Back at the end of summer 2009, we started to get a number of trailers for Nelson McCormick’s remake of the 1987 patriarch horror “The Stepfather”. Initial reaction to the trailers was full of disdain; this was yet another remake and it appeared to be filled with actors not too interested with the project and your annoying teen stereotype that is so common in the horror genre these days. After all, there was no way that Dylan Walsh would be able to out do Terry O’Quinn from the original movie, so why bother? I suffered from this train of thought as well. Now having sat through the movie and seeing just what Dylan Walsh was capable of as an insane step father hell bent on the perfect family, I have to eat my words. It turns out, the movie and Walsh were just fine.
The setup is simple; an insane man wants the perfect nuclear type family and will do anything to get his wish. If his newly adopted family fails to comply and falls beneath his lofty standards? He’ll just wipe them all out. Plain and simple. Filled with a life traveling from town to town and wooing divorced women along the way, David Harris murders his way across the country en-route to being crowned father of the year. Except he’s not always named David Harris and the Father of the Year bit exists only in his own mind.
Nelson McCromick’s version of “The Stepfather” does very little change things up from the 1987 original. After all, it was a pretty good flick so there was really no need. A few of the obvious things were changed along the way; Jill Scholen was swapped out for a son in the form of Penn Badgley and there were a couple of extra kids thrown in for the mix. That was really the only large step away from the predecessor. This does leave us questioning the idea of why they felt a remake was needed for this franchise but by now we all know the answer to that; money. The studios like making money and they want a safe bet to slap onto celluloid and push out the door. “The Stepfather” is this movie, more or less a simple cash grab for Screen Gems. It’s not a bad movie to watch however.
The biggest concern going in is how Dylan Walsh would measure up as the insane step father. Terry O’Quinn did such a great job before with his simmering anger and insanity that bubbled just under the surface in his day to day life. For myself not being very familiar with Dylan Walsh, I just didn’t see how he could possibly measure up. He does quite well however. He has the manly charm needed to woo the likes of Sela Ward. He works great as the want to be family man and plays well off of the children and coming across as trying too hard with the eldest child of the family. What we really want to see though is how he comes across when he hits the heights of anger and starts to cut loose on those around him. Even here, Walsh excels and does a fine job with the simmering insanity.
My second concern with the trailers were in the switch to a male lead for the eldest child of the family. After all, Jill Scholen in the original film had a certain innocence and charm about here that made it easy to sympathize with her. Early on, the marketing led us to believe that Penn Badgley would be playing an over bearing douche bag type of teen primarily concerned with looking cool on screen. The trailers also hinted towards a heavy foray into teen sexuality causing a lot of tension with Badgley and Amber Heard which was off putting. In the final product, while that teen sexuality is there, it isn’t a major plot point. It is one of the devices that leads to the stepfathers unhappiness; he doesn’t want a son that’s known for defiling young virgins and getting a bad reputation. He wants a good boy that does that right thing. With the switch from a daughter to a son, the device fits well. Plus, it’s Amber Heard. That always helps a bit too because she’s generally pretty great.
My message to all of you out there that were with me hating on “The Stepfather” from the first trailers? It’s not so bad! I can’t say that was fully worth the $10 admission fee when it first hit theaters but it a great watch for home. The tension runs thick as we watch Harris come unhinged and the characters are plenty engaging. Sure, you may not sympathize with Penn Badgley as much as you did with Jill Scholen the first time around but you will get drawn in. If it helps, you can sympathize with Sela Ward as she seems like a pretty sweet mom.
In the meantime, while I was unfamiliar with Dylan Walsh before? He’s now A-Ok in my book.