Friday, June 17, 2016

Worth Mentioning - 'Til Death Do Us Part

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Cody and Priscilla celebrate Father's Day weekend.

For Father's Day 2014, Priscilla and I covered the 1987 film thriller The Stepfather and its 2009 remake for The Remake Comparison Project.  This year, we decided to mark the holiday by giving some attention to an unexpected sequel.


The Stepfather told the story of a serial killer who had been trying for a long time to marry his way into the perfect existence, to find the perfect wife with the perfect children. When his home life would go bad, he would murder the wife and children and move on to try again with a different family. It did not lend itself to being sequelized. It was entirely self-contained, it told the story and reached a resolution, with the title character appearing to be dead by the time the end credits started to roll. But it was also a well-received success, and there was a possibility that the concept could draw in more money if the story was continued, so a sequel went into development.

Sound editor/television director John Auerbach received the only screenwriting credit of his career on Stepfather 2, while Jeff Burr, who had recently made his feature directorial debut with the horror anthology film From a Whisper to a Scream (a.k.a. The Offspring), was hired to direct.

This was the first of several sequels Jeff Burr would be hired to do. He went on to make Texas Chainsaw Massacre III, Pumpkinhead II, and Puppet Master 4 and 5. I've always been a fan of Burr's, so his involvment with Stepfather II was the main selling point of it for me.

Funny. Back when the movie came out I didn't care about who was making it, all I cared about was that there was going to be a sequel, period. I was very excited because I really liked The Stepfather, and curious as to how they'd bring him back. As a child I didn't know much about writers, directors, producers, I cared about the final product only. Those days are long gone.

There was some question as to whether or not Terry O'Quinn would return to reprise the role of The Stepfather, who we had primarily known by the name Jerry Blake in the original film, but O'Quinn did eventually agree to come back.

I'm glad O'Quinn came back, because the guy's great and recasting the role for part 2 would have been a mistake. An alternate approach to the sequel could have been to just make it a sequel in name only and focus on some other crazy stepfather, but while that might even make more sense than bringing Jerry back, given the ending of part 1, it would have also made it less interesting.

I don't think I would've enjoyed a sequel in name only, because it would be kind of pointless. A story of another crazy stepfather who does the same crazy things? No, I'll pick a true sequel without hesitation any day.

The film begins with the revelation that Jerry was not killed during the climactic sequence of the previous movie, just wounded, and has since been locked up in the Puget Sound Psychiatric Hospital in Washington state. His real name still unknown, he has been nicknamed Bad Daddy by one of the guards.

The hospital has hired a new psychiatrist, Henry Brown as  Dr. Joseph Danvers. Call him Joe. Joe is friendly, understanding, and delighted by the progress Jerry seems to be making during his time in the hospital. He even makes the unprecedented decision to have Jerry's restrains removed during their sessions, then dismisses the security guard.

Seems to me like whoever hired Dr. Danvers wasn't doing their job correctly. If the psychiatrist was that easily played, there had to be some sort of indication that he wasn't ready for the job.

Jerry takes advantage of the doctor's relaxed attitude. He puts the woodworking skills he displayed in the first movie to use building a miniature house that he uses to demonstrate something to Joe - he smashes the house, then re-assembles it, telling the doctor that he's an eternal optimist who believes he can fix whatever's broken, so he just keeps trying. It's presented as an explanation for why he has left so many dead families in his wake. That may be how Jerry truly sees things, but it was really a distraction.

Do they really grant patients free access to an electric saw at mental hospitals? I hope not.

Jerry uses a screwdriver he hid within the miniature house to kill Joe, then kills the guard who calls him Bad Daddy and sneaks out of the place in his uniform.

Just 11 minutes into the film and Jerry is already walking away from the hospital. That's some good pacing.

Back out in the world, Jerry kills a man to steal his car, cash and credit cards. He changes his appearance, giving himself hair and wearing colored contact lenses. Then he picks an identity to steal from the obituary section of the newspaper.

I think it's a mistake that they didn't change his appearance more. I understand there'd be no time for him to grow facial hair, but any other sort of hair type and color would've helped. His "disguise" is so weak, you can clearly see it's the same person.

Now going by the name Gene Clifford, Jerry moves into a home in Palm Meadow Estates, located in beautiful Loma Linda, California, an hour drive from Los Angeles. The Palm Meadow housing development is advertised as a wonderful place to raise a family and pursue the American dream, which makes it perfect for Jerry/Gene and his twisted view of family, warped by fantasies of achieving a level of wholesome 1950s happiness that never really existed.

As soon as he's in Loma Linda, he once again begins looking for love. The search begins with video profiles from a dating service, but none of the women on there are satisfactory to him.

Women have careers and use birth control? Oh no!

Careers? I thought only men were allowed to have that!

"Gene" presents himself as a family therapist, and he soon has several "patients" coming over to his house for therapy sessions. Among them is the real estate agent who showed him the house he leases; the recently divorced Carol Grayland, played by Meg Foster.

There is a lengthy therapy conversation that basically turns out to be an oral sex joke delivered by actress Miriam Byrd-Nethery. Unexpected, but it does serve to show that Jerry seems baffled by the concept of oral sex.

I love his reaction when he finally gets what she was talking about. Some fine acting by Terry O'Quinn.

As Carol's best friend and fellow patient Matty Crimmins (genre star Caroline Williams) notices, there seems to be an instant attraction between Jerry and Carol, and the pair are soon getting close. Carol is made even more appealing to Jerry by the fact that she has a young son, Jonathan Brandis as Todd. Jerry likes ready-made families.

Carol and Todd haven't been connecting very well since Todd's father ran off with another woman, so Jerry takes the kid under his wing and becomes a sort of father figure. He teaches him how to throw a ball, has him help out in his garage work shop, encourages him to do tricks on his skateboard, manly stuff.

Rather than simply replicate the first film, which found Jerry already married into his new family and showed how the situation fell apart, Burr and Auerbach's story follows Jerry/Gene through the process of wooing Carol and bonding with Todd, trying to work his way into becoming a stepfather again. It's a good way to set the sequel apart a bit.

What also sets it apart other than being a son instead of a daughter this time is that Todd actually likes Jerry, and never suspects any wrongdoing from Jerry's part.

Trouble enters the picture when Carol's ex-husband Phil (Mitchell Laurance) shows back up after a year with hopes of getting back together with Carol. Carol admits to Jerry that she's considering it - she knows what she would be getting with Phil. Single life is scary.

Todd is grumpy and distant when his dad is away, then when his dad comes back he's grumpy and distant to him, too. This kid isn't happy no matter what way his life is going.

He does look depressed and lonely all through the movie. Still, he bonds with Jerry very quickly.

Jerry can't let a reconciliation happen, Carol is his. He's so enraged just by the sight of Carol and Phil talking that he goes to his work shop and releases frustrations by taking a hammer to a picture he took of Carol and Todd. Then he offers to talk to Phil for Carol and see where the man's head is at.

Phil comes over to Jerry's, and at first Jerry tries to convince him that Carol isn't interested in getting back together. The hope is that Phil will just leave, but instead he wants to go confront Carol about this. Jerry lures him back by saying it was a test.

Phil is a real douche. Sleazy, quick to anger, smoking in a stranger's house, stomping his cigarette out on the carpet when he's upset. It's almost a toss-up whether it'd be worse to be with Phil or the murderous Jerry.

Carol sure can pick them!

Just when it looks like these guys are going to become pals, Jerry strikes and murders Phil.

I really like how the murder is shot, it reminds me of the EC Comics style of George A. Romero's Creepshow. The scene is already lit with the unnatural blue of movie moonlight, then when Phil's blood splashes onto a light it turns the lighting in the room red, with that blue moonlight still visible in the background along with the natural lighting in the next room.

With Phil dead and disposed of in an auto salvage yard, Jerry can now put his all into pursuing Carol and bonding with Todd. Soon the couple has gotten engaged, which they announce at a party to everyone they know in the neighborhood. After the announcement, Carol attempts to get intimate with Jerry, but he's an old fashioned guy who wants to wait until marriage. It's his first marriage, he says. He wants to do everything right.

She calls his line of thinking Victorian, but I can't see how she can fault him very much for wanting to wait until marriage if she didn't even make an attempt until after the engagement. That's pretty unusual, too.

Was she even into Jerry, or was she just desperate? I can't tell. Carol is a very bland character.

The intimacy issues are eventually resolved when Jerry agrees to have sex before marriage and reveals his scars to Carol, saying he was attacked by a former patient. That's not the end of all the problems, though.

Matty has become suspicious of Jerry, noticing that he's sometimes aloof during therapy sessions. She finds that his notepad he uses during sessions is completely blank. The more she's around him, the more she finds him odd, and she starts to call him Dr. Strange.

All because she wanted his attention. We don't know much about why Matty is in therapy, but she seems addicted to being analyzed, taking multiple psychological and intelligence tests. It's like she's looking for issues to have.

Matty works for the post office, and even starts opening Jerry's mail. When Gene Clifford receives an invitation to his 25th high school reunion, the invitation comes with a picture of Gene on his basketball team. Gene was African American, which Jerry clearly is not.

Life can be complicated when you're a serial killer on the run with a stolen identity.

And when there's no internet. How could he know the dead man was African American, without internet?

Matty has been snooping into Jerry's business, and that just won't do. She ends up being murdered as well, with Jerry making it look like a suicide.

I was actually surprised to see how long Matty lasted. She wasn't very bright. First she lets herself in Jerry's house uninvited...she didn't even know him well enough. I thought he was going to kill her right then, but he didn't. Then she confronts him with all that info, without telling anyone about it first. Not Carol, not the police, no one. Her red curtains weren't the only questionable thing about her.

Jerry and Carol go forward with the marriage, but despite Jerry's best efforts to wipe out problems and overcome obstacles through murder, things still manage to fall apart all over again. His latest shot at a happily ever after is destroyed when Carol realizes he stole a bottle of wine from Matty's place, and that Todd has overheard him whistling "Camptown Races", the same tune a neighbor heard him whistling after leaving the scene of the crime at Matty's.

Took her a while to put two and two together.


This is the worst wedding I've ever been invited to.

So tacky. Everything about it... from the wedding gown to the food table. Even for '89... just awful. Not to mention the outcome, obviously.

Typically, the impulse is to enhance everything about a film in its sequel - broaden the scope, up the body count substantially, add more gore and carnage. Thankfully, instead of turning Stepfather 2 into a total slashfest, Burr and Auerbach restrained themselves and kept their follow-up in the same vein as its predecessor. It may be an unnecessary cash-in at its core, but it's executed in a respectable way, playing out as a low-key character study of a thriller that chooses tension and story over bloodshed.

And that's because they were forced to have reshoots to add more gore. Like Matty's death scene and the scene with the guy whose car Jerry steals at the beginning. Even then it's all still pretty subtle and contained.

There is still bloodshed, that's just not the main focus, and a lot of the blood we see actually comes from Jerry. He ends up a bloody mess all over again just because he's cheap and likes to whistle.

 If you haven't checked out Stepfather 2 because you're satisfied with the way the way part 1 ended, I can't really blame you. It's sort of ridiculous that The Stepfather received a sequel like this. But Burr and Auerbach pulled off something of a magic trick here. They U-turned the story from the dead end it reached at the climax of the previous film and made a worthy sequel. They saved Jerry from the dead, put him right back on the same path he was on before, and I don't doubt it for a moment. The movie moves along at a fast pace and keeps me entertained and riveted throughout.

The pace is an aspect that contributes to its entertainment value, undoubtedly. Another aspect I really enjoy is the music by Jim Manzie and Pat Regan.

It might even move a little too fast, they could have spent a little more time with the characters, but I don't question it while watching it, that's just something that occurs to me in retrospect.

This is something I think about every time I watch Stepfather 2. It makes me question the acting a bit, but I end up choosing to think it's about the characters, not actors. For example, Todd isn't very involved in the story as a whole, didn't give Jonathan Brandis much to work with. 

Same with Carol... she whispers the whole movie up to the 78 minute mark when she goes berserk for like one minute, then it's back to whispering. Not to mention she was up for grabs, it seems. Douche ex wants to get back together? Okay. He disappears? Okay. New guy she barely knows wants to get married? Okay. Not much of a character there. Meg Foster does have the scariest blue eyes I've ever seen though.

Terry O'Quinn carries the movie with his performance, but he's playing a character we're already familiar with, so that definitely helps.

If you're a fan of The Stepfather who decides to venture into the sequel's territory, you'll find that it's not the disaster an extension of such a well wrapped-up story could have been. The filmmakers found a way to make it work that isn't insulting to what came before.

I agree. Even though the movie has its flaws - like Phil's car being randomly picked to be destroyed when there are cars in worse shape around, and not showing Jerry's picture when they talk about it in the news on TV - what movie doesn't? Stepfather 2 could've been a disaster, and it's far from it. It's a worthy sequel that I enjoy watching every now and then.

No comments:

Post a Comment