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Stepfather, The (2009)
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Makes "Stepfather II" Look Like The Original "Stepfather"
1 stars

The last couple of years have seen a glut of remakes of many of the mad slasher movies that glutted multiplexes in the wake of the enormous box-office success of “Halloween” in 1978. Ordinarily, when a remake of a film hits theaters, most movie critics are professionally obliged to start off their reviews of such things by decrying Hollywood for its lack of originality and its greedy willingness to stomp over the memory of a beloved classic. However, in the case of these remakes, I haven’t really done that for the simple reason that, for the most part, the original films weren’t that good in the first place--there is no earthly way that I could publicly defend the artistic integrity of the likes of the old-school versions of such dross as “Friday the 13th,” “Prom Night” or “The House on Sorority Row” without feeling like a bit of an idiot in the process. However, the new version of “The Stepfather” is a different case because not only was the 1987 original pretty much the best slasher movie of the decade, it was also one of the finest horror films of any kind to emerge during that period as well. Therefore, while most of those aforementioned remakes have mostly inspired apathy and boredom on my part, this one actually made me angry as I was watching it for the way that it took a property that I would cheerfully describe as a masterpiece and transformed it into a coarse and stupid piece of hackwork that is an embarrassment for all concerned. Comparing the original version of “The Stepfather” to this one is a lot like comparing regular basketball to donkey basketball--a perfectly good thing has been needlessly “improved” by making everything bigger and dumber and by allowing a bunch of jackasses to dump all over it.

The film follows the same basic template as the original. Dylan Walsh stars as a ordinary-looking guy who is actually a psychopath who marries women with children in the hopes of creating an idealized family unit and then slaughters them all when messy reality kicks in before moving on to the next one. As the film opens, he, under the name of David Harris, sweeps recent divorcee Susan Harding (Sela Ward) off her feet and six months later, he has moved in with her and her two young children and they are about to be married. At this point, her eldest son, Michael (Penn Badgley), returns home from military school and meets David for the first time. Naturally, he is a bit uneasy about the new man in his mom’s life but everyone else, even girlfriend Kelly (Amber Heard), thinks that he is overreacting and insists that he needs to give David a chance. However, Michael’s suspicions grow deeper when David fumbles the name of his late daughter and a nosy neighbor dies in an “accident” and he begins to investigate further. Of course, no one believes him, other than his estranged and quickly dispatched father (Jon Tenney) , but when David begins to catch on to Michael’s suspicions, he begins to make preparations to get rid of the others and start the whole process again.

There are many reasons why I consider the original version of “The Stepfather” to be a modern horror classic. It had an airtight screenplay by noted author Donald E. Westlake that was swift, smart and effectively exploited the common fears and uneasiness that arise when a new person tries to fit into an already existing family unit. It featured nifty direction from Joseph Ruben that mixed tension with a certain degree of black humor in much the same way that Alfred Hitchcock (whose work was specifically referenced at a couple of points) used to do back in his heyday. It refused to go for cheap shocks and clichés to jolt audiences and instead went for a more subtle approach that made things creepier and creepier as the film went on. Instead of a slavering, easy-to-spot maniac, it gave us a psycho killer who was so completely controlled and cunning while appearing to be blandly pleasant to the eye that when the occasional crack came through his overly placid surface, it provided audiences with the kind of frisson not often seen in contemporary horror movies. Finally, and perhaps most significantly, it contained a lead performance by Terry O’Quinn (better known today as one of the denizens of “Lost”) that was simply one of the best ever given in a horror movie and one fully deserving of awards recognition.

Okay, now let us take a look at what the new version of “The Stepfather” has to offer in comparison. The screenplay by J.S. Cardone (the guy responsible for the “Prom Night” remake, amazingly enough) is a hole-filled mess that drags on forever, has been dumbed down in every possible way (David’s entire history and modus operandi is explained to us early on by a bunch of cops who never again figure into the plot) and doesn’t even attempt to mine the fears and uneasiness that results from the introduction of a stepparent--while the idea of changing the gender of the troubled teen this time around is a potentially interesting notion from a psycho-sexual standpoint, you have to wonder why they bothered absolutely nothing is done with this change. The direction by Nelson McCormick (who, I have just discovered, was the director of that misbegotten “Prom Night” remake) is even less inspired than the screenplay--there is not a single interesting cinematic moment to behold during its entire running time and he inexplicably layers the soundtrack with wildly inappropriate rock music cues that serve only to aggravate. Instead of trying to build tension with a subtle approach, the film offers up one cheap shock cliché after another--we get people popping unexpectedly out of corners, people unexpectedly showing up in mirror reflections and, I kid you not, a bit in which someone gets spooked by a cat jumping from out of nowhere. Instead of giving us a controlled and cunning monster, our villain is a flat-out dope who can hardly go through two scenes in a row without incriminating himself in one way or another, thereby completely ruining what should be the film’s most chilling moment--the one in which he rambles on to his fiancée, drops the wrong name and then asks “Who am I here?” Finally, the performance by Dylan Walsh as the stepfather is a complete botch from start to finish--he is so completely unmemorable (in the wrong way) that every time he comes on the screen, most people will find themselves thinking “Psycho killer--Qui s’inquiete?”

As you have probably guessed by now, I hate “The Stepfather” and the way that it tramples on the memory of a truly great film in the hopes of exploiting its familiar title for a quick buck or two at the box-office. However, in all fairness, I suppose that I can muster at least three nice things to say about it. For one thing, it is so bad that it is highly unlikely that the sequel that it laboriously sets up in the final minutes is likely to ever see the light of day. Then there is the fact that Amber Heard, playing Michael’s girlfriend, spends nearly all of her screen time in an assortment of ever-changing and ever-shrinking bikinis. Finally, and most importantly, the original film has, after years of unavailability due to conflicts regarding the rights, has finally been issued on DVD--if you have any brains or taste at all, you will spend your entertainment budget this weekend on picking up a copy of that version instead and give this new “Stepfather” the red-headed stepchild treatment.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=18283&reviewer=389
originally posted: 10/16/09 04:54:59
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User Comments

3/12/17 morris campbell not as bad as some remakes 3 stars
5/29/10 John Yochum Don't waste your time!!! Altho I love Sherry Stringfield! 1 stars
10/25/09 JXL13 I believe the intent was to portray the characters as what they would look like in real lif 2 stars
10/25/09 Mark90 Most of the advice sought is diagnostic, with callers describing symptoms and demonstrating 3 stars
10/22/09 Crazy16 At the beginning of the project, tasks always took place after school hours for which teach 3 stars
10/17/09 Lambutts Anyone involved in The Shining and Psycho should sue The Stepfather for grand theft. 2 stars
10/17/09 John So lame...where's Jerry Blake when you need him? 1 stars
10/16/09 babe magnet amber heard is boner worthy 5 stars
10/16/09 dip ship shap!!! yipyappeeeeeeee!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! so fo, ya kno the flo, ip to the app, shippity ship shap! 4 stars
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  16-Oct-2009 (PG-13)
  DVD: 09-Feb-2010


  DVD: 09-Feb-2010

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