In the late 1980s, just as the decade was winding down, ITC Entertainment, no doubt looking to capitalize on the booming VHS market, decided to commission a couple of direct to video sequels, each based around two of their more well received properties; the Scott Baio comedy ZAPPED! and the psychological thriller, THE STEPFATHER. Despite having clearly been killed in the first film – he was stabbed, shot and thrown down a flight of stairs – writer John Auerbach, along with producer Darin Scott and director Jeff Burr (LEATHERFACE: TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE III), were hired to bring the doting and demented dad back to life, to stalk and terrify another unsuspecting divorcé in his quest to create and maintain the perfect All-American family.
Institutionalized after the events of the first film, the “Stepfather” (Terry O'Quinn, "Lost") spends his days making model homes (what kind of slack psychiatric hospital allow its patients access to power tools?) and crafting faux mustaches out of hairs plucked from his head, ever vigilant that he will one day create a family so perfect it would make Norman Rockwell queasy. Taking advantage of his new doctor’s trust, the “Stepfather” manages to escape from prison, upon which he wastes little time in setting himself up with a new life and a fresh identity. Masquerading as a family therapist named Gene, the “Stepfather” immediately sets his sights on Carol (Meg Foster, THEY LIVE, MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE), his realtor and new neighbor. Living just across the street with her young son Todd (Jonathan Brandis, THE NEVERENDING STORY II: THE NEXT CHAPTER), Carol finds Gene intriguing and quite charming, in an old fashion way, but having just gone through a messy divorce, she's reluctant to open up to another man. Hoping to come out of her shell and encouraged by her best friend Matty (Caroline Williams, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2), Carol joins a support group lead by Gene, in which all of the neighborhood gals can get together and discuss their problems and feelings. Such sessions prove to be a perfect opportunity for Gene to get to know Carol better and allow them to work up a report. Eventually, Carol decides to give Gene a chance, especially after seeing how well he gets along with her son, but the return of her ex husband Phil (Mitchell Laurance, SYNGENOR) sidetracks her progress and infuriates Gene. Not one to stand ideally by while another man walks away with his family, Gene invites Phil over for a drink and a little man-to-man talk that ends with a clear and bloody resolution. His feathers ruffled, Gene's behavior begins to take a more aggressive turn which raises several flags with mail carrier Matty, but if she knows what’s good for her, she’ll take Phil’s sudden disappearance as a sign to keep her nose out of other peoples business, her backdoor locked and her cat out of the kitchen trash can.
While its initial theatrical release failed to bring in the type of returns its producers had originally hoped for, the first STEPFATHER film did manage to cement itself a significant cult following, thanks in part to positive word of mouth, but predominantly due to Terry O’Quinn’s powerful portrayal of the titular “Stepfather”. As is the case with the majority of sequels, STEPFATHER 2 hits many of the same beats as its predecessor but their familiarity weakens the film’s overall impact, leaving a predictable picture that simply lacks the intensity of the first one. Terry O’Quinn is still terrific and a joy to watch, but the film's broader sense of humor does tend to bring the tension down several notches, making the production feel like a campy retelling of the original. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s just not as effective or as enjoyable. Originally shot for the direct video market, the film’s preview screening went so well that the final product was shopped around in hopes of a theatrical distribution deal. One company did bite, Miramax, who after re-cutting the picture to include several jump scares and bloodier kills, much to director Jeff Burr’s dismay, released the film to fair business. However, much like its forerunner, it wasn’t until the home video release that the film truly found its audience.
It’s been said that the eyes are the windows to the soul. If
this is indeed the case then Meg Foster’s soul is as cold as ice and twice
as blue. Meg’s eyes are terrifying! They benefit the actress greatly during
the film's conclusion but for the first half of the picture those steely peepers
are simply too distracting for words. They just don’t look real. Meg does
a respectable job in her portrayal of Carol but, as is the case with every other
actor and actress on screen, she is constantly overshadowed by the prevailing
presence of Terry O'Quinn. Even Jonathan Brandis, who has proven to be more
than capable at holding his own when matched against such larger than life characters
as Chuck Norris in SIDEKICKS and Rodney Dangerfield LADYBUGS, is pushed to the
wayside by O'Quinn’s commanding and lethal charisma. The material may
not be nearly as strong as the first film, but what marks STEPFATHER 2 does
manage to hit, they do so based solely on the performance of O'Quinn.
STEPFATHER 2 first made its way into homes via a VHS release through HBO Video, eventually maturing into the digital age with a DVD release through Miramax in early 2003. Synapse has since picked up the reigns for its most recent release, presenting STEPFATHER 2 with an anamorphic widescreen transfer that maintains the film's original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The picture does at times showcase a fair amount of grain but nothing as distracting as Meg Foster’s devil eyes. Colors are solid, skin tones appear accurate and there is little to speak of in the way of debris. All in all, the film looks exactly like a direct to video piece shot in the late 1980s should. Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround Sound picks up the dialogue nicely, with no buckles or hiss to take away from O'Quinn’s finer moments.
All of the special features from the previous Miramax release mentioned earlier have been ported over for Synapse Films latest, along with a handful of new ones, compiling as close to a definite release as one can get, save for the lack of involvement of the film's lead. An audio commentary track with director Jeff Burr and producer Darin Scott details the film's inception and production as well as highlights a number of alternate and deleted scenes, which are themselves included, accompanied by optional commentary by Burr. A stills gallery of behind-the-scenes candids and foreign market VHS covers is also included along with the film's teaser (widescreen) and regular trailer (fullscreen). “The Stepfather Chornicles: Daddy’s New Home” is all new, 30 minute featurette that includes interviews and reflections with cast and crew including Jeff Burr, Darrin Scott, screenwriter John Auerbach and actress Caroline Williams, to name a few. The featurette touches on several interesting anecdotes, many of which elaborate claims made during the commentary track, such as Miramax requested re-shoots and the film's original poster, obviously drawn up before the final shooting draft as a means of drumming up interest in the project, as it features the inclusion of a younger sister and dog that were later cut from the film entirely. The featurette, produced by Red Shirt Pictures, serves as a companion piece to a similar extra that can be found on Shout! Factory’s upcoming release of the original STEPFATHER film. (Jason McElreath)
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