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Reviews in Brief: The Stepfather (1987)

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In the midst of many mindless, cheesy horror films that made up the mid-to-late '80s, The Stepfather was a breath of fresh air in the wake of Jason, Freddie, and Michael (Myers) mega-sequels (all those franchises started off great, but were losing steam by this time).

Based loosely on the story of convicted murder John List, The Stepfather was a chilling portrayal of sociopath Jerry Blake, played to perfection by a pre-LOST Terry O’Quinn. Whereas many actors would have overplayed the character and rendered him a caricature of a psycho, O’Quinn’s rage is mostly seen through his eyes (in public), and his demeanor (to most) is one of a guy who is family values-obsessed.

One of the most revealing moments is when his rebellious and suspicious stepdaughter (played realistically by Jill Schoelen) catches Blake in a private rage in his workshop where he takes his psychotic fit out on a power saw and wood. His quick reversion back to normalcy after being caught is a transformation featuring some of the best personality-switch acting since Joanne Woodward in The Three Faces of Eve. While Blake easily fools his new wife (latter-day Charlie’s Angel Shelley Hack) and the community, it is his stepdaughter’s correct suspicions which lead to his unraveling.

The DVD is light on bonuses. A commentary with director Joseph Ruben is interesting, as is the retrospective "The Stepfather Chronicles" which has new interviews with Ruben, Schoelen, and others. Sadly the DVD does not include any bonus footage, as it is commonly known when the film was on TV it contained several scenes not in the original movie. These would have been a nice addition to the scant material here.

As the recent sequel proved, no one could play the part of Jerry Blake like O’Quinn. His creepy presence and menacing stares (not to mention not knowing just what will set the guy off!) are scarier than most so-called horror films of the time.

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About John Reed

  • You’re right about O’Quinn’s performance. I’m glad I saw this movie on its original release; it has added a nice, creepy echo to O’Quinn’s later work–on “Millennium” and, as you mentioned, “Lost.” He’s very good at strained-self-control-while-keeping-secrets.