I love the original Stepfather movie starring Terry O’Quinn. It was a surprise discovery back in the day when I popped it in the VCR and despite some plot holes I really enjoyed the movie. This was one of the first movies I tracked down on DVD internationally after getting a credit card which made it possible to shop internationally with ease. This illustrates how underrated this gem is as there have been various DVD releases, none doing the movie justice in terms of quality. It took a remake to finally get a proper release but even now it’s nowhere to be seen on Blu-ray. That won’t be the case with this remake which is widely available on various formats in a good quality. Too bad the movie itself isn’t of a very good quality.
The story remains the same. A serial killer searching for a perfect family marries single women with kids and kills them all when his dream starts to collapse. He then moves on, adopts a new identity and starts all over again.
A lot remains the same actually, including a “shocking” opening scene. In both movies we see the step dad in the bathroom showering, shaving his beard and changing his overall appearance. He gets dressed and walks through the house towards the door. It’s then that we see how the house is trashed up and there are signs of a battle. The entire family has been slaughtered and the guy responsible is cleaning up after him and making a clean getaway.
While having a similar opening, this scene can illustrate what is wrong with the remake. In both cases this scene is to show us that this guy is the real deal. He’s a killer, no doubt about that. We get introduced to his M.O. and we immediately want to watch how this ends as the opening functions as a cliffhanger. In the original the Stepfather walks through the house and puts some thing in place before leaving. In the background we see his wife lying dead on the floor covered in blood. The fact that there are toys points out to the presence of a child. Our mind does the rest.
In the remake the Stepfather walks through the house, while we get multiple flash-cuts to close-up of the family members he slaughtered, children and all. This way the movie doesn’t trigger our imagination at all and it just goes for some cheap shocks.
The remake copies a couple of key-scenes from the original but with lesser impact than in the original, the original stuff fails to impress. And some of the best stuff of the original wasn’t even used in the remake.
But the weakest part of the movie is the role of the Step dad himself. Terry O’Quinn had found a pitch-perfect balance in his performance that has to balance between playing a mad man, as well as a loving family man. He inhabited the role and gave an enigmatic performance. It was this role that made me curious about Lost and even on that show he’s probably the best actor of the bunch. Terry chewed scenery like bubblegum and his two transformations into other aliases gave more depth to his role.
Dylan Walsh on the other hand gives a flat performance, he isn’t interesting at all and doesn’t seem to have fun with the part. His tantrums are more restrained and out in the open, something Terry’s character kept for himself in the basement. They also removed the preparations for a new life in this movie, something that made the original intriguing. How he transforms himself into a new character and is building a new life while he still has an old one. When he goes berserk in the end of this movie he doesn’t seem to have made any preparations, which is a major flaw considering how calculating this character constantly is.
The movie does have a new angle. In the original we just went with the fact that step dad set up a new life with relative ease. In this movie a great part of the movie deals with explaining how he manages to switch identities without the IRS ever finding out, and how he gets a job without a proper I.D. Despite being interesting it is surely a valid point to make when nowadays everybody can be found on Google and databases are all linked to each other creating a new identity is a lot harder I guess, but in the end it just came to the fact that he didn’t really create a fake identity on paper, just for the people around him. This guy managed to stay out of the hands of the police by paying everything in cash and making sure he never gets his picture taken, yet he doesn’t have any official forged document with a fake identity. In every other Hollywood movie kids are getting into clubs with fake I.D.’s.
The movie is more concerned with cheap shocks (there’s the cliché jumping cat shock) and Amber Heard in a bikini (which is not a bad thing) rather creating a remake that does the original justice. The movie looks good on the outside but is rather empty on the inside.