THE STEPFATHER (Joseph Ruben, 1987)

Nelson McCormick, a television director, has made the current remake of The Stepfather (2009). The original, highlighted by a brilliant titular performance by Terry O’Quinn, is among the scariest U.S. movies of the past twenty years. I haven’t seen McCormick’s film, but the nature of these things is that most remakes strip the original of the context that made the original meaningful and valuable and simply recycle the story—a story that existed in the first place only as a vehicle for a set of ideas. In this case, the original wasn’t just scary but was also quite beautiful, functional and serious—and, satirically, seriously funny.
     The original script is by Donald E. Westlake, from an original film story by himself, Carolyn Lefcourt and Brian Garfield. The director is Joseph Ruben, whose The Pom-Pom Girls (1976) and Joyride (1977) both contain incredibly good stuff (including a scene of resurrection in the latter that is powerful), and whose pilot for the TV series Breaking Away (1980) is more humane and delightful than Peter Yates’s cruel, manipulative theatrical film (1979). But without doubt The Stepfather is Ruben’s finest piece of work.
     Quinn plays Jerry Blake, an old-fashioned kind of guy who marries women as much for their at-home children as for themselves and murders them all when they disappoint his notion of the ideal family. Now he has married Susan Maine, whose rebellious teenage daughter, Stephanie, senses early on that something is not quite right about Jerry. Ruben’s witty, terrifying film is a satire about reactionary nostalgia—at the time, a stunning critique of the pathological personality and presidency of Ronald Reagan, who sentimentalized the “good old days” enshrined in TV family sitcoms of the 1950s and early ’60s.
     Shelley Hack is fine as Susan, who of course is trying to please her new spouse, but who fell for Jerry in the first place while mirror-imaging his desire: She wants a strong father to rein in Stephanie. It is better to listen to one’s offspring, however, than to a falsifying tune of the past.
     There is real suspense as to how this one is going to end.

B(U)Y THE BOOK

MY BOOK, A Short Chronology of World Cinema, IS CURRENTLY AVAILABLE FROM THE SANDS FILMS CINEMA CLUB IN LONDON. USING EITHER OF THE LINKS BELOW, ACCESS THE ADVERTISEMENT FOR THIS BOOK, FROM WHICH YOU CAN ORDER ONE OR MORE COPIES OF IT. THANKS.

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