Father Knows Best: The Stepfather (1987)

Last year when I reviewed The Stepfather 2009, I also planned on watching and reviewing this version as well. But it was late at night, the wind was blowing my cat wreath on my door making it sound as if someone was knocking, and the wind caused the tree branch by my bedroom window to slap the pane. As I started the film, Terry O’Quinn staring into the mirror after murdering his family scared me so that I had to put something fun on.

Later when I went to rewatch the film, it was no longer on Amazon prime for free. So I decided to wait.

This past May I had my niece for the weekend and usually we watch Kdramas, Cdramas, anime, or romantic comedies. But she also loves horror and was in the mood to watch something. As we flicked through what Amazon had to offer this film came up, and even though it was an “old film” (her words) she decided to give it a try. I told her is scared me the first time I tried watching it and after we both agreed it was way better than the remake. Terry O’Quinn just does such a great job at being creepy.

So this film is party based on John List, who murdered his family and assumed another identity, and partly on some of the issues the screenwriter, Donald E. Westlake was facing as a new stepfather to a teenage girl. However, while both things influenced the film, it isn’t really based on a specific incident.

The film begins with Terry O’Quinn having murdered his family and changing how he looks-shaving his beard, changing from glasses to contacts, etc. This scene is especially creepy as he stares into the mirror and into you, your eyes!

Creepy…

He packs up his things and heads out, passing by the butchered remains of his family. This is probably the most graphic scene of the film and really shows the character of the “Stepfather” as he calmly takes care of everything, not bothered or touched at all by the massacre he created. He leaves, takes the ferry, dumps a suitcase of incriminating evidence into the lake, heads to a new town, and creates a new identity.

A year has passed and the “Stepfather” is going by Jerry Blake, is a real estate agent for American Eagle Real Estate, and has married widow Susan Maine (Shelley Hack); becoming stepfather to Jill Maine (Jill Schoelen). Susan of course loves him and prepares a gourmet dinner every night with dessert. Jill on the other hand hates him, and has started acting out in school. She confides to her therapist that she hates being around Jerry (although has no specific concerns or issues that are harming her safety) and is trying to get expelled and sent to a boarding school away from him. He therapist encourages her to try and give Jerry another chance. Jill reluctantly agrees to.

Ugh…this guy

Meanwhile in Seattle, Jerry’s previous wife’s brother, James Ogilvie is obsessed with the case and trying to find “Henry” (what Jerry went by previously). He is living in his car and harasses the newspaper reporter who wrote about the crime and the police officers. Both tell him to move on, but the reporter does agree to write a new article and include a picture, to see if someone has seen “Henry”.

To be honest, Jim looks insane and his drifter lifestyle didn’t help him any. If I encountered him, I would have brushed him off as he sounds like a fanatic.

Back in Jerry’s world he is hosting a BBQ for his friends, clients, and neighbors. He gives a big speech about community and family-very sweet and heartwarming, but something Jill finds disgusting. At the BBQ one of the adults has a newspaper and they start discussing the article about the killing by “Henry”. The article has no picture, but even though there is no direct way to connect it to him, Jerry gets freaked out. He changed the subject to lighter things and turns the paper into a newspaper hat for one of the kids.

Afterwards he goes to the basement, his work area, and has a full on devolved freak out. He starts manically rambling, about his childhood. Originally, the story included scenes of Jerry’s past and how he was abused as a child, but I actually prefer the story with those scenes cut. I think that Quinn is expressive enough in the way he acts and behaves that you can tell he grew up in an unhappy home and is striving for his “perfect TV family”. In a lot of ways he reminds me of Jim Carrey’s character in The Cable Guy, although more murder-y.

Stephanie sees him there as she was sent to get ice cream from the freezer, and she gets really unnerved at seeing him like that. He tells her that he gets tired of always being perfect and the salesman, so he needed to unwind.

Yeah that was some weird angry venting going on. Stephanie leaves to the party but searches for the newspaper that seemed to upset him. She sees it is an article about the killer and writes to the newspaper to get information, convinced that Jerry is the killer. She shares her findings with her friend, but she isn’t convinced.

Meanwhile, Jim accosts the newspaper reporter for not including a picture, but he shares that his editor nixed it. Jim decides to continue his drifting and searching, getting closer to where Jerry is hiding out.

Stephanie waits for the mail to come, but one day Jerry comes homie earlier and steals it. He then goes to a photography studio and buys a print which he switches out and then places the envelope back in the mail. When Stephanie gets it, she is disappointed that it turns out to not be Jerry, although you think she would be happy that her stepfather isn’t a serial killer, but whatever.

Meanwhile, Dr. Bondurant, Jill’s therapist has wanted to meet with Jerry for a while. As Jerry knows the risk of speaking to the therapist, and having him figure him out, he has been avoiding him. Dr. Bondurant refuses to take no for an answer and sets up an appointment to buy a house under an assumed name.

Jerry starts off really charming and nice, but quickly figures out that Dr. Bondurant has no interest in getting a house, but is there to emotionally probe him.

Jerry Blake: I wanna ask you something. Are you interested in buying a house… Or are you interested in me?

Jerry can’t have that and the doctor is gone. After he has murdered him, Jerry searches his coat, expecting him to be a reporter or cop and is surprised to see he is the therapist. He quickly cleans up and dumps the body in the car, placing a rock on the gas pedal so it will crash and everyone will think it was a car accident.

Jerry tells Stephanie of the death (after he is told by the receptionist) and the two bond. They work on a bird house together and everything is good in the home…until Stephanie starts dating her friend and Jerry catches her kissing the boy. He yells and wants to call the police on him, but Sue convinces him not to. Stephanie is embarrassed and furious!

Jerry perfect family ideal is destroyed and he starts preparing himself for a new life. He quits his job, finds one in a new town, a place to rent, and a widow. Once he has everything prepared he decides it is time to end the ladies’ life.

Jim has finally tracked Jerry down and found his home. He speaks to Sue who won’t give out much information, causing Jim to leave and plan on coming back later. Sue then calls Jerry at work, only to discover he quit.

That night when Jerry comes home is an incredibly creepy scene. He keeps getting his multiple identities confused and he starts mixing them up. Kind of like that Criminal Minds episode when they have a similar situation in Miami.

Jerry tries to soothe the upset Sue, by promising her it was a receptionist’s mistake. But he tells her the wrong name! He then completely devolves, and Sue is confused and shocked.

Jerry Blake: Wait a minute, who am I here?

Sue: Jerry?

Jerry Blake: That’s right. Jerry Blake. Thanks honey.

But even though it looks like everything is calmed down, Jerry decides the time to strike is now and kill Sue, smacking her in the head with the phone and knocking her down the stairs. He then prepares to go after the dog, but changes tactics when Stephanie returns home.

However, the Blake/Maine family never locks their door, which seems weird for a killer who is always worried about people being after them-and Jim just walks right in.

Jerry is about to attack Stephanie, but Jim tries to come at him and Jerry slashes him instead. Stephanie, frightened, runs and tries to find a way out. As Jerry blocks the only exit out, she runs upstairs into the attic, where she is followed by Jerry.

Stephanie tries to find something to defend herself with but there is nothing. Jerry advances, but falls through a rotted section of the floor. Stephanie tries to escape, but Jerry recovers and comes after her again. All looks lost until Sue, who has managed to crawl up the stairs after being smacked in the head and thought dead, grabs the gun and shoots Jerry twice-Stephanie finishing up the job by stabbing him in the chest.

At the end, Stephanie is with her mom, hacking down the birdhouse Jerry made and destroying it. I’m sure Sue will never date again after that experience.

From Gilmore Girls

A very creepy film that is much better than the remake. And you know what I always say about that-the original is always better.

No Facebook cover for this one either.

For more on The Stepfather, go to How Much Do You Really Know About Him?: The Stepfather (2009)

For more serial killers, go to People Don’t Realize That There are Killers Among Them. People They Liked, Loved, Lived With, Worked With and Admired…: Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (2019)

For more ‘80s films, go to Goofy Ghosts and a Treasure Hunt: Scooby-Doo Meets the Boo Brothers (1987)

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