The Stepfather (1987)

Director: Joseph Ruben (1987)
Starring: Terry O' Quinn, Stephanie Maine, Stephanie Maine Blake
Find it online: IMDB

Well, for all intents and purposes, I thought they did already remake The Stepfather. That one had Vince Vaughan and John Travolta in it. But this isn’t a review of that film. This isn’t even a review of the other one, starring Amber Heard and Nip Tuck from off’ve Nip Tuck. This is the original flick, which stars Terry O’ Quinn as the eponymous Stepfather.

Well this Stepfather automatically earns itself some cool points by having O’ Quinn in full-on badass mode. When we first meet him, he’s barely recognizable as John Locke of Lost fame. Fair enough, the film’s over twenty years old, but Locke has an impressive amount of face-fuzz going on here. If you watch the remake’s trailer, you’ll see that Nip Tuck sports a similar beard, only shit. Fool shoulda’ known he couldn’t hope to compare with the awesomeness of John Locke. But more importantly, he’s washing blood off his hands (not a metaphor) and looking evil into a mirror. He has a shave, changes into a dapper suit and wanders downstairs to where his dead family are lazing about. Whistling himself a merry little tune, Locke leaves the house and wanders on up the street.

Locke soon ingratiates himself with another family, becoming husband to a cute little MILF and stepfather to her equally cute daughter. He’s calling himself Jerry now, and tries to win his stepdaughter over with a puppy. Drugs or booze would probably be a better gift, since Stephanie is a bit of a rebel (cue classroom catfight) and gets herself expelled from school. This all clashes with Jerry’s 50s’ “happy family” sensibilities, and he sets about stabbing some sense into the girl…

Being evil and all, The Stepfather is an estate agent and keeps a basement full of power tools. He wears lots of tweed and is played by Terry O’ Quinn. It’s a good thing this is his movie, because he’s by far the best thing in it. He elevates it above TV-movie level, and it makes you glad he got to further his awesomeness in Lost (and you can often see shades of psycho in that series’ John Locke). It’s a multi-faceted performance, alternating between loving father/husband and stabby killer/psychopath. He's a bit overreactive, but then I suppose that's a psychopath's perrogative.

The building tension is nicely done. Watching Jerry unravel is a lot of fun. There’s not a lot of gore, but the few squirts and spurts of violence work pretty well, even if it is all a bit predictable. Likewise, the ending is by-the-numbers, but has a certain verve and charm to it.

And if it weren’t for its wonderful villain, one suspects that The Stepfather wouldn’t be a very good movie. Too much has been seen before in straight-to-DVD and made-for-TV movies. The Stepfather wants to be a Hitchcockian style psychological thriller, but the movie doesn’t provide us enough insight into Jerry’s mind or his motives – nor anyone else’s – for it to really work. And it's not really scary enough to work as a proper horror movie. Jerry’s unravelling has shades of The Shining – and O’ Quinn certainly does a great Jack Nicholson impression - but the scares are too familiar and too scarce. Watching this, you’ll realise that the remake will really need to amp things up (be it the gore, humour or scares) to validate itself. As it stands, one Stepfather is enough. It’s certainly not the most pointless movie ever to have been remade, but it still seems incredibly unnecessary.

Fans of 80s' psycho movies should definitely check The Stepfather out. There's lots of naff synth music, plenty of melodrama, and - undoubtedly best of all - Terry O' Quinn overacting like his life depends on it. The Stepfather is dirt cheap and easily available on DVD now, so you have no excuse if you haven't seen it before. And especially if the alternative is spending £6 on tickets to see the remake.


  1. I saw this movie a while back and enjoyed it - I initially took an interest in it because a writer, Isabel Pinedo, regards it as the most feminist slasher film made (at least at the time). Interesting - I think I agree with her. What I find disturbing is that from looking at the trailer, it seems as though there is a lot less attention paid to the daughter as a protagonist, when she - along with the Stepfather himself of course - was what made the film work.

    Thanks for reviewing!

  2. it was amamzing trailer and i like to watch movie