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[DVD Spotlight]

The Stepfather

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The Stepfather (1987)

Finally arriving on DVD in cross-promotion with its Hollywood remake (opening this week, and not screened for review), 1987’s low-budget sleeper The Stepfather has long been championed as an uncommonly intelligent thriller, though it’d really be more accurate to call it primo schlock. Future Lost star Terry O’Quinn plays a smiling madman who leaps from one new family to another, slaughtering wives and stepkids when they inevitably fail to live up to his high standards; this time, however, the teenage daughter quickly becomes suspicious. Directed by amiable hack Joseph Ruben (Sleeping With the Enemy), it hits all the usual boogeyman marks, and what tension it develops repeatedly gets undermined by a dire ’80s score, but O’Quinn’s genuinely chilling portrayal of a psychopath who can’t always remember which mask he’s supposed to be wearing lends the enterprise surprising gravity.

The Details

The Stepfather (1987)
Three stars

Sadly, O’Quinn, who’s now the original Stepfather’s big retroactive draw, didn’t participate in the brand-new making-of documentary that accompanies the feature, and Donald Westlake, who wrote the screenplay, passed away just last year. Ruben, the supporting cast and various others show up to reminisce a bit, but apart from the details of the actual murder that inspired the story—the culprit created another life for himself and wasn’t apprehended until nearly 20 years later, after a neighbor recognized him on an episode of America’s Most Wanted—there isn’t much here to whet the appetite of even the most rabid fan.

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  • Let's put it this way: It makes Scandal look tame.

  • Alfred Molina and John Lithgow bring strong performances in this gentle and heartfelt film.

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