I have fond memories of seeing “The Stepfather” on the day of its quiet release in 1987, at the Northpark Mall Cinema 4. The movie was terrific “ an unexpected, out-of-nowhere sleeper thriller. There was only one problem: My friend and I were the only people in the theater.
Time has been kind to Joseph Ruben’s film, even if audiences were not. (Critics, however, praised it “ rare for anything even remotely resembling a horror movie.) Now, with its cult rep solidified and a slick remake hitting theaters, “The Stepfather” is finally available on DVD.
Based on a true story, it stars Terry O’Quinn “ years before he hit it big on TV’s “Lost” “ as Jerry Blake, a guy who calmly kills his entire family before altering his identity, skipping town and squirming his way into another. Maybe this one will work out “¦
“¦ or maybe not. Susan (Shelley Hack) is his new main squeeze, a single mom to teenage Stephanie (Jill Schoelen), who becomes skeptical and suspicious of Jerry, especially after witnessing outbursts and reading a newspaper article about the murders. Once his jig is up, she’s marked for death.
Aside from O’Quinn’s justly praised performance, what elevates “The Stepfather” above standard slasher fare is the smart script by late, great crime novelist Donald E. Westlake (an Oscar nominee for “The Grifters”). It’ s genuinely suspenseful, and its sheer intelligence helps overcome the tangible limitations of the budget.
Earning good graces just for releasing the thing, Shout! Factory builds upon them by providing an excellent, 30-minute documentary on the film’s making. Ruben, Schoelen and original writer Brian Garfield (“Death Wish”) are interviewed, among others; O’Quinn and Hack are absent. (I’m sure O’Quinn was busy in Hawaii, but what’s Hack’s excuse?) It’s not often B-thrillers like this get as in-depth as a chronicle, and it’s pulled off well, to the point where you wish it went on further.