Stepfather, The

Stepfather Stepfather Stepfather Stepfather Stepfather

The less said about the cheapie, quickie new "The Stepfather" the better.   Made strictly for the box-office, and for undiscriminating aficionados of the horror genre, which has been riding high of late, this is a no-frills, no-thrills remake of the classic 1987 picture; I am even hesitant to use the word remake.

The screenplay by J.S. Cardone, who penned the “Prom Night” remake, is preposterous in plot, dialogue, and characterization. The only significant departure from the original is in the change of the youngster's gender, but the writer (and director) fail to make much of that and the whole issue of sexual politics. 
 
Essaying the role of Terry O'Quinn (of TV's "Lost" fame), Dylan Walsh plays the titular part of the psychopath-sociopath. A seemingly ordinary man, he marries divorced or widowed women with children, hoping to epitomize the American Dream of creating the ideal nuclear family. We all know from the first film (and its many sequels) that he's a serial killer on a mission, to borrow from Hitchcock, slaughtering one family after another.
 
In the first scene, assuming the name of David Harris, he courts in a charming and successful way a recent divorcee named Susan Harding (Sela Ward). Just several months later, intending to marry her, he moves in with Susan and her two young children. Plot-wise, it doesn't help that Michael's younger siblings, Sean (Braeden Lemasters) and Beth (Skyler Samuels), both underdeveloped characters, have little interesting to say or to do.
 
Things change when Susan's eldest son, Michael (Penn Badgley), returns home for the summer after a stint in military school.  Tensions between him and David prevail from the very first meeting. Initially, Michael seems to be in minority. His girlfriend Kelly (Amber Heard) thinks that he is "overreacting," asking him to give David a chance to prove himself as a responsible and loving husband and step dad.
 
However, shortly after his arrival, a series of bizarre mishaps and incidents reaffirm Michael's feelings about David. For instance, there are inconsistencies in the names that he uses for his former family members. Then too curious a neighbor suddenly dies in a mysterious accident.
 
All alone, Michael begins an uphill battle, an inquisitive inquiry into David's real identity and past. While most people dismiss his suspicions as unfounded.  The only one who listens to Michael is his estranged father (Jon Tenney), who unfortunately loses his life (no more can be said).
 
Director Nelson McCormick strikes me as hack responsible for an overall D-level picture. There are basic errors in his filmmaking that space doesn't permit me to dwell on.  Take, for example, the chopped editing: Potentially suspenseful scenes are abruptly cut before they can fully exert their impact on the viewers
 
The casting of the leads by McCormick and his producers leaves much to be desired. David is played by an actor, Penn Badgley, who's looks too old for his adolescent character, meant to be 16; Badgley is 22.
 
The casting would not have mattered much, if the other elements of the flick were good, or plausible. To be frank, the actors couldn't be faulted for their lousy acting, epitomized by the usually reliable Dylan Walsh, who here gives one of his worst and least creditable performances.  Ditto for Sela Ward, who has given decent performances in several films, and Badgley, an essentially likable actor who has shown some charm in "The Gossip Girl."
 
Bottom line is, "The Stepfather" is not scary or entertaining.  Every single move is predictable, and fans of the film series (and of the horror genre) will be bored by the dumb, predictable scenario, which fails to deliver the very basic goods we expect from a slasher flick.  Figures (some crucial ones) appear and then disappear at random.  No specific reference is made to the legal status of Susan and David's bond, and you wonder if the couple had ever married. Moreover, the characters that lose their lives do so in clichéd, unimaginative ways, such as drowning and suffocation.
 
The original "Stepfather,” sharply scripted by Donald E. Westlake, was a terrifically conceived and executed horror film, very much in tune with the conservative zeitgeist that prevailed in America in the late 1980s. In contrast, this pallid remake is exploitative, manipulative, and has nothing interesting to say about the American family or family values.
 
I enclose my review of Ruben's 1987 film. Please rent it if you have not seen it.