21 February 2011

Movies: The Stepfather (1987); Stepfather II (1989); The Stepfather (2009)

Seeing that the remake of The Stepfather is playing on Starz I decided I wanted to see the original for comparison. Especially because the original has Terry O'Quinn.

The Stepfather (1987) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0094035/
Plot: John Locke Jerry Blake wants the perfect family. Unfortunately his first family wasn't. So he slaughters them, moves across the sound, and marries a widow with a 16yr old daughter to try out a new family. Well, until they aren't perfect either...
Stars: Terry O'Quinn. Shelly Hack, Jill Schoelen (who is not 16, she's 24 when this was filmed, so her nude shower scene isn't icky) and some other extras.
The bad:
Actually almost the whole cast is support cast and C-listers put into primary roles. But this is probably what one would call a B-movie anyhow.
Terry O'Quinn hasn't quite nailed is performance stride in 1987, but he's getting there. You can see the seeds of what makes him so awesome today as John Locke. He just needs to tweak the subtlety of performance a little. He's just a little heavy on the transformation from nice guy to psycho with some, but not enough, mixing of both personalities in either state. He's improved since the 80s. Despite that he still shines next to his supporting cast.
The dude playing Schoelen's character's psychiatrist is almost creepier than O'Quinn.
The music. ugh. just slapped in place. Abruptly starts and stops, cheesy 80's synth organ at end credits. Almost like they just grabbed haphazardly out of the Mystery Box of Cheap 80's Film Music.
Oh - and I have another complaint but I can't really voice it without spoiling the movie.

The good:
There really is more good to the flick than bad. Sure the cast is a bunch of little-knowns, but they do adequate in their roles. All in all O'Quinn does pull off the dichotomous nature of his character - nice to everyone on the outside, raging psychopath in private, or until someone just pushes the wrong button and BAM. 
The story was much less clumsy than it could have been. And kudos to them for his exploding-car corpse-disposal method - probably one of the more realistic methods of exploding crashing cars than usually seen on film.
They also did a good job of conveying the horror of his first family's demise without having to show everything. Subtlety goes a long way. But it isn't all subtle, there's still some nice violent scenes to horrify the audience. Fun for all.
The movie did give hints as to why O'Quinn's character is why he is. Some were really subtle compared to others, and kudos to O'Quinn for effectively relaying them. I'm thankful the script didn't slap us in the face with 'em.
The pace of the flick moved well, kept me as an audience engaged and paying attention. I didn't notice any slow, thick, plodding moments. 
And best line: "Wait a minute. Who am I here?"
His wife says "Jerry". He says, "That's right, Jerry Blake. Thanks, honey." then hands his wife the telephone handset. By handing I mean beating her in the face with it.

So, overall, it is sort of a mixed-bag type of movie -- good in ways, less good in others, but I think it weighs more on the good side overall despite its B-movie feel. Definitely worth watching at least once if you have a soft spot for 80s thrillers.
I watched this because the remake is on Starz and the sequel Stepfather II was on Showtime. I figured I'd get them all in to one big review, and especially compare the remake to the original.

Stepfather II http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0098385/
Had to watch the sequel to the first. Terry O'Quinn is back. Nobody else is.
Yes, Jerry didn't get killed at the end of the first movie - he survived and was locked up in a psychiatric hospital for criminally insane. But Jerry's such a nice guy once you get to know him. Or so the Doctor thought. Jerry escapes from the hospital in Washington down to California. Even though the newspapers and TV show pictures of him, he's bald in the pictures so he couldn't possibly be the same guy when he's wearing his toupee. He didn't even bother with the much more elaborate disguises he used in the first movie.
Aside from the returning Terry O'Quinn, we get a cast of Meg Foster, Jonathan Brandis, and a bunch of other nobodies. Meg Foster you'll probably recognize because she's been a guest on almost every TV series since the 70's -- she's that chick that looks like some other chick, except she has those really weird colored eyes. Jonathan Brandis you'll recognize 'cause he was in Stephen King's IT, and in SeaQuest DSV, before killing himself back in 2003.
As sequels go, this wasn't completely horrible - there have been worse sequels. O'Quinn does fine with the script he's given, as do the rest of the cast. Actually O'Quinn plays his character in such a way the viewer almost feels sorry for him - he tries so hard to find the perfect family. Why can't they just see that?
The script falls short compared to the original flick. And predictable? Cripes was it predictable. Overall it is less inspired, less adventurous, and lays there like an old dog that thumps his tail twice when you call his name. Sure that sounds like a bad sequel - but sequels usually go in another direction and get completely worse. At least this one doesn't try to mirror everything that happens in the first one: it doesn't try to make Terry O'Quinn's character into something he isn't, it doesn't send him on a cross-country killing spree with ever more elaborate methods of eviscerating folks. It just carries along like an uninspired continuation of the original story meant to end up the same way, with the objects of his desire ultimately triumphing over him. Just like in the first film. Except O'Quinn's character seems to have gotten stupider since the first film. Makes more mistakes and deludes himself faster. You'd think he'd have learned after last time.

If you've seen the original do you need to see the sequel to make your life complete? Nope. You won't miss a thing if you stop after watching the first one.

Stepfather III
I didn't even bother trying to get/watch Stepfather III - it doesn't have O'Quinn and it went straight to TV, so I'm guessing it's really gonna suck as a sequel. Especially when the Stepfather II sequel was just one shade short of sucking completely, you know the next one is going to be even worse especially if they can't convince O'Quinn to come back again.

The Stepfather (2009) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0814335/
Starts out in a very similar fashion as the original movie with an almost identical opening sequence. Except not quite as effectively shot as the original's opening sequence. That's about as close as it gets to remaking the original. This new flick has a wholly different family dynamic (3 kids instead of one), plus a lesbian aunt and an ex-husband, and is really lacking on the depth of backstory. 
Not really a remake as remakes go, more like a buying of an existing name property and slapping it on a story that is somewhat similar. It didn't really remake the original movie, just took its premise and put a completely different take on it. Granted it is not quite as blatant about it as the 8mm vs. 8mm 2 debacle.
Yes, this movie could have been titled anything and gone straight to video, FX or SyFy. But they tied it with a known property to get that extra push into a theatrical release. 
And it is actually less violent than the first movie. It even creampuffs the "Who am I here?" moment. What's up with that? Shouldn't a bloody violent thriller actually be bloody and violent?
So, as far as movies in general go, it's an average movie with a B/C-list cast that could have gone straight to SyFy (and people would've called it brilliant for a SyFy movie). Heck it coulda gone straight to Lifetime if the mother character were just a little bit stronger, or more of a victim, you know, depending on the message they're trying to send that time of the day. 
It is entertaining enough for popcorn movie night with the over-10 kids. Especially if they are your stepkids and you want to keep them in line by instilling that back-of-the-mind fear. 
Just ignore the gaping plot holes and mediocre script. And ignore that the script leaves nothing to the imagination as to whether or not the bad guy lives/dies/gets away.

(original post 16 Jun 2010)

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