In November of 1971, John List brutally murdered his wife, their three children and his aging mother. Leaving the bodies of his family piled up in their home in New Jersey, John disappeared, his crime going unnoticed for weeks, thanks to his meticulous and methodical preplanning of the heinous event. Having been fired from his job, John deceived his family for months by continuing to leave each morning, keeping up the appearance of going to work. After setting himself up with a new life and identity, John informed colleagues and friends that the family was going away for a trip. Going so far as to contact his children’s school and the local post office to inform them of their prolonged absence, John ensured that no one would come looking for him or his family for some time. Eventually the bodies of the family were discovered, however John was but a memory. Evading capture for 18 years, it wasn’t until the television program "America's Most Wanted" ran a piece on his crime, that John was finally apprehended and brought to justice. During his trial it was revealed that John had been living under an alias, had remarried and probably had no idea that his story had served as the inspiration for one of the 1980s most arresting psychological thrillers.
No one quite knows who Jerry Blake (Terry O’Quinn, “Lost”)
really is. He’s hard working, attentive, devoted, and yet his past remains
a mystery, even to his family and friends. His modus operandi on the other hand
is front page news. Jerry simply wants a family to call his own. A wife, children,
a dog, a backyard to barbecue; the ideal, All-American suburban life. If however
any of those elements fail to live up to Jerry’s high expectations, they
can expect to be discarded and forgotten like a used and bloody rag. Such is
the situation in which Stephanie Maine (Jill Schoelen, POPCORN, HOT MOVES) find
herself. Despite her vocal reservations, Stephanie can’t seem to get her
mother, Susan (Shelley Hack, THE KING OF COMEDY, TROLL), to understand. There’s
something about her new husband Jerry that just isn’t right. She might
find his old-fashioned nature charming, but Stephanie can tell; Jerry's hiding
something. Hoping to be sent away to boarding school, Stephanie begins to pick
fights in art class and is generally disrespectful to her teachers, but her
behavior only lands her back on the couch of her psychologist. Even getting
expelled does little good in helping Stephanie get out from under neither her
parents roof, as Jerry always seems to find a way to keep the family together.
Stuck at home, Stephanie stumbles over a newspaper article one day about the
brutal slaying of a family in a nearby town over one year ago, about the time
Jerry started dating her mom. Putting two and two together, she decides to do
a little investigating of her own. Fearful that her gut is right on the money,
Stephanie begins to look into Jerry's past, afraid that history might repeat
itself and that she and her mother might one day end up as the lead story on
the evening news.
Being a dedicated (and too often frustrated) fan of the ABC television series “Lost”, it’s hard for me not to associate Terry O’Quinn with his character John Locke, especially whenever he smiles. I particularly had this problem with STEPFATHER 2, in which Terry plays the titular role rather loose, allowing for broader touches of humor to shine through. As such, every time Terry grinned, I couldn’t help but think of his current bread and butter, running around on a time traveling tropical island. I did not however have such an issue with THE STEPFATHER. Terry’s intensity and subtle mannerisms are so practiced and deliberate that he embodies the character fully. Terry O’Quinn IS the “Stepfather”. One minute he’s Ward Cleaver and the next he’s wielding a cleaver, savagely, at your throat. A character actor with numerous one shot episodic television appearances (“Miami Vice”, “Remington Steele”) and a handful of supporting silver screen roles (SILVER BULLET, SPACECAMP) to his name, it wasn't until 1987’s THE STEPFATHER that Terry was finally placed front and center. Critics and fans instantly fell in love with Terry and THE STEPFATHER, thanks to a solid supporting cast and a strong VHS presence that helped cement the film as a staple of 1980s horror.
Working with a script by Brian Garfield (DEATH WISH) and Donald E.
Westlake (POINT BLANK, THE GRIFTERS), director Joseph Ruben presents a rather
taut narrative with THE STEPFATHER, one that builds a steady measure of suspense
despite revealing who the killer is from the very first frame. Not any easy
task, but again, much of the film's success should be given to Terry O’Quinn
for his phenomenal performance. Most of Ruben's films tend to be based around
thriller trappings, often tinged with sci-fi and horror elements. Ruben’s
career began in the 1970s working for Crown International Pictures, where he
helmed such drive-in fair as THE POM POM GIRLS and THE SISTER-IN-LAW. In the
1980s he directed DREAMSCAPE with Dennis Quaid and Max von Sydow before tackling
THE STEPFATHER and in the 1990s he shot SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY with Julia Roberts
and THE GOOD SON with Macaulay Culkin and Elijah Wood. Most recently he directed
Julianne Moore in the sci-fi thriller THE FORGOTTEN.
THE STEPFATHER first welcomed himself into ours homes and nightmares thanks to Embassy Home Entertainment, via a popular and highly requested VHS release. Now, thanks to Shout! Factory, fans of Jill Schoelen’s shower scene can enjoy Jerry Blake’s fatherly advice and fury in its original 1.85.1 aspect ratio. Presented with an anamorphic widescreen transfer, the picture holds up quite nicely. There is noticeable debris present, primarily during darker scenes towards the film's beginning, but otherwise the print looks pretty clean, with an acceptable degree of grain. Colors fair well and flesh tones appear accurate if not a touch dark. Dialogue on the English speaking stereo track is easy to follow, with no distracting pops or crackles. All in all, a pretty solid effort in terms of appearance.
Features include an audio commentary track with director Joseph Ruben, moderated
by Fangoria Magazine’s Mike Gingold. Ruben (whose voice is a bit monotone
and at times sounds a lot like comedian Steven Wright) is able to recall quite
a bit of the film's shoot and provides several bits of interesting information,
such as verifying that Jill Schoelen did not use a body double for the aforementioned
shower scene. Mike Gingold's memory is also quite impressive as on numerous
occasions he is able to point out several differences between the theatrical
cut and the version shown on cable television. “The Stepfather Chronicles”
is an all-new retrospect on THE STEPFATHER that features on-camera interviews
with Joseph Ruben, producer Jay Benson, author Brian Garfield and Jill Schoelen
(who still looks amazing!), to name a few. Save for the exclusion of Terry O’Quinn,
the 27 minute featurette does an impressive job in covering the film from its
inception to its reception. A companion featurette can be found on Synapse Films'
release of STEPFATHER 2. The film’s U.S. theatrical trailer, squished
full frame, is also included, as is a two page booklet of liner notes by Cliff
With a remake ready to hit theaters just before Halloween, this release couldn’t have come at better time, as both Terry O’Quinn’s performance and the film itself deserve a second, and in many cases, a first look. (Jason McElreath)
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