The Stepfather (1987)

Article 2606 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-24-2008
Posting Date: 10-1-2008
Directed by Joseph Ruben
Featuring Terry O’Quinn, Jill Schoelen, Shelley Hack
Country: USA

A single mother with a rebellious daughter marries a charming real estate salesman, unaware that the man has been married before and ends up slaughtering his families when they don’t live up to his dreams of “the perfect family”.

When this movie came to my town it played the art house circuit rather than in the multiplexes, which somewhat disassociated it from the other horror thrillers of the period. This is understandable; the movie emphasizes character, intelligence and believability rather than just gruesome thrills; what makes it so effective is that you can understand the feelings of the murderous title character, and he never descends to merely an evil bogeyman. Much of the credit goes to actor Terry O’Quinn, who makes his character very believable. Still, the movie does stumble on occasion, mostly when it gives in to certain horror movie cliches that it usually tries to avoid; occasionally, after he’s killed someone, the killer will throw out the type of one-liners that always seem phony and artificial to me, and though he isn’t one of those indestructible super-monsters like Jason, he comes closer than he should during the climax of the movie. What is most memorable is the element of surprise; the killer is uncommonly intelligent and his eruptions into violence come at the unexpected moments when you think the movie is just building up the suspense. The movie will no doubt alienate some viewers who perceive a political subtext that criticizes the whole family values movement, but I consider this a gross oversimplification, as it is the killer’s obsession with unreachable ideals and his inability to accept that there are some things he cannot control that set off his madness. The movie spawned two sequels, which is a pity; this is one of those movies that is only cheapened by the enfranchisement of it.



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