Thursday, January 28, 2010

THE STEPFATHER

Inspired by true events, 1987's THE STEPFATHER is a remarkably smart, character-driven thriller that, while not big at the box office, went on to become a VHS rental perennial, spawn two sequels, and receive a 2009 remake. THE STEPFATHER is a very well-made film with a great script, but the main reason it has had such a long afterlife is the starmaking performance by the great Terry O' Quinn, a talented character actor who is best known these days as the enigmatic Locke on LOST, in the titular role.

"Jerry Blake" just wants the American dream. A good job selling real estate, a pretty wife (Shelly Hack, CHARLIE'S ANGELS, TROLL), a child (Jill Schoelen, POPCORN), a dog, a white picket fence and two cars in the garage. In fact, Jerry not only wants that dream, but will do whatever it takes to get it and keep it. And if anyone - even his family - fails to live up to his high standards, well, they've got to go....

With a story by Carolyn Lefcourt, DEATH WISH author Brian Garfield, and renowned crime fiction writer Donald E. Westlake (THE GRIFTERS), and a taut, thoughtful script by Westlake, THE STEPFATHER isn't so much a stalk 'n slash horror flick as it is a Hitchcockian suspense thriller - albeit one with an 80's sensibility toward violence and gore.

The entire cast is very good, but O' Quinn is frankly outstanding, shifting back and forth from perfect family man to enraged killer in a frighteningly convincing manner. The direction by Joseph Ruben (DREAMSCAPE) is confident and assured, and the violence, when it happens, is brutal, explosive, and genuinely unnerving.

Thanks to last year's remake, we finally get this cult classic on DVD from Shout! Factory, and they've done their usual fine job on the disc. The film is presented in its proper 1.85:1 widescreen ratio, and is anamorphically enhanced. The picture is a bit soft, but that's the way the film's supposed to look and accurately represents the intentions of the cinematographer. Extras are limited but very good - there's an audio commentary by director Ruben, the original U.S. theatrical trailer, and a fairly comprehensive retrospective documentary that includes interviews with the producer, director, writer Brian Garfield and actress Schoelen. I guess O' Quinn was off on a desert island somewhere, because he's absent from the doc. Too bad, because I would have been very interested to hear his thoughts on the film and role.

If you haven't seen THE STEPFATHER, I highly recommend you do. It's a very effective, if modest, thriller with a memorably frightening turn by Mister O' Quinn. If you're already a fan of the movie, then Shout! has really done you a great service with this great widescreen presentation, and you'll want to add this disc to your collection.

BUY: The Stepfather