In the early 70's John List shot his mother, wife and 3 kids in the backs of their heads. I guess the oldest son was at a game or something, so he made himself lunch, drove out and picked up his son, brought him back to the house and then shot him in the back of the head as well. And then after his son "twitched" he shot him 10 more times. Then he informed everyone that the family would be out of town for a long time and he just ran off and sprouted up in several different states all over the US. The bodies weren’t found for about a month. This inspired crime novelist Donald E. Westlake (The Hot Rock, The Hunter , aka Point Blank with Lee Marvin, The Outfit, Drowned Hopes, etc.) to write a short story and screenplay that would be made into a 1987 movie called The Stepfather starring Terry O’Quinn.
When The Stepfather franchise began, it was right around the time when slasher films were out staying their welcome and something like this was a welcome change. I think I watched them all if there were only 3 of them (the third one minus Terry O'Quinn, but plus Priscilla Barnes) and they pretty much degraded in quality over the years. But now with the epic Hollywood movement of non-stop remakes and shit, here's The Stepfather 2009 which starts out just like the first film--totally inspired by the images of the John List case and then just turns into dull a domestic drama. I say drama because there’s nothing really horrific or thrilling about this. It’s basically about a seemingly nice guy who enters a family’s life and is hiding something. That something of course is a mass murder, but for the stretch of the movie it’s just about a man trying to get along with the family, but not really succeeding. A lot of the movie veers off with a young teen couple who listen to would-be cool music to appeal to the kids in the audience much like Disturbia and lessening the tension of the thriller. I mean, that’s what I’m paying to see—the thriller not kids listening to music.
It’s hard to say where this went down. The script, the director or the producers with too much input. JS Cardone actually wrote one of my favorite horror movies of 2001 called The Foresaken and it would seem like he would be a good choice for this. But then he goes ahead and starts doing what he did with the Prom Night remake and that’s spending too much time trying to apply some sort of likability to the young cast which almost always chews up an hour of screen time (or 75 pages of screenplay)—a trend I’m disliking more and more over time. But just because they have young, pretty faces, doesn’t mean they’re engaging for that hour. At least have the plot cooking along to at least negotiate around the potential of having uninteresting actors. In this case, it’s not so much that the actors aren’t interesting, but they’re given very little to do. They mostly sit around in a pool, kiss each another and say stuff like, “Don’t you think my stepdad’s a little strange?” I’m sorry, you just can’t build tension sitting in a pool, sucking face unless said stepdad is tossing in buckets of starving piranhas and pouring sulfuric acid on your fingertips to prevent them from climbing out. That said, the pool is well shot. And that brings me to something else.
Yes, the movie is well shot. They got a decent DP for this. But a well shot movie is just the beginning. Interweaving even a half-decent plot isn’t all that easy, but at least keeping the tone and pace of the film should be priority. That is, of course, if the pacing is designed for teens that like to order pizza during the second act and only tune in at the last 10 minutes when people start screaming, then yes, it’s perfectly paced. But I for one actually like to watch movies. Like most people, I’m not often fooled by the outcome, but I do like to see how things progress dramatically. As much as I loved Terry O’Quinn’s performances in the franchise, at least there was something always moving along. The performance and the evolving story was just a cohesive meld. Dylan Walsh, whom I always remember as the dude with Amy the talking gorilla in Congo, does an okay job, but I think would’ve only benefitted with more mounting incidences along the way.
So, should you watch The Stepfather 2009? Well, if you liked When a Stranger Calls with Camilla Belle and Prom Night ‘08, then you will love the shit out of The Stepfather.
Trailer for the 1987 Original