Saturday, August 17, 2013


There is no good reason for STEPFATHER 2 to exist. The first film was a surprisingly effective thriller, with a pretty good script, made a near-classic by a brilliant central performance. Terry O'Quinn does such a good job as Jerry Butler — the psychotic man in a constant search for the perfect family for which he can become the patriarch — that even the crappier actors in the film don't ruin it. But since the first movie ended with Butler absorbing an amount of violence that would've put anyone in their graves a sequel seems not just unnecessary but ridiculous. So why is it so damned good? The fact that Jerry is still alive and living in a mental asylum is silly enough. That the scars on his chest don't really match up to the knife thrust we are shown from the first film in flashbacks is amusing too. That he's able to escape and resume his pattern of hunting for the TV perfect family of his dreams is nuts. So why did I enjoy this unneeded, silly sequel? Once again: Terry O'Quinn. The man is just that good. While onscreen he makes the crazed plotline believable simply by virtue of his performance. And the combination of his smoothness and the plot grinding toward his eventual discovery as a homicidal madman makes STEPFATHER II almost as fun to watch as the original.

After Jerry escapes from his incarceration he sets up a new life in another new town, changes his name to Gene, rents a house near recent divorcee Carol (Meg Foster, looking a bit haggard) and is back in business. Using his experience in the nuthouse as a template, he somehow presents himself as a psychiatrist (this is never explained), setting up a private practice in his home. He begins a group therapy session with several women from the area, including neighbor Carol, and starts worming his way into her life by befriending her skateboarding son. But just as things seem to be going his way the ex-husband reappears, trying to reconcile. Dammit! And then one of his group patients (Caroline Williams) becomes suspicious of him, intercepts some incriminating mail and tells Gene that if he doesn't come clean she'll inform Carol that he isn't who he claims to be. What's a psychotic killer to do? Start whacking folks and covering up their deaths, that's what! Thus begins his slide downhill into the inevitable missteps that make one murder become several and blows his carefully constructed life apart... I can barely believe I enjoyed this movie as much as I did. It has so many things going against it and yet O'Quinn, a straightforward (if familiar) script and a steady hand on the tiller (director Jeff Burr) make for a fun movie. Burr had a hand in making several unneeded horror sequels in his career but in each case (TCM 3: LEATHERFACE, PUMPKINHEAD 2) he managed to craft a movie that didn't feel like it was made by hacks. I've not seen all his work and I doubt he could have ever been a great filmmaker, but damn if he doesn't do a fine job here showing an ability to overcome dubious material.

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