Stepfather II (1989)

APRIL 14, 2010

GENRE: BLANK FROM HELL, SLASHER
SOURCE: CABLE (TMC)

Even though I hadn’t seen it since 1991 (at the latest - might even be 1990) Stepfather II (the sequel drops the “The”) left a very odd lasting impression on me - the name Grayland. It’s only mentioned once or twice in the film, but according to the IMDb it’s the ONLY movie that I’ve seen with a character named Grayland, and I’ve never known anyone by that name. Yet, I’ve used it for pretty much every video game I’ve ever played - World of Warcraft, Oblivion, etc., dating all the way back to Final Fantasy VII, where you could name your characters (Cloud = Grayland) and thus make reading walkthroughs really confusing (“Which one is Aeris? The one I named Jessica after the girl I liked at the time?”). It’s a cool name.

Anyway, Stepfather II is about the best sequel to The Stepfather one could hope for. It’s got some logic issues, and Jerry/Gene/Whatever does something uncharacteristically stupid in the third act that gives away his secret, but as I discovered when I re-watched the first film back in 2008, even the original isn’t exactly as perfect as its sometimes made out to be, so that the sequel still manages to entertain is impressive. And it helps make the remake look even MORE abysmal - here is a sequel that asks you to buy that Jerry lived, that he could escape from an institute with little trouble, and that he could buy a home, lead a group therapy session, and get married under a false name while living less than a day’s drive away from where he escaped, and yet it STILL seems smarter and more plausible than anything in the remake did even though it was the “first” one.

As he did with the underrated Leatherface, director Jeff Burr brings some nice dark/dry humor to the proceedings. Gene stopping to listen to the “snap, crackle, and pop” of his Rice Krispies (actually “Crispy Rice”) is brilliant, and the sequence where he watches the introduction tapes for a video dating service (do those still exist?) tops any of the humorous scenes even in the original (he skips over one woman as soon as she confesses to using a diaphragm). And the finale is amazing, with the all time best "walk down the aisle" scene in movie history, I think.

I also liked the change in dynamic. Not only does his intended wife have a son this time around, but the kid actually likes him, instead of suspecting him from the start and snooping around all the time like Jill Schoelen in the original. Here, Gene is more or less trying to keep unwanted folks from disrupting his perfect family, such as the ex husband and his fiance’s best friend (I realize now that the remake took a lot from this one as well), instead of constantly trying to keep them in line as in the previous film, where they were constantly disappointing him. Had he not fucked up with the wine bottle, you get the idea that they would have been married and happy forever - it’s sort of an ironic Greek tragedy in that sense/

There are a couple of missed opportunities though. When we first meet the Caroline Williams character, she seems to be almost flirting with Gene, but he’s only got eyes for the Meg Foster character. It would have been interesting to see what Gene would do if he had an unwanted romantic interest, but after this initial setup, it’s never addressed again. Plus, the movie sort of skips through time haphazardly, with only throwaway lines of dialogue to tell us how long it’s been. Apparently the movie takes place over the course of a year (and they STILL haven’t found him in Los Angeles from Portland? He doesn’t even have a disguise this time!), but you’d only know it from these 2-3 lines - there are no montages or anything of that nature. This also requires us to fill in things like Gene and Carol’s entire engagement - he tells her he likes her and then in the next scene they are announcing their engagement to all their friends. This also makes the next scene, where we discover that they haven’t had sex yet, a bit confusing. We have to assume they had an actual courtship, but in all this time not only have they not made love, but it’s never even come up?

And the complete lack of investigation seems odd. Obviously he can’t get caught, but it seems like the police aren’t even trying. Like I said, he doesn’t really go very far, and the story of his escape is even on the news in his new home - though the news report that Carol watches is conveniently (read: ludicrously) missing his photo, something you think would be a crucial element for a special bulletin about an escaped killer. The original also ignored things that may have been too hard to logically explain (something the remake should have followed suit with), but the familiarity of the concept isn’t distracting us away from such matters like it did before.

Then again, maybe these elements were originally there but cut. Burr has said on record that a new director came in after he refused to do some reshoots (at the request of the Weinsteins, who distributed the film theatrically), and removed some of his scenes in order to make room for more gore (though the film is hardly splattery - the two biggest kills are entirely bloodless in fact). The special edition DVD (released last year to coincide with the remake) apparently has around a half hour of deleted/extended material, but I have yet to obtain a copy of it. Maybe I’ll rent a copy and check out the bonus material, as Burr also provides a commentary, and there’s a retrospective as well - sounds like a pretty great package (though I miss the original poster design, even though it made no sense - why the dog and the little girl?). It’s not as good as I remembered it (again though, neither was the original - maybe I should stop revisiting movies I liked as a kid but haven’t kept up with), but it’s a worthy sequel to a very limited concept.

Oh, in case anyone was wondering - I have no interest in revisiting the 3rd one, as I didn’t even like it as a kid (though props for explaining why he looked different - I wish EVERY recast role in movie/TV history had plastic surgery explanations, just for the hell of it). No Terry O’Quinn - no sale (even though he’s seemingly bored at times even here, so it’s probably a good thing he didn’t return)!

What say you?

P.S. I put the trailer below but it spoils pretty much every single thing in the movie, including the ending. If you haven't seen the movie yet, I urge you not to watch it.


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3 comments:

  1. Very good review. You note the kinds of things I like to take note of. I trust your judgment. I liked the first one, never saw the second. I will now give it a try and, no, I didn't watch the teaser above that gives it all away. Thanks!

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  2. OK, so I rewatched this last month (I hadn't seen it in years either) and I enjoyed it a lot. I did watch it twice, the second time with the commentary with Jeff Burr and I think the film's producer. Anyway, it made me wonder when the commentary was recorded because both Jeff and the other guy talk about Jonathan Brandis (casting him, working with him, his teen idol status, etc.) They go on about how talented he was and how he's transitioned from child actor to adult actor. They don't seem to know that Brandis committed suicide several years ago. Also, and equally as baffling, they talk about Terry O'Quinn and how talented he is and so on, but yet there is absolutely NO mention made of O'Quinn's success on Lost. Very odd.

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  3. I was very impressed with this review. I think I liked and disliked the exact same things you did. I laughed heartily at the Crispy Rice joke, and I was delighted to see that the DVD's menu focused on that gag.

    I think the Stepfather would've made a terrific Mormon. He should have gone to Utah.

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