“All we need is a little order around here.”
After brutally murdering his wife and daughter, a sociopathic killer (Terry O’Quinn) moves to another town, where he assumes a new identity and marries a widow (Shelley Hack) with a troubled teenage daughter (Jill Schoelen). Will Hack and Schoelen be O’Quinn’s next victims — or will his ex-wife’s brother (Stephen Shellen) locate him in time to stop him from killing again?
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Mistaken or Hidden Identities
- Serial Killers
Based on a screenplay and story by prolific crime-writer Donald Westlake, The Stepfather plays on the worst fears of every child living in a blended family: what if the new “parent” living in your house turned out to be a sociopathic killer? O’Quinn delivers a memorably creepy performance as a would-be-Ward-Cleaver desperate for a picture-perfect family while perpetually on the edge of pathological insanity (those knives… those tools…).
John Lindley’s cinematography perfectly captures the dichotomy between O’Quinn’s desired pastel Americana (complete with a home-made bird house, Thanksgiving turkey, and block party):
and the darker recesses of his sick psyche; meanwhile, director Joseph Ruben handles the entire narrative with tension and expert pacing, producing some genuinely freaky scenes. While not quite a gem like its Hitchcockian inspirations, this horror-thriller deserves its status as an ’80s cult flick, and is worth a revisit every now and then.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Terry O’Quinn as Jerry (nominated by Peary as one of the Best Actors of the Year in his Alternate Oscars)
- Jill Schoelen as Stephanie
- Atmospheric cinematography
- Many effectively chilling sequences
Yes, as an enjoyable cult favorite.