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John’s Horror Corner: The Stepfather (1987), the OG Lifetime Channel-style thriller about a male black widow.

May 1, 2022

MY CALL:  You don’t watch this for an intense slasher or a gory, campy 80s horror. You watch these to see the unfettered mania in Terry O’Quinn’s eyes as he plays a murderous yet loving family man with delusions of grandeur.  MORE MOVIES LIKE The StepfatherFor more “family therapy” horror, go for Relic (2020), The Dark and the Wicked (2020), The Lodge (2019), Hereditary (2018), Pyewacket (2017), The Witch (2016), Goodnight Mommy (2014), The Babadook (2014), The Uninvited (2009), The Good Son (1993) or Pet Sematary (1989).

Casually cleaning himself up as if a post-murder shower and shave was as routine as brushing his teeth, Jerry (Terry O’Quinn; Amityville: A New Generation, Pin, Black Widow, Silver Bullet) washes his blood-splattered body, gives himself a clean-cut makeover, and calmly dresses himself in the outfit he had neatly prepared. Beginning the scene looking shaggy, bearded and as rugged as James Brolin (The Amityville Horror), he parts ways with the house of his freshly slaughtered family looking more like a high school principal. He tidies up a bit on his way out, and the house is comically ransacked with blood, bodies and debris as if Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses (2003) literally just happened there. Were it not for the nudity or the brief but graphic macabre opening scene, I’d assume this could have had a PG-13 rating.

Now recently remarried, Jerry has moved in with Susan (Shelley Hack; Troll) and her daughter Stephanie (Jill Schoelen; The Phantom of the Opera, Curse II, Popcorn) to bless them with all the love he has to offer… in his own twisted way.

Jerry vents in the basement, and this time is precious for us viewers. O’Quinn really lets loose in these scenes. When Jerry is caught throwing a tantrum by Stephanie, he channels the dripping sinister allure of Frank from Hellraiser (1987); an obvious malevolence that desires obedient acceptance. But deep down, Jerry just has an extremely unhealthy obsession with being loved and being part of a perfect family… and he’ll do whatever it takes to have it. Yet, as it turns out, it seems he’s happy to fold his hand and start over as soon as things get a little rough. Naturally, he then has some loose ends to tie up—like the lives of his wife and stepdaughter!

Look, this movie is really nothing special. But it’s entertaining enough, even if not ideally paced. Not much happens directly on screen, but the blood, tension and aggression run enough. Plus O’Quinn does an amazing job as a crazed “loving” family man. For me, this was probably my earliest exposure to a family-hopping evil stepfather movie. And for that, I’ll never forget it. Director Joseph Ruben (Dreamscape, The Good Son, Sleeping with the Enemy) served his viewers well and continued his career with quality domestic thrillers that should be seen.

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