Stepfather II (1989) Review
Review by Dave
*** ½ Out of 5
Tagline- Make Room for Daddy
Release Date- November 3rd, 1989
Running Time- 88-Minutes
Screenplay- John Auerbach
Director- Jeff Burr
Starring- Terry O’Quinn, Meg Foster, Jonathon Brandis, Mitchell Laurance, Henry Brown and Caroline Williams as Matty Crimmins
Despite being killed at the end of the first movie the psychotic stepfather Jerry Blake (O’Quinn) or should I say Gene Clifford since that’s his new identity is still very much alive locked up in an insane asylum. The original movie was a surprise hit and was also generally well received by critics, but when a sequel can be made and let’s face it there’s always a way to make a sequel one will be made and in general in the horror genre sequels tend to be inferior to the originals and while Stepfather II may not break from that rule I actually have to admit I kinda liked this film a little bit more than the original.
The idea behind Stepfather II is basically the same as the original and if anything this movie is more a less of a rewrite of the original film and the only real difference is Joseph Ruben director of the original wanted to stray from slasher movie conventions and the movie plays out much more like a thriller with horror elements, but Stepfather II plays up a lot more to the slasher movie conventions, which wasn’t the original plan by director Jeff Burr; after the Weinstein’s got involved reshoots were ordered to add a little bit more gore and scenes were edited taking away some of the depth in favor of a faster paced slasher type flick. In some areas I think the changes might have actually helped the movie rather than hinder it, but it also dumbs the movie down a bit. In my opinion both versions have something going for it (the deleted, extended and alternate scenes can be seen on the SE DVD release).
Surviving the ordeal from the original film the evil stepfather escapes from an insane asylum (rather easily I should add) and now under the name Gene Clifford, he takes up residence in Los Angeles and is posing as a psychiatrist and focuses on single mother Carol Grayland (Foster) who has a young son Todd (Brandis). At first everything goes well, but soon enough things sour and Clifford is back to his old murderous ways that builds to a shocking showdown.
The screenplay by John Auerbach pretty much sticks to the element of the original film only with a few more deaths; like the first movie Stepfather II focuses on the characters rather than action and while it worked well in the original film and works well here I do think this movie might have benefited from more action. At this point we know what Gene is gonna do; he’ll be normal with a few breakdowns in private and then snap and go on his rampage. The biggest flaw is that Auerbach rehashes the original and doesn’t really add anything new to the series. Like the original, Clifford’s motives are never explained and while I kinda like that, but in the 2nd one perhaps a little tiny bit of an explanation was needed if only to keep it feeling fresh.
Auerbach does however do a nice job with the characters and they have some decent depth and I suppose in many ways they are similar to characters in the original, but they still work and are likeable; while the original has the better script mainly due to it being original and new, Auerbach does a nice job overall despite any problems I had with the script and again the characters are generally likeable and well-written and it only suffers from being a bit of a rehash.
Director Jeff Burr best known to horror fans for Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III takes over the series and despite the success of the first film the budget was lower and Burr manages to make a solid movie despite not having a lot of resources at his disposal. While Stepfather II might lack the eerie atmosphere of the original, Burr does manage however to put together some decent scenes of suspense and the pacing is mostly solid with very few lulls. Even though Stepfather II has a higher body count the movie doesn’t rely on deaths since after the first 3 deaths there are long stretches without any and quite honestly I thought Burr did a better job at keeping the movie interesting than Joseph Ruben did in the original. Like I said I liked the original, but felt the pacing at times could be a bit slow, but it’s made up for in eerie atmosphere and acting, but despite not having the same eerie tone, I felt Jeff Burr kept the pace moving a lot more swiftly.
As I stated Stepfather II plays up a lot more to the slasher movie conventions whereas the original avoided that for the most part. And like I brought up scenes were edited down and reshoots were done to make the deaths a bit more gory and while I understand why Jeff Burr would be upset and I would as well if I were in his position, but I think despite the edits and reshoots the film still turns out much better than expected and while the movie might lose some depth due to the edits and reshoots and make it more of the typical slasher flick of the era it does sort of also benefit the movie as it makes it better paced. Just a heads up the death scenes that were reshot you’ll know due to Terry O’Quinn not being seen; he didn’t take part in the reshoots, so when the deaths happen if you don’t see him that’s how you know it was part of a reshoot.
Like the original film it’s the cast that elevates the picture; Terry O’Quinn is again excellent, but he seems to play up to the camp factor a little more, which what makes the performance so excellent since he does something a little different. While he is still creepy he isn’t as chilling as he was in the original, but it was another great performance. Meg Foster wasn’t the original choice, but I think she was the right choice; I like a lot of her movies and quite honestly I can’t see anyone else playing the role of Carol any better. The late Jonathon Brandis is solid as the soon to be stepson. But it’s Caroline Williams as Matty who steals the show; Williams is best known for her role as Stretch in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre II.
While most people favor the original film, which is understandable since from a filmmaking aspect I suppose the original is the better film overall and the original also has an eerie atmosphere, but like I said I enjoyed this one a bit more. Its better paced and a little more exciting even if more of the standard slasher flick. Stepfather II may not be a perfect film, but it gets the job done and turns out highly entertaining.