When the original 1987 film The Stepfather came our way, the world was a very different place. Of course, that’s true with any titles that are separated by nearly 25 years of time. When reboots or remakes are attempted, as they all too frequently are today, it is often true that some allowances must be made for those inevitable changes in our world. Filmmakers attempt to make whatever adjustments they deem fit and bring the old favorite, or not so favorite, into our current collective consciousness. Like all things, sometimes it works. More often it does not work. And then there are those occasions where it simply could never work. The Stepfather was released just at the dawn of this new instant information age. In 1987 most public records weren’t available at the click of a mouse. There weren’t social networks and Google options that allowed any normal person to become a private investigator. Put simply, it was a time when a person could still step into a new persona and leave his past acts behind him. Certainly, the ambitious could still research someone, but that required dusty basements in newspaper offices or library microfiche. The idea so essential to the suspense and thrill of The Stepfather simply no longer exists. The only way a remake could have really been effective was to make it a period piece and set it in the 70’s or 80’s, if not earlier. A ten year old kid can get the goods on you now. Here David doesn’t appear to be concerned at all about fingerprints and DNA.
The original film had more than a slower information age going for it. Terry O’Quinn delivered one of the creepiest performances of his career. Yeah, that’s the same Lost John Locke Terry O’Quinn, so it shouldn’t be that hard for you to imagine an enigmatic performance. Even in 1987 the idea wasn’t terribly original. There were enough stalker films by then that the concepts were already tired and worn. What made that film work more than anything was that performance. I remember particularly a moment, badly reproduced here, when O’Quinn’s character stops and looks blankly at the camera and says, “Who am I here?” O’Quinn gives us a look that totally defines the hideous pathos of his character, and in that instant we realize how dangerously deluded he really is. It wasn’t the back story. It wasn’t the body count leading up to that moment. It was all in that look. It sent a shiver through the stoutest spine. And it is that element that is completely absent here. Dylan Walsh is a fine enough actor, and his performance is solid, but he never truly frightened me. Without that glue, the pieces of this remake simply cannot hold together.
The story is pretty much the same. David Harris (Walsh) has gone by many names. He wanders the world in search of the perfect family. His idea of that family is like something out of Ozzie and Harriet Nelson in a world that is more Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne. He looks for single moms trying to get by. When he finds a potential family, he turns on the charm, worms his way into the mother’s heart, and ends up taking on the role of man of the house. Unfortunately, these perfect images never last, and it’s time to cut the new family out of his life with a rather large butcher knife. A few physical alterations. A new city. And before you can say Leave It To Beaver, he’s found a new family.
This time he finds Susan Harding (Ward) and her three children. He meets them at a supermarket and immediately seduces Susan. Her two young children also fall for the daddy figure pretty quickly. It seems Susan is divorced from a pretty slimy ex-husband who doesn’t have a lot of time for his kids. This family is hungry for a father figure. All except for Michael (Badgley), who has been away at military school because he’s not exactly the most well-behaved teenage boy on the block. He immediately resents the new father, still hoping to repair his relationship with his real father. He begins to put the pieces together and finds out that David is a monster who recently slaughtered his entire family. The film eventually leads to the big reveal and the family struggling to stay alive.
The Stepfather is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.40:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC/MPEG-4 codec at an average 25-30 mbps. The film looks pretty good. You’ll experience a sharp image with plenty of detail. It’s not a colorful film at all, but it does present as almost ultra-realistic. Flesh tones and other “normal” images are spot on and near reference. Black levels are deep and provide better than average shadow definition. I wouldn’t call them exactly inky, but that’s not the intent here.
The DTS-HD Master 5.1 audio works mostly as a dialog piece so spends a lot of time front and center. There are a couple of thunderstorm scenes that are quite impressive both in the way the sounds are spread over the surround speakers and also in the ultimate boom and depth of the thunderclaps. The subs kick in at just the right times to provide one of the most authentic sounding storms I’ve heard on a home release.
There is an Audio Commentary with Dylan Walsh and Penn Badgley who play David and Michael respectively. They have a rather natural rapport with each other. They are also joined by director Nelson McCormick. The discussion is more lively than I often encounter, making it a pretty entertaining listen.
Open House – Making The Film: (20:12) HD The original film gets a mention here. It’s quite an extensive 20 minutes with a lot of behind-the-scenes footage. It ends with Sela Ward offering a hope that the film will serve as a warning to women to be careful about guys they meet.
Visualizing The Stunts: (11:35) HD This is a typical stunts feature that includes storyboards, rehearsals, and training sessions.
Gag Reel: (4:52) SD Includes a rather humorous guitar strummin’ scene with Dylan Walsh.
There’s nothing really wrong with this film. The performances are all quite good. Sela Ward does a great job as Susan, showing both her vulnerability and eventual horror. But Walsh can’t seem to evoke the scare needed to carry this one off. The original inspired two rather uninspiring sequels. This is one of those films that should have ended at number 1. It’s a far more effective film than this one can ever be. It just has too much going against it. It never had a chance. There was once great opportunity for a film like this. “That’s the past.”