Directed by Joseph Ruben
Written by Donald E. Westlake
USA / 1987
I would like to tell you about a monster, our final monster in our month of great monsters of the screen. The monster is the modern, American family.
So perfect is that wholesome, Norman Rockwell family that if it doesn’t work right, Jerry Blake will kill for it. Literally.
The Stepfather has grown into a cult classic, and it is well deserved of such a status. It opens with Blake standing naked in a bathroom, shaving. Then he gets dressed, takes his bags, and walks out the door near the bodies of the family he just murdered. See, the catch with marrying good ol’ Jerry is that if even for a moment he doesn’t have a Rockwellian life, he’ll kill all of you.
The Stepfather was inspired by the true story of John List, the first person to ever be apprehended thanks to America’s Most Wanted. List had murdered his family in New Jersey in 1971, then moved to Texas and started another family. He resided happily there until his neighbour saw him on television. He was finally arrested in 1989.
It’s a slow build as opposed to a typical slasher film, as we see him working on recreating a different life; a new job, a new persona. And save for a side plot ripped right out of Psycho, it’s all damn near perfect.
O’Quinn gets some fantastic showcases, too. A moment where he loses track of just what persona he’s supposed to be is easily one of the most frighteningly clever scenes ever filmed. “Wait, who am I now?”
Blake is a truly frightening character, the only remorse he carries is simply that he cannot create the perfect family. No matter how many birdhouses he builds and Thanksgiving dinners he perfects, life just isn’t that simple.
That’s what makes The Stepfather one of the best social commentaries since Night of the Living Dead. And it’s just as tragic. He’s creepy because he craves perfection in a world where such a thing will never exist. There is no Dick Van Dyke reality. There’s no Leave it to Beaver. But there sure as shit is an angry man who wants it that way.