Like I said at the start of the week, there was going to be a special highlight on the ‘Stepfather’ horror franchise for Halloween 2020. I had never seen the original trilogy or even the new version, so I thought it would be cool to take a look at the cult classic, its sequels, and the remake.
For those unfamiliar, ‘The Stepfather’ franchise is a trilogy of films and a remake: The Stepfather (1987), Stepfather II (1989), Stepfather III (1992), and The Stepfather (2009). The original is based on the John List murders, a man who killed his wife, kids, and his mother. He was found almost two decades later and had started a new family. It raised eyebrows and, of course, the eighties produced a film.
It was definitely odd watching all of the movies one right after the other in the twenty-first-century setting. You can tell that they were made years apart based on the pop culture references at the time. I’m going to break down three stand out points and give my thoughts on the series overall.
Dylan Walsh (seen on the right) plays the stepfather in the 2009 remake. He certainly has the creepiness down and even nailed expressions to give off a sinister presence during his time with the family. However, he failed to deliver the iconic line, “Who am I here” with any gravitas (more on that later). I do not blame the actor for this. Walsh is hampered by the subpar script, but all in all, I felt he delivered on the chills.
Robert Wightman (seen in the center) plays a surgically altered Stepfather after he escapes a mental institution in the third movie. His performance is clearly the weakest of the three stepfathers. He seemed out of his depth and even came across as somewhat silly during a killing scene. He is wooden and seemed more lost than predatory.
Terry O’Quinn (on the left) is the best of the three, no questions asked. Despite my significant issues with the second film, he carried over his massive talent as the Stepfather and made the original an instant cult classic. In the first two entries, he is a master at seeming deceptive, charming, and creepy all in a span of a few minutes. He seemed to truly care about the role and even though the sequel made it more about the gore than the story, he is clearly proving that old trope of “nothing beats the original.”
Not to sound repetitive, but the families from the original two are the best. Jill Schoelen is excellent as the stepdaughter suspicious of her mom’s new man in the original. Jonathan Brandis from the second film is the flip of that, ready to accept a father-figure in his life. They contrast each other and that makes for good storytelling. David Tom comes off as too unbelievable in the third with his hacking and computer skills distracting from his impending doom. Penn Badgley’s performance is hampered by coming off more as teenaged angst than true suspicion that something is amiss. For all of them, even with my misgivings about a few of them, they had their moments of true genuine terror from the stranger in their home.
Who Am I Here?
Now for the iconic line. “Who Am I Here?” In the original film, it is meant to serve as a moment for the romanced wife to realize the man in her life is really a killer. It is a moment where the audience feels the tension shoot through the roof, making you lean forward in anticipation. It isn’t revisited in the second film, but the third used it as no more than a throwaway line while the Stepfather was having a tantrum. It devalued the line and made it more of a gimmick. Walsh tries to deliver it in the remake, but the director either did not allow him to do it right or provided poor direction. So, instead of becoming a revelatory scene, it comes off as a moment of confusion for our antagonist. O’Quinn’s delivery just was not beat.
As for the overall series, the first one is still the best in my book. As I mentioned above, it takes inspiration from a true-crime that made everyone question the reality of their home. It makes you think of your own circumstances and whether or not the person you love is really who they say.
With this in mind, The 1987’s version of The Stepfather will always remain a cult classic. The others may fade away, but Terry O’Quinn’s delivery and legendary performance have, in my opinion, solidified it in the annals of horror cinema.
What do you think? Let me know in the comments below. Tell me if there is a comic book, movie, or novel you would like me to review. While you are at it, check out my movie review of Doctor Sleep. Don’t forget to like, share, and subscribe for more posts like this one.