“TV movie”: the label that guarantees you your next two hours will be wasted time. There are hardly any good TV movies out there, especially since that genre is almost synonymous for Lifetime movies. There are exceptions to this rule of course: Stephen King’s IT has become somewhat of a classic and so have both Duel (by Steven Spielberg) and The Day After. A movie is definitely not an exception to this rule is the third installment in the Stepfather-franchise. A franchise that actually should have never been a franchise as it contains only one good movie. Since the third one was made for TV that automatically means no nudity and a longer running time as a two hour time slot has to be filled. The result: a movie in which the mentally ill stepfather now woos not just one, but two single women with a kid.
Basically rehashing the set-up of the first sequel, Stepfather 3 has the title character escape from the same mental hospital again. He has his face altered by some back-alley surgeon because Terry O’Quinn refused to come on board. A wise choice if I do say so myself.
By now you now the drill: he finds a quiet little town where he has no problem buying a home, finding himself a job and a nice little single middle-aged woman with a kid. As a gimmick the kid is in a wheelchair, though it is early on stated that if he set his mind to it he should be able to walk. You can probably guess what happens during the climax of the movie…
There is one little twist midway through the movie as he apparently wants to have a kid of his own with his new wife, who sadly turns out have become infertile after the birth of her first kid. This poses a problem for the Stepfather who now resorts to adultery with the woman renting his house. She also turns out to be a single mother. What are the odds right? The guy constantly looking for the perfect family now has two imperfect families. This weighs hard on him because it doesn’t suit his strict conservative moral codes.
The second Stepfather movie really didn’t have any justification to exist rather than to cash in on the surprise rental success of the first movie, after it bombed in cinemas. The third one has even less justification, since not even O’Quinn is on board. This time the Stepfather is played by Robert Wightman, who seems to be going for a more wacky approach to this character. He constantly talks with a bit an aw-shucks attitude. Whereas Terry O’Quinn always seemed be keeping his evil side just under the surface, Wightman really comes off as this nice, if not somewhat goofy, guy. It’s really a big contrast compared to the scenes where he’s in full rage mode, and this makes his character far less believable. Especially since the writers have seemingly made him much more sloppier than the character we got to know in the first movie. That guy carefully prepared his massacres and only once does he find himself in a situation where he has to abruptly kill someone. He stages this kill as a car accident and that is it. In Stepfather 3 all that planning has been interchanged with slasher-like murder scenes in which the victims are almost always just at the wrong place at the wrong time. Because these deaths are not premeditated, I found it rather odd that nobody would miss these people.
By now the concept has run thin and the Stepfather is no longer the guy who was so chilling in the first movie. Weighing the movie really down is its TV budget and directing. During the plastic surgery scenes some really corny effects are used for dramatic effect and because this movie was made for TV no nudity is being shown. The first movie had gratuitous nudity from both O’Quinn and Jill Schoelen. Stepfather 3 puts the attractive Priscilla Barnes to good use by giving her multiple sex and bathing scenes, but they are cut in such a way it’s obvious they aren’t allowed to show boobs. It feels so forced when they put in sex scenes and they go to great lengths to make sure there isn’t a nipple to be seen. Another thing so clearly making this a TV movie are certain cuts between scenes which are abrupt; as if a commercial break should have been between them. This is extremely obvious in the middle of the movie, where he’s in the garden with a woman and her kid until the local priest walks in on them. Then we cut to him having awkward sex with his current wife mumbling about “must have a baby” while thrusting. Then they are both suddenly sitting in a doctor’s office where it’s explained that she’s infertile. It would be nice if one scene sets up the other… like mentioning after the sex how they have been trying for months now and they should go see a doctor.
The only thing noteworthy about Stepfather 3 is how it finally deals with the Stepfather once and for all. No more ambiguous stab or gunshot wounds that seemingly kill him until the next sequel comes around, but a slide down a wood chipper and cut into thousands of little pieces. This is probably one of the most absurd moments in the entire movie as he’s not only pushed in there by his stepson who got out of his wheelchair and is able to walk now (surprise!), but he also delivers a snarky one liner which is completely out of place when you realize this is a 14 year old kid named Andy who just pushed a man to a gruesome death all while saving his mother who nearly died. This movie actually has a lot of one liners, all by the stepfather each time he has killed someone. The previous movies didn’t really have this and it really makes this more of a made-for-TV slasher than a genuine thriller.