The first time I saw “The Stepfather,” I was in high school, and saw it as a stiff-upper-lip slasher, basically; perfectly fine, a few cool scenes, but rather unremarkable overall. As an adult however, I was unexpectedly floored by it. I don’t think I realized that a vicious indictment of family-values hypocrisy runs through the movie’s DNA from beginning to end. Terry O’Quinn makes a contemptible but charismatic titular villain, and his all-American, middle-aged good looks are perfect for the rejection of conservatism that courses through the screenplay: He’s pleasant to look at, well-groomed, always up-with-people and ready to have a friendly chat, but his personal ideology is corroded by sociopathy and therefore laser-focused on controlling and molding those around him, and reacting with lethal rage when faced with even slight pushback. It’s pretty straightforward as far as a theme goes, but it’s also somewhat perfect for the hyper-conservative, moralizing 1980s that, on the one hand, preached Christian charity but on the other hand willfully ignored the AIDS crisis, turning a blind eye to the suffering of millions of Americans. I seem to have gone on a bit of a tangent here, but I think you get the point: “The Stepfather” is the type of horror movie that makes you appreciate the genre so much, because it stands on its own as a reasonably effective slasher, but gains thematic significance once its social context is applied.
Rating: ★★★★ (out of 5)