The Stepfather (1987)
The Stepfather is a minor horror classic, it’s a tense family thriller about a serial killer who only wants the perfect family. Unfortunately, no family seems to live up to his perfect standards and when they inevitably fail he murders them, changes his identity, and then looks for someone else. The movie pivots on the titular character played by character actor Terry O’Quinn of Lost fame, giving what is likely his career best performance as a dangerous monster desperately trying to keep things together under a veneer of suburban idealism. Of course the film is populated with a cast of other great characters in less showy roles, not the least of which being the lead character Stephanie played by Jill Schoelen. It’s a tense, well-written, wonderfully performed thriller and deserves more love than it gets.
The Stepfather (2009)
The Stepfather remake gets a bad rap; while the original is a cult classic, that cult is very rabid and it’s still pissed about Robert Wightman stepping in for Terry O’Quinn in the third movie. The fact that it was PG-13 in the era where PG-13 horror movies were at their blandest didn’t help. Dylan Walsh (the Colin Firth of Jason Batemans) steps into the killer stepfather role. Walsh starts the movie the same as his forebear, shaving and changing his appearance placidly as he walks through a house filled with carnage, this time the site of an apparently disastrous Christmas morning. The stepfather ingratiates himself to a woman and her two children, only for things to become tense six months later when the woman’s trouble-making older son comes home from military school. Things begin to spiral out of control as the nosy neighbor lady, the ex-husband, and the woman’s sister all threaten to reveal his true nature. Naturally things go poorly and things get murderous.
Is it a good remake?
Honestly? It’s okay. Dylan Walsh will never be Terry O’Quinn, he doesn’t have the intensity that O’Quinn has but his David Harris is suitably menacing and when he goes full unhinged he really does sell it quite well. The only real stumble is when the movie pulls the famous “who am I here?” scene from the original movie which just highlights the disparity between the two actors. Fortunately the movie chooses to be its own thing for the most part and that really keeps it from being a pale imitation.
Does it stand on its own?
Very well, actually. The family drama works, not falling on easy tropes. The ex-husband is a dick but its highlighted that while he had a really toxic relationship with the mother he still very much cares about his kids. Similarly the mother’s deliberate ignorance of all the red flags that David keeps throwing up make sense because she’s reeling from a bad divorce and just trying to find some sense and stability in her life, even the troubled son character reads as someone who’s really trying to make sense of his broken home. All the relationship beats feel very genuine and real and a movie like this lives or dies on how well the drama works. The PG-13 rating doesn’t end up hampering the film, this movie doesn’t really need anything terribly salacious to sell its message. It’s tense and effective, certainly not as visceral or intense as the original but a solid horror film in its own right.
Watch, Toss, or Buy?
Maybe this won’t be for everyone but I’m gonna go ahead and call this a buy.