A lot of People discovered Terry O’Quinn on lost. But horror movie fans discovered him back in 1987 when he played Jerry Blake, the titular Stepfather.
The film opens with a heavily bearded O’Quinn looking into a mirror. As he shaves and styles his hair, nothing seems terribly off, until he walks down the stairs, passing a scene of brutal carnage. A mother and her children lie in the living room as he calmly walks out of the front door.
Picking up a year later, we meet Stephanie, a sixteen year old high school student (played by Jill Schoelen), who is not all that crazy about her new Stepfather. She intensely misses her own father and is creeped out by her stepfather, Jerry Blake. She also struggles in school, getting into fights and trouble with teachers. Because of her grief, she sees a therapist. While people do not believe her that charming Jerry is a scary guy, Doctor Bondurant is the only one to treat her concerns seriously. As things seem to fracture, Jerry begins to transition towards his new life, meaning Stephanie and her mother are in big trouble.
The Stepfather is a strong psychological thriller. Director Joseph Ruben is mostly of the leave it to your imagination here, having very little gore. It focuses more on the psychological end of things. The film has a low body count, which puts it outside the slasher territory. Blake does not kill for a love of the kill, rather to protect his attempts at a perfect traditional family. But when things get hard with his families, something clicks and he starts to seek a new life and a new perfect family.
O’Quinn gives a bravura performance. As a viewer, we know he is a dangerous killer, and yet, when he is being a gentle husband and father he is ridiculously charming. But when he turns, he is disturbing and frightening.
Both Schoelen and Shelley Hack (as Stephanie’s mother) are very sympathetic. And what really stands out is that nothing really makes the characters look stupid for not realizing he is a killer. When people do not believe Stephanie about how creepy Jerry is, it is entirely reasonable that they question it. Even she questions if she is being paranoid.
This is a great thriller, and worth checking out this Halloween if you have never seen it before.