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The Stepfather Trilogy

The Stepfather (October 22/09)

Armed with Terry O'Quinn's magnetic performance, The Stepfather ultimately manages to overcome its almost aggressively uneven atmosphere to establish itself as a solid little '80s thriller. The film - which details O'Quinn's serial family killer Jerry Blake ongoing efforts at winning over his new wife's suspicious teenage daughter (Jill Schoelen's Stephanie) - has been infused with a deliberate pace that generally seems at odds with the inherently salacious premise, with the less-than-enthralling vibe undoubtedly exacerbated by an entirely needless subplot following a former victim's brother as he attempts to track Jerry down. It's due almost entirely to O'Quinn's remarkably compelling work that The Stepfather remains relatively engaging even through its overtly underwhelming stretches, as the actor does a superb job of ensuring that Jerry never quite comes off as a run-of-the-mill horror-movie psycho - which only heightens the impact of those moments wherein the character drops the blandly charming exterior and demonstrably loses his temper. The otherwise pervasive absence of outwardly positive elements is inevitably compounded by the consistently predictable nature of Donald E. Westlake's screenplay, and although the action-packed finale is admittedly quite stirring, The Stepfather never quite becomes the irresistibly tongue-in-cheek slasher one might've expected based on the setup (and boy, is it dated).

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Stepfather 2: Make Room for Daddy (October 25/09)

Though not quite the retread of its predecessor one might've anticipated, Stepfather 2: Make Room for Daddy nevertheless comes off as a tiresome sequel that boasts little worth recommending aside from Terry O'Quinn's expectedly electrifying performance. The storyline follows O'Quinn's homicidal Jerry Blake as he adopts the persona of friendly therapist Gene Clifford, with the bulk of the proceedings detailing his ongoing efforts at winning over a single mother (Meg Foster's Carol) and her young son (Jonathan Brandis' Todd). Director Jeff Burr has infused Stepfather 2: Make Room for Daddy with precisely the sort of egregiously deliberate pace that plagued its predecessor, with the sporadic inclusion of admittedly engaging kill sequences - coupled with O'Quinn's charismatic work - ensuring that the almost unreasonably thin storyline doesn't become entirely problematic until about the one-hour mark. The increasingly uneventful atmosphere is exacerbated by a climax that couldn't possibly be less exciting, and it's ultimately difficult to envision even fans of the original Stepfather finding much here worth celebrating.

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Stepfather III (November 24/09)

The Stepfather trilogy comes to a close with this hopelessly anti-climactic (and downright needless) entry, in which the title character (Robert Wightman's Keith Grant) undergoes facial reconstruction surgery before heading off to yet another idyllic suburban community to worm his way into the life of a single mother (Priscilla Barnes' Christine) and her young son (David Tom's Andy). It's clear virtually from the opening frames that Stepfather III is a far more low-rent endeavor than either of its two forebears, with Terry O'Quinn's absence in the central role ultimately the least of the movie's problems - as Wightman offers up a relatively decent impression of his admittedly superior predecessor. It's instead the almost aggressively familiar storyline that seals the film's downfall, as screenwriters Guy Magar and Marc B. Ray's ongoing refusal to deviate from the series' well-established template results in a pervasively stale atmosphere that's nothing short of oppressive. There's consequently little doubt that Stepfather III boasts few attributes designed to capture (and sustain) the viewer's interest, with the inclusion of a few appreciatively brutal kill sequences effectively preventing the movie from becoming a complete waste of time (ie it's impossible to go wrong with a wood chipper-related death). The finality of the movie's conclusion is admirable, admittedly (ie the stepfather is certainly not recovering from that), yet it's impossible to label Stepfather III as anything more than an ill-conceived capper to a consistently underwhelming franchise.

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© David Nusair