Welcome to Wild Card Wednesday. It’s the second Wednesday of the month. That means it’s time for original vs. remake movie reviews. Today, I will do a review of the original 1987 movie The Stephfather. On Friday, Tiffany A. White will do the 2009 remake of The Stepfather.
The Stepfather was released in theaters in 1987 and starred Terry O’ Quinn—who some of y’all may remember from Lost.
Jerry Blake is in search of the American Dream. Somewhere out there is a house surrounded by a white picket fence and a family who will live up to his expectations. And if Jerry’s family doesn’t live up to his expectations, he’ll murder them and start over again.
Jerry has just married an unsuspecting widow in Washington state. His new stepdaughter is a rebellious teenager who gets into fights at school and doesn’t like Jerry one bit. Will this family be the perfect fit or will Jerry have to scrap them and start over?
Watch the trailer:
The Stepfather was released to critical acclaim, but didn’t score big at the box office. It’s a shame because this is one of Terry O’ Quinn’s best roles. He is downright creepy as the psycho Jerry Blake.
Luckily, The Stepfather gained a cult following of sorts when it hit the cable movie channels like HBO and Cinemax. That’s where I saw it. The idea that someone could murder family after family and repeatedly get away with it still chills me. We never really know who we’re dealing with…not really.
The Stepfather is loosely based on the John List case, which happened in 1971 in Westfield, New Jersey. John List shot his entire family to death and disappeared. I’ll stop there because John List is the star of my next Freaky Friday post.
The movie starts by showing what happens when Jerry Blake’s family disappoints him. Jerry washes the blood off his face, shaves off his beard, puts in contacts, and dons a suit.
He walks downstairs past a bloodstained wall. In the living room, several bodies are laid out. Furniture is overturned as though a huge struggle took place. Jerry grabs his suitcase and walks right out the front door and down the sidewalk, whistling “The Camptown Races.”
The timeline jumps forward a year. Jerry has remarried to a thin, blonde-haired widow named Susan Maine (Shelley Hack). Susan has a daughter from her previous marriage named Stephanie. It is obvious early on that Stephanie gets into fistfights (remember those?) at school and is on the edge of expulsion.
Jerry tries to play a modern-day Ward Cleaver to all these obstacles, and he often comes up short—especially in Stephanie’s eyes. Stephanie senses there’s something off about Jerry, but nobody believes her. Ultimately, she starts to doubt herself.
In the meantime, Jerry’s American Dream is coming unraveled. Jerry periodically goes down to his basement workshop and rants and raves to himself. It is left to the viewer to speculate that similar events led to the opening sequence where Jerry had just murdered his family.
The Stepfather would probably become predictable at his point if it weren’t for the movie cutting back to the house shown in the opening scenes of the movie—the one where Jerry murdered his family. We meet the victim’s brother—Jim Ogilvie—who is trying to get some justice for his murdered sister and her children.
This extra point-of-view not only creates a good deal of suspense but also tells the audience what an evil guy The Stepfather is. Through Jim’s investigation, we learn that the police are stymied. The Stepfather was using a phony ID with his last family, and his fingerprints didn’t bring up any hits.
The police have a chilling speculation from a criminal psychologist: The Stepfather has probably done this numerous times—married into a ready-made family with children, snapped when the pressures became too great, and murdered them all.
We are left wondering if Stephanie will figure out she’s right about her stepfather or if Jim Ogilvie will rescue her or if they’ll all fall victim to The Stepfather.
The Stepfather spawned two sequels. The Stepfather II was released in 1990. It lacked the magic of the original, and I turned it off after forty minutes. The film did have the dubious distinction of starring Jonathon Brandis, who died a rather bizarre and sad death in 2003.
The Stepfather III was released in 1992. Because part two was so bad, I didn’t bother with it.