Monday, April 26, 2010

Mindless Movie Monday: The Stepfather (2009)

Right off the bat I have to say comparisons to the 1987 version of this film are inevitable. The original was a slice of horror history that, while dated at this point, still doesn't fail to pack a punch for, if no other reason, the exemplary performance of class act Terry O' Quinn.

And while satisfactory, there's no doubt in my mind that Dylan Walsh's stepfather will always hold second candle to O'Quinn. The 1987 Stepfather is a cult classic, bragging one of the best one-liners in horror history: "Wait a minute....who am I here?" - and honestly, nobody is going to do that line with as much terror-inducing bravado as O'Quinn.

But putting the original aside for a moment, I'm going to try to imagine I've never seen the original and this whole idea is completely fresh and new to me.
Like I said....I'll try.

Oh...and again, please note: Spoilers ahead.

David Harris (aka about ten other aliases) is packing his bags for a little trip. Or maybe a long one, in fact. After a quick shower & shave, he's meandering around his home on a lovely Christmas morning, carols playing, coffee brewing, wife and children lying lifeless on the floor... Seems he's fresh off an episode of Snapped, and has made his family's holidays less than merry. With blood pooling on the floor around his wife's head, he finishes his breakfast, grabs his bags and out the door he goes.

Soon after, we see a freshly-shaven, newly-blue-eyed David (Dylan Walsh of Nip/Tuck fame, by the way) perusing the grocery aisles - and not for strawberry jam. He meets up with Susan Harding, and after making some truly lame conversation that she so should have been suspicious of, they are off to get some ice cream...or coffee...or drinks - I honestly don't recall. In other words, they totally hit it off.

Six months later, Michael Harding (Penn Badgley, a chip off the old 9021Oh,please! block) has just returned home from a stint in reform military school - and though they never really explain just what he did to get there, no matter what it could be he just can't throw off any bad-ass vibes for me. Welcomed home by his girlfriend Kelly (Amber Heard, All the boys love Mandy Lane), she drags him out to the back yard where there is a surprise party awaiting him, including introductions to his mom's new fiancé. Sela Ward plays mom Susan Harding, and is redundantly cast as the perpetual nighttime television mom-type. She's a one trick pony, and she's no different here.

When Michael meets David, he is immediately wary of him. After all, his mother has only known him six months and already plans to marry him. David makes a big scene about how much family means to him and how he wants Michael and him to be close, like father and son. Michael balks, even when David slips him some tequila from his secret stash in the basement.
Also new in the basement is a wall of locked wooden cabinets. When Michael questions what is inside and the need for them in general, David explains that every man needs to have a few secrets.
Um, yeah. What happens in the basement stays in the basement, right?

From the get-go, David wigs Michael out. He just can't shake the feeling that something isn't right. When he confesses his concerns to Kelly, she tries to ease his fears by reminding him that his mother is happy and that David wants to help ensure Michael doesn't have to go back to military school.

When the audience is privy to the first glimpse of violence, it is not against Michael but little brother Sean. While playing video games, his mother asks him to turn down the volume. When he doesn't, David comes into his room and grabs him by the scruff of the neck and squeezes.

Susan's ex Jay takes the two younger kids (yes, there is a daughter as well, but damn if we don't really see or hear much of her) for the weekend, they return with a steaming mad Jay who flies off the handle and grabs Michael, warning him to never touch his children again.
So now David sees things might not be as easy as he thought. He apologizes to Susan, and to Sean, but Michael starts poking around into David's past, particularly after an elderly neighbor across the street tells Susan she saw someone that resembles her new beau on America's Most Wanted. Wow, I think that would give me serious pause.

Unsurprisingly, old Mrs. Cutters is pushed down her basement steps to her death dies in a mysterious accident in her home.

Susan's sister Jackie gets David a job in real estate, but when she can't get him to turn in necessary paperwork for payroll and insurance, she voices her concerns first to Susan who brushes her off, then to Jay - who succumbs to David's murderous ways now can't seem to be located. When Jackie seeks to confront Susan and is heading over to her house to do so, she is met by a less-than-happy David who proceeds to hold her head under the pool water till she dies make her see the error of her ways.
Obviously things are taking a downturn.

When Michael and Kelly take it upon themselves to snoop around the house a bit to try to gather evidence that something isn't gelling, they very nearly get caught. Soon after, David realizes Michael may be on to him and begins making his plans to find another family.
The clincher here is when Michael finds his father's body in the basement, and more damning evidence in David's "secret" cabinets.

From there we have your standard, formulaic chase scenes and hero-like behavior. Hmpf.
I wasn't all that impressed. None of the acting really whet my whistle to be honest, though Walsh would have been satisfactory had I not seen the original. But he still doesn't have that "turn on a dime" mood change that O'Quinn boasts.

Being a PG-13 movie really doesn't help any here. Sure, it says Not Rated on the DVD, but nothing I saw warranted any higher rating, as if there really wasn't an unrated version.
It's not that I wanted a gore-fest, but a bit more gratuitous blood or actual follow-throughs on the death scenes rather than all the cutaways might have helped me enjoy the film more. But I don't know. Amber Heard is in a bikini or her underwear in 98% of her scenes, so some of you guys (or girls) may get some satisfaction from that. I was actually pretty insulted by Sela Ward being played as such a fool. Most women would see this asshole coming a mile away. But her? Buy her some ice cream and she's in it for the long haul. Listen lady, I realize no one wants to think the dude they just picked up at the grocery store is a serial killer, but in this day and age you have to be aware of this shit. Get a grip.

So there's just not enough of a reason to hold the attention of most horror fans, and so here's where I break out the comparisons. This is just another one of those films that really didn't need to be screwed around with.
Let me just say this, if you were standing in a video store (which for all intents and purposes shouldn't even be called that anymore, and I haven't been in one for over 7 years thanks to Netflix) trying to decide between the old and the new versions, I do hope that common sense hits you over the head and you choose the completely dated, totally over the top, campy-good entertainment that is the original. It was just a whole lot of fun if for nothing other than Terry O'Quinn - because why mess with perfection?
It's like having someone other than Robert Englund play Freddy Krueger.

Whoops.... Did I say that?

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Sarah from Scare Sarah said...

This is on my lsit to watch. The cover is a little provocative...?

Aleata Illusion(GoreGoreDancer) said...

I'm not sure if I'll ever go out of my way to see this one. But I loved the stepfather 2! F'n Caroline Williams and Johnathan Brandis! Yeahhh!