how good Quinn is in this role. I would go far and say that its one of the best of the entire decade and I am glad even to this day that many appreciate him in the role. If you have only seen him in the role of Locke then that is brilliant. Why? Because if you decide to watch this film after reading this review then you are in for one stunning surprise. The guy is just evil and I mean downright scary from beginning to end, he might act like the perfect Dad, but whatever you do, never make him angry.
The strength of the film is O’Quinn, right from the off we get to see just how much of a sick bastard this guy is. Jerry is seen washing himself in the mirror and there is blood all over him, he starts to shave and then strips of (yes we do see his willy) and jump into the shower. In other words he goes from looking like this….
The reason why is unclear at first but the fear of dread fills the screen straight away. Its only when Jerry leaves the bathroom and walks across the hall that we see the first glimpse of madness from this new icon of horror. Jerry spots a toy left on a floor, picks it up and puts it a toy box, smiling and care fee, he then walks down the stairs and BANG!!!! like a perfect horror moment we the viewer spot a child’s blood print on the wall, its like the person was dragged from the stairs. We continue to see Jerry walk to the bottom of the stairs and the music ramps up and its here we finally discover what this psycho is capable of. An entire family is slaughtered in the living room while a dead child lays nearby. Jerry does not even show any remorse as he opens the front door and leaves, grabbing the morning paper while he starts to whistle and then walk down the street. Where too? Well this is when the film starts.
Its one of the greatest opening moments in horror. Sums up a perfect intro the new bogyman, a killer who does not wear a mask or is a walking zombie, just an ordinary looking guy who wants something in life……the perfect family. A loving wife, a good behaved child, just a life where there is no arguments and everyone is in love. Any normal person knows this is not possible, but for Jerry if it doesn’t then instead of talking things through he grabs a kitchen knife and kills those around him and then moves onto to someone else. If you think about it, it’s one of the coolest concepts in horror genre…….no back-story, simple and effective and its one of the reasons why The Stepfather is one of 80’s most loved horror films.
His next family and the one that the film concentrates on is that of Susan (Shelley Hack) and Stephanie (Jill Schoelen) a great duo who seem to have a lovely set up. Dad is gone and Susan is remarried, the problem is its to Mr Jerry Blake who we now see carrying a puppy to give to his daughter. “Oh he seems lovely” we think but not towards the end when he has the said puppy in his lap and is all set to slice the poor pup’s throat. Anyhow, Stephanie does have doubts that Jerry is not who he seems and her getting expelled in school does not help the perfect set up Jerry requires in life. It also does not help that even now I still find Schoelen a real stunner looks wise. I had a crush on her when I was child and used to love “that shower scene” even though at the age of 35 now, I find that scene uncomfortable because she is supposed to be in school and 16 years of age and she is naked in the shower……only in 80’s horror……
The slow pace to Stepfather is wonderful and remind you of Halloween. The fact is, there is only one killing we witness until the climax. A poor number when talking about a slash movie but it works simply because the build up is stunning. Watching Jerry slowly unravel is the beauty of the film and one of the reasons why even though it’s dated horribly, its still a brilliant film to watch. The only few moments we see Jerry go a bit nuts is when he goes does the basement and starts to bang things with a hammer while muttering to himself. Sounds poor here but sets the film’s pace to great effect. If you want to see Jerry in full murderous effect then the one death scene is here, but be warned LOST fans, you will be stunned and it may sour your memory of John Locke.
The pace picks up just as things go wrong. We get a brief snippet of things that seem to be going Jerry’s way but then an argument out of the blue causes the Dad to snap. You can see it all in the eyes of Quinn and it’s a must see. I mean come on……..here is a man whose perfect through out and then it just all falls apart. He stands there, eyes rolling and head thinking all things and you expect him to grab a kitchen knife and kill those who have disappointed him straight away, but no…..the film teases you. What we have instead is the film showing Jerry being clever and we have to wait a bit more for the climax.
If you have never seen the “Who Am I here?” scene then shame on you. Its a moment that is outstanding and again up there with the best in horror. Its O’Quinn once more who nails the scene and its one my favourite moments in horror, up there with the “shape rising” behind Laurie. Why? Because for a moment that is pure horrific, O’Quinn underplays it brilliantly. To him its just a normal part of life, how he acts, he talks…..how he can just kill without care.
That moment starts the climax and what we have is a battle to death between Mother, Daughter and Step dad. Damn even writing this makes me want to watch this film again. I do have to mention one moment but try not to mention the character’s name. Lets just say its a pure Dick Hallorann moment, funny and hilarious because its unexpected and even now I giggle when watching.
From the opening sequence which is one of the best in horror,to of course the “Halloween” inspired climax, The Stepfather could have been just an average film if it weren’t for O’Quinn, but he steals every single moment and is a pure joy. It’s one of 80’s greatest horror films that still enters the “best of” lists to this day and with such a creation in Jerry Blake, the demand for a sequel was immense back then? But would Terry whose reputation was growing come back for another stab of looking for a perfect family?…….
STEPFATHER 2: Make Room For Daddy (1989)
Directed By Jeff Burr
Lets be honest! It was the 80’s and every horror film that made money ended up with a sequel. Stepfather was no different and with the added bonus of Terry O Quinn returning to the role that won him huge acclaim, the fans back then were ecstatic with the impending return of Jerry Blake.
The trouble with sequels though is that they become a different beast to what served the original film brilliantly. Like Halloween II, this second film copies the blueprint of the first film but adds more gore and death. Like I wrote on Stepfather, there was only one death scene by the time we reached the climax, in this, we get three in the first ten minutes. Yes fans, Daddy was back and he was more mad and bad than ever, but how the heck did he survive “his death” at the end of Stepfather.
Well easy, its a horror film and what actual damage does a knife do in the heart? It only leaves a huge scar and of course a life time in a mental home but for Jerry that is not good enough and thanks to a caring new psychiatrist who trusts our Daddy a bit too much, Jerry is free and heads off to sunny California where he takes up the role of a counsellor in a shiny new home. Yes, I have thought recently how can a guy just escaped from an asylum afford these lovely homes, but hey….its horror….details do not matter when there is carnage.
Now this is the bit where it comes a tad confusing. Our Jerry Blake becomes Dr. Gene Clifford so he becomes one of the rare bogeymen to have two different names. Its also handy that the house opposite has a divorcee in the shape of Carol (Meg Foster) who also has a son Todd (Jonathan Brandis-remember the film Sidekicks?). What starts is Jerry sorry Gene acting all normal. He gets the women of the area to like him and there is a cool bit where he is taking his shopping out of the car only to drop them in front of watching Carol who rushes over to help him. I like this tiny scene because it shows the game that Jerry..sorry again…Gene…plays. Yes, good old Carol falls in love with him, Todd actually likes the man and once again the perfect family is formed.
Basically its the original all over again. The daughter replaced by a son and the dark realistic vibe replaced by a straight of the mill Slash formula. There is nothing wrong with that, Slash fans will get more of a kick with this than the first film, but horror fans who adored Jerry Blake will find a few things lacking. O’Quinn is still the best thing about the film and its great to see him back menace mood even though the lack of quality script does not offer one scene to match the “Who Am I Here?” set-piece. But he is still one of the best creations ever in the horror field. The way he turns from good to bad in an instant is freaky and scary and I love the man in this role. Sod John Locke, this for me is his best role and will never ever beat it.
Despite it lacking the quality of the original there are moments of fun though. The bit where Gene sits down to watch dating clips is a giggle but the best laugh is during his “sessions” with the women and one of them starts to talk about oral sex and how she “Hums”- the picture on Gene’s face is worth the watch alone.
The climax builds up to a frenetic finish when the world comes crashing down around Gene (who thought a whistle would prove to be so destructive) and to be fair the film pulls out a great last 15 minutes. I am not knocking Stepfather II because if you watched the classic original then you will find yourself wanting to see this. Its not poor and no way does it insult the film that started it all, but there is no shame in saying that its a pure typical 80’s slash sequel. Decent but flawed and it done well enough for fans to demand a third…….
But what we got was a conclusion to the trilogy that no one expected.
STEPFATHER 3 (1992)
Directed By Guy Maguar
Well simple, they decided to do a new daddy with murderous impulses….a new man for the franchise, a different direction and a fresh intake to an already tired franchise. You know writing that made me believe it myself….of course they didn’t because when it comes to horror, realism goes out of the window and instead we have the same Stepfather but with a different face. How? By the magic of Plastic surgery! Yes…..hello……anyone still there?
Ok, to the last person reading I carry on! In what is the best scene of the entire film, the opening see’s Jerry/Gene, walk into one of those dirty basements for plastic Surgery (a bit like Joker in Keaton’s Batman) and this probably unlicensed Surgeon does a remarkable job in completely changing the face of O’Quinn (we see his image on a newspaper) to that of a different man. Of course we do not see him yet because of loads of bandages and after he kills the man who done the refit, the Stepdad is off to pastures new, to find a new family to butcher.
We finally get to see the new man but again his face is covered. Yes he is dressed in a huge pink Bunny suit and he is hopping around giving Easter Eggs to little kids. Sorry guys I am not taking the piss here, this actually happens and its clever ploy to avoid the viewer into not seeing the full image of the man who was once Jerry Blake and is now called Keith Grant, even when he meets the “woman” this time in the shape of Christine (Priscilla Barnes– yes eagle eye viewers its her from The Devil’s Rejects) he dances with her in that outfit.
At the moment all we have is this annoying voice that seems like he is an offspring from The Walton’s, I know that the Surgery was good but feck me, that now deceased Surgeon also changed his voice. He must have used one of those voice chip’s they used in Face/Off. Anyhow, a good twenty minutes in and finally he turns around and hey look who is playing him its Robert Wightman, yes he from……..from…….from……….
What follows is what happened in Parts 1 and 2, only now the deranged wannabe father has his sights on mother whose son Andy (David Tom– Stay Tuned) is in a wheelchair. Its not long before Keith has his feet under the table and be warned Stepfather III contains one of the worst sex scenes ever put to film. Slow motion and with the sound of waves crashing against rocks, I sat there last night rewatching it and just could not stop laughing. All that was missing was “Take my breath away” and it would have been complete.
Its amazing how quickly this guy works though. In the space of half hour, he has a new face, moved to a new town, managed to get married, get laid and now has a lovely home. This new Stepdad probably thinks he can do anything, even make Andy walk from his wheelchair, which he actually does try to do in one of the most surreal of scenes. It also helps the plot that Andy is a computer whizz kid who likes to solve unsolved crimes on his computer…..a handy hobby when your mother has just married one of the world’s most wanted men.
The fresh intake though is the way the plot switches from formula to something else. We are only 45 minutes in and already Keith is pissed off over his new “family”. With Andy moving out to be with his real dad, Keith’s dynamic family life obsession is ruined and so what we have is him already embarking on a new life, with a new woman (Season Hubley) and her kid. Its like the extended climax of the original Stepfather film and this turn of plot makes Stepfather III at least watchable.