The Stepfather and The Stepfather 2 are available to rent or buy.
As Jerry Blake gobbles up his mashed potato, vegetables and meat at the family dinner table, his teenage stepdaughter suggests she would like to attend boarding school. Jerry’s face drops, his jovial mask suddenly slipping before he pulls himself back together and responds, “I don’t think we need to break up a family, do we, Pumpkin?” Not long after, Jerry is down in the basement smashing things up while talking to himself as he debates whether it’s time to murder another family before finding a new one.
Over-the-top and faintly ridiculous psychological thrillers like The Stepfather are rare nowadays; maybe that’s why Joseph Ruben’s 1987 low-budget serial killer movie has become a cult classic since its release. Or perhaps it is down to the hammy central performance of the fantastic Terry O’Quinn as a serial killer with many faces who just wants a family he can control. Either way, The Stepfather and its nutty 1989 sequel are great fun and deserve their place in the Horror Hall of Fame.
As the film opens, O’Quinn’s psychotic family man, who loves a knife or hammer, is named Henry. Surrounded by the bloody remnants of his once ‘happy’ family, Henry transforms his image, changing his coloured contact lenses and shaving off his beard as he becomes Jerry. He then boards a ferry, ready to hunt for a new family to love to death. We then jump forward and find Jerry, now an estate agent, married to the recently divorced Susan (Shelley Hack). Jerry may seem like the perfect husband, but a deadly desire for the ideal family unit lies behind his smile. From the outset, his sixteen-year-old stepdaughter Stephanie (Jill Schoelin) isn’t taken in by the fake smile; but can she uncover the truth before her family become victims of his bloodlust and violence?
Of course, the answer is yes! Jerry is stopped in his tracks just as he is about to slaughter Susan and Stephanie with a stab to the heart. This decisive stab wound would kill most people, but not Jerry because Stepfather 2 opens in a psychiatric ward where Jerry is undergoing therapy. However, the psychologist is far too trusting of Jerry’s commitment to healing, and before long, he has staged an elaborate and ridiculous jailbreak. Boarding a train wearing the uniform of a guard he bludgeoned to death, Jerry is about to start a new life as a friendly family therapist called Gene Clifford. But his real wish is to find a new family, and it’s not long before he meets the recently separated Carol (Meg Foster) and her young son Todd (Jonathan Brandis).
There’s no doubt that Terry O’Quinn holds both The Stepfather and The Stepfather 2 together; without him, these budget thrillers would have vanished into oblivion long ago. The Stepfather is another example of a cult classic that bombed in cinemas, only to find its fans on VHS rental, which explains the straight-to-VHS sequel. However, while the sequel was a ridiculous but fun slice of slasher horror, Joseph Ruben’s original does hold moments of chilling terror while attempting to explore the mirage of the 80s American Dream. However, while there is an attempt to inject The Stepfather with some deeper meaning, this quickly collapses as the movie becomes a homage to classic horrors, ranging from Psycho to The Shining.
That said, The Stepfather remains a delightful thriller/horror, while its sequel offers some genuinely funny moments before climaxing in a pre-wedding bloodbath. Yes, both films are over the top and, at times, utterly ridiculous. But they offer a type of horror entertainment now rare, and you won’t find a more fun Halloween double bill than Terry O’Quinn going nuts with various household goods.