The Stepfather (1987)

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)

2 comments

  1. It has become a sort of tradition to use horror films to fight back against social exclusivity. Jordan Peele’s Us and Get Out didn’t invent the idea of horror as a critique. Lots of ’80s horror movies make fun of Reaganism (Parents, A Nightmare On Elm Street 2, They Live, People Under the Stairs, etc.). You’re right about Stepfather — it is clearly ridiculing patriarchy and suburban values.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Even as far back as the ’60s, with Night of the Living Dead and ’70s with Texas Chainsaw. It’s just such a socially potent genre, and part of that reason seems to be because it’s disreputable: If no one expects anything from your genre you’re free to explore touchy, hot-potato themes. Very interesting stuff 🙂

      Like

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