Stepfather: Then (1987) and Now (2009 Remake)

Film Review 
 
In his brilliant horror film, "The Stepfather," Joseph Ruben explores the dark underbelly of that most scared of American institutions, the nuclear family, centering on a family man (wondrously played Terry O'Quinn), who moves from town to town, settles in with a fatherless family before slaying them.
 
Based on a screenplay by Donald E. Westlake from the story by Carolyn Lefcourt and Brian Garfield, "The Stepfather" displays a gruesomely dark humor with its satiric conception of an itinerant stepfather, who marries widows with adolescent daughters and settles down until the growing girls begin showing physical sign of femininity (breasts, hips) and sexuality (interest in boyfriends, necking and making out secretly). 
 
Blake's "routine" is to slaughter an errant family and then start another in a different locale, under new identity, name, and physical appearance.  The recurring Grand Guignol undercuts the suspense by making the proceeding expected, if not predictable, but it nonetheless makes a strong point. 
 
Blake is a classically elegant and polite monster, an all-American killer in the mold of Robert Mitchum's Preacher in Charles Laughton's 1955 classic, "The Night of the Hunter."  As played by O'Quinn, he's a sitcom stepfather, an original creation on par with Hitchcock's Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotten) in "Shadow of a Doubt" and even more so Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) in "Psycho," with a touch of Jack Nicholson's Jack Torrance in Kubrick's "The Shining," made in 1980.
 
Significantly, Blake is first seen in a bathroom cleaning up; he showers, shaves and changes his clothes to the point of altering his appearance. He has just killed his family. He then descends the stairways to the living room, walks past the bodies and confidently goes out of town. He will become Jerry Blake in the next small-town setting with the next family he plans to murder.
           
The film's premise is rich with humor and suspense. "You all right, sweetheart?" Jerry asks his wife after belting her hard until her mouth is full of blood. Blake is a man driven by contradictory feelings, at once enchanted and enraged by the notion of a happy family. His fascination with an idealized family life is reflected in his building of a birdhouse, a miniature picture-perfect suburban house. 
 
After the opening sequence, Blake is seen one year later, firmly rooted in the life of a new family. No details are offered as to how he married Susan (Shelley Hack) and became a doting dad to her teen-age daughter, Stephanie (Jill Schoelen). Instead, we observe Jerry goes through his family-man routines, bringing a new pet, orchestrating holiday dinners, showing affection to his stepdaughter ("Pumpkin darling"). 
 
There's a circular pattern at the narrative-psychological level. Abused victims become future victimizers, continuing the dark punitive Law of the Father, such as Jerry Blake, the protagonist of "The Stepfather.
 
Replete with irony, "The Stepfather" works as a chillingly clever, elegantly psychological thriller and comedy horror tale. The borrowings from Hitchcock, Kubrick, and David Lynch ("Blue Velvet") are evident in the narrative premise, tonality, and more specifically in scenes that pay homage to these masters, such as in the one in which Stephanie is trapped inside a bathroom with the crazed but smooth-talking Blake outside the door. 
 
The movie aims to expose the perversity on which patriarchy is founded, depicting fascination with female sexuality as well as disavowal of it. Like other 1980s thriller ("Fatal Attraction"), "The Stepfather" contains conflicting meanings, involving hegemonic contests that reflect social contradictions.
 
Released during the Bush Administration, the film is a satire of what could be called "George Bush's Father-Knows-Best" and other traditional family values—the whole retro notion of the 1980s as the new 1950s. Around the same time, Candice Bergen was criticized for her character, a single white, successful femme, giving birth out of the wedlock in TV's "Murphy Brown."
 
Rendering a smart, multi-layered performance, O'Quinn, who has become one of the main assets on the long-running series, "Lost," excels in conveying the weird and the bizarre, as well as the obsessive bourgeois pleasantries,
 
Playing ordinary women, the female thespians were deliberately instructed to turn in bland performances. As a psychiatrist, Charles Lanyer serves as a doppelganger for Blake, and Stephan Shellen is decent as a ghost from Blake's past determined to stop him.