Directed by: Jeff Burr
Written by: John Auerbach
Starring: Terry O'Quinn, Meg Foster, and Caroline Williams
Reviewed by: Tyler B.
Make Room For Daddy!
In 1987 Terry O'Quinn infiltrated peaceful suburban family life and completely slashed family values to bits in The Stepfather. Here we were subjected to a safe environment where everything appears to be the same, where nothing appears to be wrong. Middle to upper class families all lined up in rows in houses you normally can't tell apart, children playing on the streets, and just the classic example of American family life. In the original film, the character of the Stepfather entered the lives of widows and divorcées with children in search of the perfect family. He was a 'family values' kind of guy, but as soon as his chosen family started falling apart, he killed them, assumed another identity, and moved on in search of a new family to mold to his twisted vision. That was until he met his match with the Maine family and met his end. The Stepfather was received to rave response from both critics and audiences alike for successfully blending the slasher film with the suspense thriller into a smart and sophisticated chiller. But how can they make a sequel when the villain is dead?
Jerry Blake (Terry O'Quinn) isn't dead after all. He's alive and well but he's incarcerated in a psychiatric hospital for the criminally insane. But even the guards and psychiatrists can't keep a man hellbent on family values locked up as Jerry executes a planned escape. Now Jerry is on the loose in suburban America looking for a new family to marry into and destroy. Jerry disguises himself as Dr. Gene Clifford, a family psychiatrist, and meets Carol Greyland (Meg Foster) and her son Todd (Jonathan Brandis). Recently divorced, Jerry thinks he's found his match with Carol and immediately pursues his prey. Todd quickly takes interest to the new father figure and Carol finds someone to love her again, but Carol's friend Matty (Caroline Williams) feels Dr. Gene isn't who he really appears to be. And when Carol's ex-husband returns to reconcile, it puts Gene's ideals of a perfect family on the back burner as he has to kill off anyone who will get in the way of his walk down the aisle with his soon to be blood-splattered bride.
Stepfather II was released to theatres in 1989 in hopes of cashing in on the success of the original film. Produced by ITC Entertainment Group, the same company who made the original, they were planning on releasing the film to the direct-to-video market. Miramax Films jumped in and picked it up for theatrical distribution on the success of the first film, even before ever seeing a frame of the actual film. Upon initial release, this sequel didn't cut the cake with audiences nor critics as it brought in mixed responses, most of which were against the film. Terry O'Quinn was great in the first film and here he still manages to pull off the character even though we know all his motives from the previous film. Director Jeff Burr (Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III) wanted to maintain the grandiose of Terry's performance while trying to make the sequel worthy, but time constraints to get the film out to the market didn't give him nor screenwriter John Auerbach time to flesh out a proper sequel story line. The plot is somewhat thin and follows too closely at times along the same path as the original film. Stepfather II features supporting performances by Meg Foster (They Live; The Wind) and Caroline Williams (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre II), both familiar with the horror genre, and both exhibit great chemistry between their characters.
Jeff Burr's original vision for the film leaned more so to the psychological thriller genre rather than the slasher genre the first film fit into. This is what was to set this film apart from the original; to flesh out Terry O'Quinn's character and his process for moving in on a family. Miramax Films however saw differently prior to release and thought it wasn't violent enough. They demanded more gore for a better sell. Jeff Burr declined so they hired Doug Campbell (Zapped Again!) to reshoot three sequences to add more blood and violence. These scenes don't particular stand out, but do feel a little odd because they are slightly campy compared to the pace and tone of the rest of the film. Stepfather II moves at a slower pace but still manages to build tension and suspense. Jim Manzie's score is subtle and calm and builds as the tension mounts. It's well suited to the style of the film but it's nothing we haven't heard before. Director of Photography Jacek Laskus keeps the film bright during the day and in the dark and shadows at night and does a wonderful job creating an unsafe surburban atmosphere.
Stepfather II was previously released on DVD back in 2003 and featured an informative commentary track with the director and Producer Darin Scott (apparently actor Art Hindle was the second choice to play the Jerry Blake character in the original film), alternate scenes which included the director's original versions of the opening and the scenes that were reshot, including Matty's original death scene, and a still gallery. Synapse Films has re-released the film on DVD an has ported over all these extra plus they've added original theatrical trailers and an all-new featurette "The Stepfather Chronicles: Daddy's New Home" produced by extras specialists Red Shit Pictures. The new featurette runs slightly over 30-mins and features interviews with the director, producers, and some of the cast and crew. Unfortunately Terry O'Quinn isn't present, but it's informative and delves into the making of the film which from green light to cinema screens was a rushed 4-month process. The transfer is clean with some natural grain and colours are bright and balanced. Audio is a 2.0 surround sound track and sounds great.
Overall the film is a mixed bag. It's got some great performances especially from the always great Terry O'Quinn, but pacing is drawn out and the plot wasn't developed as well as it could have been. It did face production constraints, but it's too similar to the original film and the ending doesn't deliver the gruesome wedding sequence the back cover notes promised. If you're a fan of the original film and want to see the sequels (yes, it was followed by 1992's Stepfather III) it's worth checking out, but in no way does it live up to the suspense and terror the original film delivers in spades. Stepfather II is welcome for a visit, but don't accept the wedding invitation. Rent it!
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