Horror Film Review: The Stepfather (dir by Joseph Ruben)


Who is Jerry Blake?

That is the question at the heart of the classic 1987 horror thriller, The Stepfather.

Most of the people who know Jerry (brilliantly played by Terry O’Quinn) would say that he’s just a really nice guy.  He’s responsible.  He’s a good employee.  He can be trusted.  He works in real estate and spends his days selling perfect homes to perfect families.  Jerry always has a friendly smile and hearty manner.  He’s the perfect neighbor, precisely because he’s so boring.  You don’t have to worry about Jerry not taking care of his yard or throwing a loud party or … well, doing anything anyone else would do.  Sure, Jerry seems to be a little bit old-fashioned and sure, sometimes he’s a little bit too good to be believed.  But what’s wrong with that?  I mean, the man makes birdhouses!  Jerry is so dedicated to creating perfect families that he even tries to make the perfect home for the birds in his back yard!

In fact, the only person who seems to have any doubts about Jerry is his new stepdaughter, Stephanie (Jill Schoelen).  Stephanie is a teenager so, occasionally, she’s less than perfect.  Sometimes, she gets into a fight at school.  Sometimes, she talks back.  To be honest, to me, nothing she does seems like it’s really that big of a deal.  But Jerry simply cannot handle the fact that Stephanie is making his new family just a little less than perfect.  When Jerry catches Stephanie and her boyfriend sharing a very chaste kiss, he freaks out.  KISSING!?  Why that could only lead to one thing…

But it’s not just that Jerry is kind of controlling and seems to be living in a 1950s sitcom.  There’s also the fact that sometimes, Jerry goes down in the basement and just starts yelling and throwing stuff.  That’s what Jerry does when he gets angry.  He hides in the basement and he totally loses control.  When Stephanie overhears him, Jerry just gives her a bland smile and says that he was blowing off some steam.

Stephanie suspects that something’s wrong with Jerry but, of course, no one believes her.  However, we know that Stephanie’s right to be suspicious.  At the start of the film, we saw Jerry walking out of his old house, leaving behind the dead bodies of his wife and children.  At that time, of course, Jerry’s name was Henry Morrison.  Henry’s previous family disappointed him so he killed them and then vanished, changing his identity and marrying Stephanie’s mother, Susan (Shelley Hack).

Jerry wants everything to be perfect.  He’s an old-fashioned guy with old-fashioned values and, whenever anyone disappoints him, he kills them and changes his identity once again.  He’s the type who will kill you but then make sure that your seat belt is fastened when he puts you back in your car.  “Buckle up for safety,” Jerry says.

There’s a 2009 remake of The Stepfather.  For some reason, it regularly shows up on Lifetime.  Ignore the remake and track down the original.  Long before he played John Locke on Lost, Terry O’Quinn gave a simply amazing performance in the role of Jerry Blake.  Jerry is so friendly and likable that, even though we know he’s a murderer, it’s still hard not to fall under his spell.

Why, we wonder, can’t the world be as perfect as Jerry wants it to be?

Because Jerry’s world is not the real world.  In the real world, family are never perfect but they love each other anyway.  In Jerry’s world, it’s more important that things appear to be perfect than that anyone actually be honest or, for that matter, happy.

The Stepfather is a chillingly effective thriller, featuring a brilliant performance from Terry O’Quinn.  If you haven’t seen it, see it!

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