Released by: Shout! Factory Released on: 10/13/2009 Director: Joseph Ruben Cast: Terry O’Quinn, Jill Schoelen, Shelley Hack, Charles Lanyer Year: 1987 Purchase From Amazon
Loosely based on the strange story of New Jersey nut job John List who (killed his family and then assumed a completely new identity and evaded capture for eighteen years), The Stepfather has remained conspicuously absent on Region 1 DVD until now. Given the film’s rather solid cult following that’s surprising, but hey, better late than never.
For those who haven’t seen it, Terry O’Quinn (who played Peter Watts in Millennium and has since gone on to bigger fame in Lost) plays a seemingly mild mannered family man named Jerry Blake. When we meet him he’s has just recently married Susan Maine (Shelley Hack) and subsequently become the stepfather to her teenage, Stephanie (Jill Schoelen of Popcorn). Jerry, on the surface at least, seems to be a pretty nice guy. He seems kind to Stephanie and even gives her a puppy. She’s suspicious of the new addition to her family, but her psychiatrist talks her in to trying to give Jerry a chance.
After Stephanie gets into trouble at school, however, things start to unravel a bit. Obviously interesting in keeping up appearances, their home life isn’t as nice and happy as Jerry would like everyone to believe. Stephanie clues in to the fact that Jerry might not be all that he seems to be one day when she sees Jerry ranting to himself in the basement of the family home. It seems that the slightest inkling of dysfunction in the family unit will set Jerry off like a rocket, and Stephanie, being a teenager, is of course bound to make a mistake every once in a while.
Meanwhile, in Seattle, a man named Jim Ogilvie (Stephen Shellen) is trying to track down Jerry for a murder he committed a few years back in another town – the victim was his sister. When Stephanie confides in her psychiatrist and he begins to look into Jerry’s past a bit more, a lot of skeletons come out of the closest and Jerry falls comes and closer to going over the edge.
While the plot may sound rather contrived and unoriginal, The Stepfather is actually a solid little thriller thanks mainly to the maniacal performance from O’Quinn. Jerry is played softly most of the time, as a caring and understanding man who sincerely wants to make his new family work. But when Jerry snaps, O’Quinn shows his range and brings to the screen a terrific sense of lunacy that really makes the movie a lot better than it would have been with a lesser actor in the lead. There’s a great scene early on in the film where Jerry becomes confused, unsure of who he is or what life he’s even living, and O’Quinn portrays this with enough realism that it stands out, it makes you think. The rest of the cast are perfectly sufficient but they all pale in comparison to O’Quinn’s work here – he steals the show and makes an otherwise fairly by the numbers slasher picture one worth seeing and one ripe with legitimate tension and an atmosphere of dread.
Director Joseph Ruben does a solid job behind the camera and the movie is paced well with some nice elements of foreshadowing that, although a little predictable at times, keep the viewer interested. Likewise, the film at times has a nice claustrophobic look to it and makes good use of the shadows in a few different scenes, particularly during Jerry’s freak out in the basement of the house. The film has this interesting air of twisted suburbia to it that works well, letting us know that not everything is as calm and serene looking behind the closed doors of the cookie-cutter houses that line the perfect streets.
Shout! Factory presents The Stepfather in a nice 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that preserves the film’s original aspect ratio. There’s some grain here and some really mild print damage but otherwise this progressive scan picture is pretty good. Colors are nice and natural looking and while some darker scenes don’t have the greatest shadow detail and some scenes are a bit on the soft side, the movie looks good here.
The audio chores are handled by a fine English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track. The levels are well balanced and there are no problems with hiss or distortion. Dialogue stays clear throughout and you won’t have any problems understanding the performers at all.
First up, as far as the extras are concerned, is an audio commentary with the film’s director Joseph Ruben with moderator Mike Gingold from Fangoria Magazine. They discuss the film’s score, what it was like working with the composer, Patrick Moraz of Yes, as well as casting the film, staying on schedule, working on a tight budget and about the intricacies of the story. Ruben discusses the importance of certain shots, and of course, about working with the cast members in the film. There are a few quiet spots and there are moments where Ruben’s memory is a bit fuzzy but for the most part this is a well paced track with some good information in it. Ruben’s got a very laid back, nonchalant style that makes him easy to listen to and Gingold, who obviously knows his stuff, asks him a lot of good questions as the track progresses.
From there, check out The Stepfather Chronicles (26:52) which is an all new featurette containing interviews with Ruben, producer Jay Benson, actress Jill Schoelen, John Lindley and author Brian Garfield, who start the documentary off by explaining how he came on board with the project. Ruben covers some of the same tracks that he goes over on the commentary but it’s still interesting to hear from him, particularly as he discusses his dislike of slasher films. Ruben also talks about the importance of having to stay on schedule and some of the problems that this caused the production and what it was like shooting in Vancouver during the infancy of that city’s film boom. It’s good stuff and Red Shirt has done their typically strong job on the presentation.
Rounding out the extras are the U.S. theatrical trailer (1:52 and looking like it was sourced from a tape and slightly stretched), some animated menus and chapter selection. Inside the keepcase is a booklet of liner notes by Cliff McMillan that give a brief history of the film.
The Final Word:
Long overdue for a special edition release, The Stepfather gets treated properly by Shout! Factory, who have delivered a nice looking and sounding disc with some excellent extras.