Directed by Joseph Ruben and based on a screenplay by Donald E. Westlake, ‘The Stepfather’ is a psychological horror that came out in 1987. It had several writers including Westlake, Carolyn Lefcourt, Brian Garfield, and David Loughery (whose reworking of the script went uncredited.)
Henry Morrison (Terry O’Quinn) casually shaves and showers while walking around the bodies of his family whom he had just brutally murdered. He changes his name to Jerry Blake and moves to the Seattle suburbs where he marries the widow Susan Maine (Shelley Hack), though his relationship with his new stepdaughter Stephanie (Jill Schoelen) is strained as she is suspicious of his motives. It is causing problems at school even as she develops feelings for her classmate Paul (Jeff Schultz). She relays her frustration to her counselor Dr. A. Bondurant (Charles Lanyer), whom Jerry kills in an act of jealous rage. Surprisingly, the murder brings him closer to his stepdaughter, who is told the doctor died in an accident. Meanwhile, Jim Ogilvie (Stephen Shellen), the brother of Jerry’s murdered previous wife, is tracking Jack down, planning to see him in jail.
After some armchair research, I discovered that the story was based on the John List murders. He was a man who murdered his wife, his mother, and his three children before vanishing in 1971. He was found eighteen years later living with a totally new family. You can see the connections with this feature and how it took inspiration from that crime.
The way this movie is crafted is pretty spot on and it is not difficult to see why it is a cult classic. It is a bit dated as far as some of the technical aspects, which were sort of typical eighties. The overly dramatic music, the teenaged angst, random nudity for no reason, and some of the pop shrink talk, etc. That did not hamper the film in any way, it was just a casual viewer observation.
Terry O’Quinn, Jill Schoelen, and Shelley Hack are all excellent in this film. O’Quinn is particularly chilling as Jerry and ramps up the creepiness to a new level. He is a tremendously talented actor and this film shows it. Likewise, Schoelen is a breakout actress in this. She does a good job as a suspicious stepdaughter who pulls it together.
It does a good job of playing off the fears of not knowing who you are married to. The dark question, “am I living with a stranger” is explored to its possibly horrific conclusion. It keeps you interested in the plot from beginning to end and connects all of the dots to its dramatic conclusion.
Bottom line, The Stepfather is one of those excellent eighties psychological thrillers that keep you on the edge of your seat from start to finish with its talented cast and thrilling story.
PARENTAL CONCERNS: Bloody violence, Foul language, Brief nudity
FAVORITE QUOTE: Who am I here?
Check out the trailer below:
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