I own a DVD with one of Dylan Walsh’s earliest roles. The film is “Loverboy” starring Patrick Dempsey in which Walsh plays a guy who’s trying to steal his girl. He’s a real creep in that movie.
Here again, Walsh plays a creep. Full disclosure: I haven’t seen the original movie this is based on. I heard it was also called “The Stepfather” and for the most part follows a pretty similar plot. I hear it’s got cult status. But Dylan Walsh also has cult status.
I was actually surprised by the quality of this film.
One of the big no-no’s for horror film fans is when a studio takes something “R” and makes it “PG-13”. But if you think about it, there’s a lot more audience participation involved when it’s PG-13. As viewers we have to fill in the gaps that we otherwise don’t see. And that’s not really a bad thing. In a film like this there’s a benefit to keeping the violence to a minimum and using the power of suggestion to create the tension. Do I sound like your old man yet? Do I sound like…your stepfather.
And I also like that they didn’t add in an “uncut” version. This was the game plan from the very beginning.
So what is it that elevates this above typical remake fare? Honestly not much…but let’s start with the poster design. It’s one of the best I’ve seen for a horror film in long awhile that didn’t have the word “Saw” in it. It’s classy but also retains that 80’s look without seeming too aware of itself. I think “House of the Devil” is another good example of strong design that goes for just the right amount of retro.
With the exception of scenes that don’t make any sense, there are scenes that do. The way cell phones are used is interesting and it mounts the tension in a great way. A lot of the interactions between the stepfather and the family are fun to follow. Information is parsed out in the right moments. It’s also a clean, controlled, tightly edited production. Every scene is used for a reason. If anything is removed, it could collapse like a house of cards.
Director Nelson McCormick directing
Okay, so maybe it’s not a house of cards. There’s definitely parts of the plot that make absolutely no sense. For instance, the strategies of the stepfather. We’re given explanation in a montage at the beginning by a group of detectives we never see again. Guy has no driver’s license or insurance information but can still get a used car. He secures jobs from friends and is paid under the table. And most importantly the FBI have no idea what he looks like, there’s just a sketch.That plays into the movie later when his step-son takes a picture of him on his cell phone and he has to delete it. It seems outrageous to believe that this guy, with all his charm, could snake his way into a family without a photo ID of himself. You might be asking since when does anybody need proof of identification to ruin someone else’s family? The answer is you don’t, but it just seems like you might need it at some point during the courtship phase. Maybe your girlfriend asks to see what you look like on your license. Did that just never happen when they were dating?
There’s a moment where he goes to a Most Wanted website to see a pic of himself. But to get there, he types out the website address into a search engine. It’s those little details that reveal the breakdown of this man’s mind.
His goal is to avoid a trail behind his murders. At his new job as a real estate broker (apparently you don’t need to take any test to get a license, you just need to know somebody who has one), he makes sure never to provide his tax forms. It is in the interest of keeping a previous identity hidden from his fiancee’s sister. Who is he? We get a name towards the end. Once in awhile, flashes of his previously murdered family remind him of the crazy life he’s made for himself. And in some instances you even feel like he’s trying to suppress it, that god forbid he maybe doesn’t like living as a serial killer.
But that ends pretty quickly. Soon he’s back to his old ways.
To be honest this is a great idea for a scary movie. While I don’t come from a separated family I know many who do, and the level of distrust they have towards the step creature can be…elevated. This concept, like the best simple ideas, takes what is already unsettling and just dials it up. For most teenagers, it’s a damaging thing and can take years to get over. I just really appreciate that aspect to it. It gives a movie like this some thematic complexity where ordinarily there might be none. This is the kind of movie teenagers from broken homes enjoy the most. Plus the lead guy and girl are shirtless for most of the movie, so that’s another incentive to check it out.
Once I’m far enough down the road so this movie isn’t as clear in my rearview sights as it is now, I’ll visit the original.