Think you had a domineering dad? Well, if you were tuned in for last week's MonsterVision presentation of The Stepfather, you'd know the real meaning of tough love. Below, Joe Bob speaks about unconditional love, his favorite Angel and prison mail.
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It's time for MonsterVision to skip along the edge of Fairy Tale Land. No, we're not sending Little Red riding through the hood or unleashing some frizzy blonde on a dysfunctional bear family. We're going back to the wicked stepmother story, popping in a gender twist and voila: a wicked stepfather. As you might guess, the resulting movie is called The Stepfather, a 1987 low-budget thriller, much smarter and exciting than anybody would have expected. Not that audiences knew what to expect at the time of its release, because the film flickered in and out of theatres, hampered by a confused advertising campaign that managed to turn off both horror movie fans and everyone else. One moment there were ads quoting praise from critical heavyweights like Pauline Kael, the next, ads making the film look like another slasher outing. Who wouldn't feel like they'd be better off passing this by? Luckily, your buddy Joe Bob knows a darn good movie when he sees one and is only too tickled to let you in on the secret.
The Stepfather doesn't mess around with the question of whether the title character may or may not be a good guy. You know right up front that he ain't quite Mr. Cleaver, as we watch him tidying up a house after he's killed his family (No spoilers here - that's how it opens). Jump ahead a year or so and Mr. Stepfather has acquired a new identity and a new family, but we sorta doubt he's spent time with a new therapist. Super-mom Susan is just thrilled with her hubbie but teen-aged stepdaughter Stephanie has her doubts. She finds Mr. Stepfather (called Jerry now, but he has other aliases) a bit too good to be true and, in fact, that's just the way Mr. Stepfather likes it. A perfect, ideal family -- sort of Father Knows Best brought to life -- is his goal. The only problem is that such families actually are too good to be true and, as we've discovered, Mr. Stepfather doesn't take disappointment too well.
This may sound like a hackneyed thriller in outline but The Stepfather goes much further. Taking Nicholas Ray's Bigger Than Life and Alfred Hitchcock'sShadow of a Doubt as inspirations, the filmmakers managed a movie that's suspenseful but that also sneaks in social critique, if you're willing to go after that. The inventive script is by Donald E. Westlake, best-known for his intricate and witty crime novels and who also snagged an Oscar nomination for his adaptation of Jim Thompson's The Grifters. He was also nominated for an Edgar Award by the Mystery Writers Association for writing The Stepfather, but that year it inexplicably went to Stakeout (remember that, er, masterpiece?). Director Joseph Ruben also notched a couple of other worthwhile films with Dreamscape and True Believer, though nowadays he might be best remembered for giving Jennifer Lopez her first major role in Money Train.
But these filmmakers' ambitions would have counted for little if the stepfather had appeared as a barely plausible character who wouldn't have fooled the Hardy Boys for two minutes. Fortunately, that's not the case, and the credit goes to Terry O'Quinn. He's one of those actors who kicked around for years: a feature film debut with Heaven's Gate (oops), a stint on a soap and numerous assorted movies, major and minor. Lately he's become a favorite of Chris Carter, who's featured him in The X-Files movie and TV show while giving him recurring roles in Millenium and Harsh Reality. O'Quinn is ably helped by solid performances from former Charlie's Angel Shelly Hack as his unsuspecting wife and one-time Brad Pitt heartthrob Jill Schoelen as the daughter.
So maybe you doubt Joe Bob's claim that The Stepfather is a minor classic. Would you believe the Washington Post? Their reviewer noted, "It's a terrific, disquietingly entertaining little film -- a piece of genuine Gothic Americana." The motto at MonsterVision is that you can never have too much Gothic Americana, so you might as well start stocking up when we show The Stepfather this Saturday night.
The Stepfather (1987)
Last seen on MonsterVision: April 8, 2000 at 12:30 am, Rating: TV-14-LV
I'm Joe Bob Briggs, and it's Psycho Daddy Night, with The Stepfather. I remember when this movie came out, 1987, there was a poster that had very little on it except the WORDS "The Stepfather," and somehow that was scary -- you know why? Because daddies, in the eighties, were TERRIFYING. So stepdaddies were all the MORE terrifying. Bad decade for fathers. They were . . . MOVIN ON.
And hey, there's nothin wrong with movin on. You know that word women use? "Commitment." Men go "Who wants to be COMMITTED? That's the same thing they do to you in a mental hospital." But sociologists say that the problem with America is that there's not enough of it. People have throwaway girlfriends, throwaway husbands, throwaway people in general. Gotta change jobs? Gotta move? Get a whole new wardrobe AND a whole new set of faces around you. I beg to differ. I think we have TOO MUCH Commitment. Why is it that, when two people get deep into a relationship and the girl starts to go TOTALLY PSYCHO, the guy always tries to FIX IT? At the moment when the brain is going: "Run! Run! Run like the wind!," the heart is going: "Oh, poor babeeeee! You stabbed your mother. Lemme help you out." And why is that when EITHER side says, "I hate you--get away from me-I never wanna see you again," the response is always, "Aw, come on. We can work it out, honey." Wouldn't everything work out better, for EVERYBODY, if the dialogue went like this? "You wanta be with me?" "Nope." "Goodbye." Instead, it goes like this: "You wanta be with me?" "Nope." "I LOVE YOU!" What happened in the 90s? Did everybody go to a Low Self-Esteem Convention or something? When did everyone start saying: "Oh, you mean she hates my guts? I've GOT TO HAVE HER!" It happens in reverse, too. The conversation goes like this: "I love you." "But I barely know you." "OK, then I'll go away." "In that case, I love you, too." Do you realize MARRIAGES are based on nothing more than someone trying to prove that they did NOT get dumped? Or how about this one: "I'll love you no matter what." "OK, I'm a heroin addict." "I still love you." "OK, I'm a murderer." "I still love you." "You're an idiot." "No, you just can't deal with UNCONDITIONAL LOVE." To a person like this, the ideal partner would be a mass-murderer who lives with his mother and sniffs airplane glue. Take it from me, we've got WAY TOO MUCH Commitment. Stop committing. Commitment people should BE committed. And speaking of bad matches, Terry O'Quinn would rather kill the wife and kids with blunt objects than admit defeat in his efforts to create a loving family unit in tonight's flick, "The Stepfather." Check it out.
[fading] I'm an expert in Commitment, by the way. You have to be when you've been married as many times as I have. I know all ABOUT Commitment. There's three stages: Attraction, Fixation and Stamina. Followed by the three stages that come AFTER Commitment: Indifference, Detachment and Alimony.
"THE STEPFATHER" Commercial Break #1
Notice how this movie starts, with the paperboy riding his bike down the tree-lined residential street? How many movies start like that? It's supposed to represent the typical American suburban neighborhood, just like yours. Almost EVERY Lifetime Network movie starts this way. But there's only one problem. Paperboys DON'T EXIST ANYMORE. For the last 25 years papers have been delivered by rude obnoxious depressed SENIOR CITIZENS driving pickup trucks, right? They have these routes where they throw a thousand papers in two hours by gunning the truck down the street and just launching those babies onto the curb. You know where we still have cute paperboys on bicycles? In the movies! ONLY in the movies. Like the opening scene in Gremlins. Anyway, Terry O'Quinn doing a fine job as "Scary Jerry," the homicidal stepdaddy. Terry O'Quinn kinda specializes in stepfathers -- remember "My Stepson, My Lover" from '97? Terry marries Rachel Ward and then she starts makin the sign of the two-headed trumpet fish with his son. Look for it on the Lifetime Network. And, of course, Terry has also starred in many a failed TV show created by Chris Carter -- guy who created "The X-Files."
Anyhow, I'm not sure I support opening this movie with him killing his whole family--doesn't that give it away too early? Kinda takes the mystery out of it. Remember in "Fatal Attraction" when Glenn Close goes all haywire, and you're really surprised? The director, Joseph Ruben, didn't want Jerry to seem sympathetic. By the way, do we think the doggie's gonna get it? Depends if the producers thought this was a B-movie or an A-movie. In A-movies, the doggie's not allowed to get it. In B-movies, the doggie's a goner. We'll see what they were goin for as we continue with "The Stepfather," after the commercials.
[fading] Of course, they kill the dog in Mad Max. That's kind of Max's motivation. What is this man capable of? -- they just killed his DOGGIE.
"THE STEPFATHER" Commercial Break #2
Here at the Lifetime Net -- uh, I mean, TNT -- we like "The Stepfather." This was actually a precursor of the Lifetime formula. Before Lifetime existed. But it's pretty much straight down the middle with what Lifetime looks for: take a universal female insecurity -- single mother, widowhood, trying to find love, while aging -- this one has ALL of em -- and create what APPEARS to be a Prince Charming solution to that insecurity, and then reveal the handsome prince to be the murdering psycho scum he was all along. The Lifetime formula actually INCREASES female insecurity. This movie is based on a real-life murder case from 1971. A guy named John List of Metuchen, New Jersey, an accountant -- or an insurance broker, depending on who you talk to -- lost his job, but he kept doing his daily commute to New York City cause he didn't want to admit that he was a big failure. And while he rode in on the train every day, he planned the whole thing out. On the day of the crime, he cancelled the milk and newspaper deliveries, held the mail at the post office, called in sick for his three kids at their schools. Then he killed them and his wife -- I'm not sure exactly how -- and stacked em all up under the picture window. Police didn't discover the bodies for a month, and the guy ended up changing his identity and re-marrying. Or he's still on the loose, depending on who you talk to. But he did go quite a while without anyone knowing, so there you go. Okay, commercials and then back to the flick.
[fading] Terry O'Quinn looks like Mark Harmon, doesn't he? And, of course, Mark Harmon played serial-killer Ted Bundy in our favorite 90-hour mini-series, Deliberate Stranger. In that one, Mark Harmon was TOO sympathetic, cause they decided to LEAVE OUT the actual murders. In this one, you're just waitin for him to pull out the chef's knife any second and make chop suey out of Shelley Hack, aren't you? No pun intended.
"THE STEPFATHER" Commercial Break #3
He was wearing a Freddy Krueger shirt! Did you notice that? When he goes out to get the mail -- red and black stripes, just like Freddy Krueger. They HAD to do that on purpose, don't you think? Makes it scarier when Scary Jerry exhibits Toolshed Rage. That's the second bout of Toolshed Rage so far, isn't it? As Shelley Hack happily frosts her cake. Remember those Charlie commercials Shelley Hack did in the seventies, striding down the street -- "and they CALL it . . . CHARLIE!" Those musta helped her get the part in "Charlie's Angels," right? when she replaced the unattractive one -- what was her name? Kate Jackson. Shelley Hack has the honor of being the BRIEFEST Angel, and some people say it was because the show was about T&A, and Shelley didn't have enough T for the job. Course, if she hadn't a been fired, the world wouldn't have been graced with MY favorite Angel, Tanya Roberts. You guys know they're making Charlie's Angels: The Movie? With Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz and Lucy Liu. That's not really who I'd cast. I mean, you'd have to get Pamela Anderson in there, wouldn't you? Although Drew Barrymore DOES fill some of the requirements, if you know what I mean and I think you do. All right, roll the ads and we'll get back to the flick.
[fading] My favorite Shelley Hack movie is, of course, Troll, as little Harry Potter's mom. Of her theatrical releases. Then there's all those great TV movies she did. They're so hard to choose from: "Taking Back My Life: The Nancy Ziegenmeyer Story." "Single Bars, Single Women." "Death Car on the Freeway." I think in the uncensored version of the film we're watching tonight, we got to see Shelley's T. I may need to rent that version. Just to settle the "Charlie's Angels" dispute. See if she's got any legal recourse.
"THE STEPFATHER" Commercial Break #4
So much for the troubled-teen counselor. Whoa! Is this the only movie ever made about a maniac realtor? I think it may be. No! It's not true. "Open House" is about a maniac realtor! There are actually TWO flicks in the psycho-realty genre. "Open House," starring Adrienne Barbeau. And speaking of people who could make big bucks in real estate, it's time for Rusty the TNT Mail Girl to join us for "Joe Bob's Jailbreak," where we read letters from the prisoners of our great penal American penal institutions. So, Rusty, when you were married, were you someone's evil stepmother?
RUSTY: Oh, my gosh, why did I ever tell you that? It only lasted about five minutes, and no, he didn't have kids.
J.B.: I only ask because a bunch of studies have shown that stepkids are more likely to have discipline problems, flunk a grade, and even drop out of school.
RUSTY: Have you ever had any stepkids?
J.B.: You got a letter for me?
RUSTY: This is from William B. Kissane of the Carson City Correctional Facilities in Michigan.
J.B.: That kid was messed up WAY before I got to him.
"Sir Joe Bob, [Note: Cuts have been made]
"Hello from the state of Michigan, where visitors arrive as tourists and leave on parole. Business is booming, prison expansion, shipping inmates out of state to such places as the state of Virginia - with no end in sight. Business seems to be so good there are lines of would-be convicts lined up waiting to be admitted.
"Talk about job security, it's not like the MDOC is going to pack up and move to a third world country or to Mexico like GM or other industries have done.
"I must be missin something, after nearly 25 years in prison I just can't understand why so many people are beating a path to be admitted. The MDOC is like a college fraternity, they allow anyone to join, but you pay hell when the time arrives to resign. Maybe it's the excellent four-star restaurant-type of food being served. Or it could be the very fashionable state blue clothing that is issued. But then again it may be the excellent health care that is provided to inmates at places such as Duwane Waters Hospital in Jackson, Michigan. Whatever the reason the MDOC is attracting many 'clients.'
"Jim Bob, since you are more than qualified, why is it that you have not been allowed by the powers to be at TNT to produce and direct your own horror movie? It should be obvious to even a blind deaf mute of your genius. After all, you do know what makes a good horror movie tick and what the beer drinking, junk food wanna-be trailer park redneck track public and captive inmate viewers would like to see (besides the Mail Girl delivering the mail nude).
"Doing time the old fashion way in Michigan, staying medicated, sedated, and sleeping 18 hours a day (just kidding).
Respectfully, William B. Kissane #139591
Carson City Correctional Facilities."
J.B.: William,I agree with you -- I should be producing my own horror flick. And it sounds like Carson City wouldn't be such a bad place to film it. Preciate the support, William. Free your mind and your butt will follow. Any of you other guys out there wanna write in, do it care of TNT, 1010 Techwood Drive, Atlanta, Georgia 30318. Or if they have e-mail where you are, my address is firstname.lastname@example.org
RUSTY: Don't forget the "MonsterVision" website address.
J.B.: Why don't you give that, honey.
J.B.: I think you'd be any boy's dream stepmother.
RUSTY: [exiting] You're disgusting.
J.B.: Gee, a guy tries to say something nice. Any kid would wanna be tucked in by you. Hell, EYE wanna be tucked in by you.
"THE STEPFATHER" Commercial Break #5
By the way, I forgot to mention during the last break that stepkids are a HUNDRED times more likely to get killed by a parent than yard monsters who are raised by two biological parents. And if I'd stayed married any longer to my third wife, I might have been one of those statistics. I haven't really talked about the guys who made this flick. It was written by Donald Westlake. He's a crime novelist -- you may have heard of him. And it was directed, as I said earlier, by Joseph Ruben. Joseph is famous for making "The Pom-Pom Girls" back in 1976, with Robert Carradine and Melanie Griffith. He was only 25 at the time, and it was a BIG drive-in hit. In fact, he made a slew of teenage drive-in flicks, loves the idea of kids partying and fooling around while the movie's goin on up on the screen, the whole rite of passage thing. Anyhow, after a bunch of those flicks, his career kinda cooled off for a while, and then he made his comeback with . . . "The Stepfather." Okay, let's do the ads and get back to it.
[fading] "The Pom-Pom Girls" is reputedly Bruce Springsteen's favorite movie. Need I say anymore? Maybe I do. But maybe I'm not going to.
"THE STEPFATHER" Commercial Break #6
Do you guys get the feeling that the brother-in-law subplot was kinda tacked onto this story? I can hear em in the meeting, "We need a ticking clock. How bout a guy in a pair of ratty Indian boots going door-to-door?" And I still think they're giving too much away. Wouldn't it be better if one of the other characters DISCOVERED somehow that the stepfather was starting another life somewhere else? There's no point of view here. Isn't that one of the basic movie rules? You have to have a point of view. We got Jerry's point of view, we got the daughter's point of view, we got the brother-in-law in the moccasins' point of view. Too many points of view going on. But I still like this movie. Okay, let's wrap it up, after the commercials. Go.
[fading] Anybody remember about two years ago when that 8-year-old kid in Brooklyn was killed by his stepfather cause he wouldn't clean the cat's litter box? How sad is that? And not only was the guy a murderous evil stepather, but he was also the kid's UNCLE. The mom left her husband and married her husband's brother. El yucko. Reminds me of that joke: Why do Southern guys go to family reunions? To meet chicks.
"THE STEPFATHER" Outro
So they have a dead guy in their living room and no way to ever find out WHO THE HECK HE WAS, right? All that subplot work, and then BLAM, he's dead. He doesn't even get to come back to life or anything. But Scary Jerry does, in "Stepfather II," when he escapes from the insane asylum and starts wooing Meg Foster in search of the perfect family once again.
Okay, I wanna let you know that next week on "MonsterVision," a special Tax-Day presentation of the great under-water "Alien" rip-off, Leviathan.
That's it for me, Joe Bob Briggs, reminding the women out there that if something we said can be interpreted two ways, and one of the ways makes you sad and angry, we meant the other one.
Joe Bob Briggs, reminding you that the drive-in will never die.
Three guys are in a bar when a drunk staggers up to em, and points at the guy in the middle, shouting, "Your mom's the best lay in town!" Everyone expects a fight, but the guy ignores him, and the drunk wanders off and bellies up to the bar at the far end. Ten minutes later, the drunk comes back, points at the same guy, and says, "I just had sex with your mom, and it was swe-e-et!" Again the guy refuses to take the bait, and the drunk goes back to the far end of the bar. Ten minutes later, he comes back and announces, "Your mom liked it!"
Guy finally says, "Go home, Dad, you're drunk!"
[fading] A polar bear goes into a bar and says, "Can I have a gin and...... tonic, please? Bartender serves him and says, "Why the big pause?" Polar bear says, "I don't know, I've always had em."
Also check out the reviews of Serial Mom (Kathleen Turner would just kill for her family to get ahead) or Stepmom (Daddy's new girlfriend: You know, for after Mommy's dead)