The Stepfather franchise (1987, 1988, 1992)
Directed by: Guy Magar, Jeff Burr, Joseph Ruben
Starring: Caroline Williams, David Tom, Jill Schoelen, Jonathan Brandis, Meg Foster, Priscilla Barnes, Robert Wightman, Season Hubley, Shelley Hack, Terry O'Quinn
Before he was famous for being John Locke in the infamous TV Show LOST, Terry O’Quinn was having fun with a kitchen knife in the much forgotten but wonderful slasher franchise, The Stepfather. Here we take a look back at the 80’s/90’s trilogy!
THE STEPFATHER (1987)
Directed By Joseph Ruben
I was eleven when the film The Stepfather came out. Back then my horror thirst was already born with love for all things Myers, Jason and Freddy, a spoilt child unaware I was in a golden age of horror!
The slasher genre was in full boom but heading towards the final breath of its dominance. Those days there seemed to be a new Friday 13th film being released on a monthly basis, and looking back its easy to see why young horror fans were so in love of seeing a bogeyman hacking young teens to death.
I needed to watch any new horror release and there was nothing I looked forward to than a Friday night visit to my local VHS Store and seeking out the new releases. Those were great days! Cardboard cut outs of Freddy staring back at you, films of such bonkers title that even now stumbling across them it brings me back to those great days of old.
Somehow and I can’t understand why but The Stepfather bypassed me. If I had seen the trailer then there is no question that I would have wanted to have seen it immediately, but I had to wait a full year until it came into my life., it was 1988 and my mother happened to just stumble upon it, while I was looking for the New Blood Part VII, which I was told all week in school was a fantastic Carrie Vs Jason flick (it wasn’t).
Holding both films in my hands, it was a man who wanted to be a perfect dad that left more of an impression on me that weekend, totally oblivious to the fact that Kane Hodder had just made his debut in one of my much loved franchise!
While those under the age of 30 will know Terry O’Quinn as the one and only John Locke from LOST fame, for me he will always be Jerry Blake. Watching him running around that island for six long seasons failed to rid me of my lasting memory of when he played such an evil bastard.
You’ll only have to see The Stepfather to realise just how good Quinn is in this role. I would go far and say that its his finest performance 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.
In what could have just been a standard slasher film, the strength of the bloodbath is O’Quinn as right from the off we get to see just how much of a sick demented psycho this guy really is. Jerry is seen washing himself in the mirror and there is blood all over him, he starts to shave and then strips of and jumps 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 bloody hand 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 of the new bogyman in town, a killer who does not wear a mask or a walking zombie, just an ordinary looking guy who wants something in life….the perfect family. A loving wife, a good behaved child, 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 target…sorry 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 loving relationship.
Dad is long gone and the film doesn’t waste anytime in plot building as Susan is now remarried to a certain Mr Blake who we see carrying a puppy to give to his new found Stepdaughter, the very pet that Jerry will have in his lap, towards the climax threatening to slice the poor pups throat!
Anyhow, like all good daughters in horror, Stephanie has doubts that Jerry is not who he seems, and while she is struggling herself with issues and getting expelled from school really does not help the perfect set up Jerry requires, she starts to investigate her new daddy!
The slow pace to Stepfather is wonderful and reminds 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 horror and still sit in awe when Jerry, frustrated with life, goes down to his work basement and lets off a little bit anger. We can see the rage from within as he picks up hammer and starts to bash things while muttering to himself! Pretty basic, but it all builds up to the very first death scene that involves a piece of wood that will sour your memory of John Locke forever.
The pace picks up just as things start to go wrong. We get a brief snippet of a life 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 who is seeking a perfect life, thought he was getting it and then it all just falls apart.
He stands there, eyes rolling and head thinking all nasty things and you expect him to grab a kitchen knife and kill those who have disappointed him, but no…..the film teases you and what we have instead is Jerry beginning to seek out a new life, a new disguise, with a new woman and child found and a deepening sense of dread towards his current wife and Stepdaughter.
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.
One slip of the tongue 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 scene that is 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 a 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. Nothing can go wrong! But being a Stepfather film it does and it comes in the shape of Phil, Carol’s ex-husband and her friend Matty (Caroline Williams) who begins to suspect that the new guy in town is not who he seems. Gene who up until now manages to control his temper starts to go a bit nuts and its not long before his evil side appears, much to the shock of Carol’s close friends.
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 genre. The way he turns from good to bad in an instant is freaky and scary and I just love 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
Ok then, now on to part 3 and lets start by saying the third film in the surprise horror franchise is not the ghastly awful flick I remembered it to be.
Oh make no mistake, its awful beyond belief, but there is something “guilty” about it. Its like you’ll watch the first two films and the inner self in you screams out to remind your brain that there is another film to the franchise and that alone will make you want to watch it.
You will laugh at the scenes and suffer from disbelief with the idiotic plot, but to be fair to all involved. Its like they knew they were on a hiding to nothing so they thought “sod it” lets just go with it.
The first negative, well only negative is the fact that by the time they decided to make a new one, O’Quinn knew that there was nothing left in the franchise and done the wise thing and run away. There was a slim chance that he would come back and offered to direct the very film, but talks broke down and so the creators went ahead and made a new one.
Now the trouble with Stepfather, he does not wear a mask and so the writers had a huge problem…….how do they get past the fact that their lead star is now gone?
Well simple, they decided to go with a new daddy who had the same 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 his new face but again its partially covered as he is dressed in a huge pink Bunny suit and 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 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……….Lets move on.
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. Basically the third offers The Stepfather two families to live with and which one will he choose?
One to spend happy ever after (or though that is doubtful) and the other to go home and butcher them to his heart is content. Its a neat twist and after hating this film many moons ago….well in 1992 to be precise and having watched it again for the first time in many years, I honestly thought it was ok!
Its only fair to say that Wightman is no O’Quinn but the guy was on a hiding before he started. He was asked to play the same character from the first two films and that is what he did, so how can people moan that he tries to be like Terry. Of course he would….he is supposed to be.
There are a few brief moments when he does pull it off and made me believe that Jerry/Gene/Keith could have had a facelift. But he lacks that “flick of a switch” rage that O’Quinn managed to pull off. Also by now the franchise was just tired. It began in the first sequel and this just seems to be the last ounce of blood they could have got out of a dying franchise.
It’s interesting to find out that O’Quinn was in talks for this third film and you do get a sense of a missed opportunity. Any plans for a proper conclusion to the trilogy were long gone, replaced with a straight to cable movie and sadly it suffers for it
Some bland slasher deaths will keep you watching as we head the climax which follows its own blueprint. Daddy goes nuts, family is in danger, but bizarrely it then offers a conclusion that even diehard fans did not expect to finish on.
Stepfather III does end the franchise and its a huge shock to the system as showed a lot of courage to finally put an end the Stepfather’s rage, as they could have easily milked it with a fourth/fifth instalment!
We did have the obligatory remake in 2009 that failed to make an impression for a new generation of fans, but for an 80’s slasher franchise, its well worth seeking out, mainly for O’Quinn who will leave such a lasting impression that for many of you, will rush out and get the franchise in your collection.
Its sad that The Stepfather franchise is becoming a forgotten piece of horror, because the original alone was one of the best horror films from the 80’s and deserves to be discovered for a new generation.