TERRIFYING TUESDAYS: THE STEPFATHER (2009) DVD REVIEW

THE STEPFATHER

Starring Dylan Walsh, Sela Ward and Penn Badgley

Directed by Nelson McCormick

Written by J.S. Cardone

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Dylan Walsh stars in Screen Gems' thriller THE STEPFATHER.

It’s difficult to take The Stepfather remake seriously once you’ve seen the original. While the 1987 version was dated by hairstyles and fashion, the manic but controlled performance of Terry O’Quinn (TV’s Lost) as wannabe family man Jerry Blake is so compelling, so disturbing that his successor, Dylan Walsh (TV’s Nip/Tuck), doesn’t stand a chance by comparison.

Which is too bad because Walsh is one of the better parts of The Stepfather 2009. Opening just like the original, we see David Harris (Walsh) shaving off his beard and walking out of his picture perfect home… his wife and children dead around him. Turns out David is a serial killer whose pattern is to ingratiate himself into the lives of single moms with children until they start asking too many questions about his background and he decides that they’re not his perfect family after all… and promptly kills them.

Cut to troubled teen Michael Harding (Badgley) returning home from military school to find his mom Susan (Ward) engaged to the seemingly perfect David. Suspicious from the start, Michael’s admittedly meagre attempts to bond with his stepdad-to-be are foiled by little hints that David might not be who he says he is. As David’s world falls apart (again) and the body count rises as he attempts to keep his identity secret, Walsh’s performance becomes more intense, leading to a climax which pays homage to (apes?) the original while amping up the stakes and paving the way for a sequel.

Penn Badgley stars in Screen Gems' thriller THE STEPFATHER.

Does that sound like a recommendation? Only kinda sorta. If you haven’t seen the original Stepfather – and it remains a vastly underrated ‘80s horror gem – this version is pretty bloodless, both literally and figuratively. Director Nelson McCormick (he of the anaemic Prom Night remake) keeps his film strictly PG-13, with none of the kills maintaining a shred of the shocks (or blood) provided by its predecessor. Writer J.S. Cardone (McCormick’s Prom Night accomplice) hews closely to Donald Westlake’s original screenplay but tones down the ‘American dream/white picket fence’ theme of the original, which was set during the Reagan era. In so doing, though, he renders his film just another efficient thriller borrowing a title from a mildly popular genre property.

“Blandly efficient” is the phrase that best describes this Stepfather. Seen the original? Don’t bother with this one. Haven’t seen it? Get thee to a video store, especially since Shout! Factory just reissued the film late last year.

Dylan Walsh stars in Screen Gems' thriller THE STEPFATHER.

Rating: 3/5

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