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Film: The Stepfather

The Stepfather is a 1987 thriller film, written by esteemed crime novelist Donald E. Westlake and directed by Joseph Ruben. The film tells the story of an unnamed bluebeard Serial Killer obsessed with being a part of the perfect family, to such an extent that if his current family doesn't live up to expectations, he kills them and moves onto another.

The film was followed by two sequels, the first direct-to-video and the second made for tv (that doesn't inspire much confidence, does it?). A remake was released in 2009.


Provides Examples Of:

  • Affably Evil: Despite murdering women and children, the stepfather.
  • An Axe to Grind: The stepfather comes close to killing his current family with one in Stepfather III, but relents at the last minute.
  • Arc Words: "Who am I here?"
  • Back-Alley Doctor: The stepfather visits one at the beginning of Stepfather III, to get a new face after his escape from the institution.
  • Black Dude Dies First: Doctor Joseph Danvers (who gets shived in the neck) in Stepfather II.
  • Bloodier and Gorier: Stepfather III, the highlights being the shovel, rake and woodchipper deaths.
  • Bloodless Carnage: Due to its PG-13 status, the remake.
    • He kills all his onscreen victims via some form of oxygen deprivation.
  • Blood-Splattered Wedding Dress: Carol Grayland at the end of Stepfather II.
  • Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: Non-verbal example. Both the original and the remake begin with the stepfather going about his daily routine... then it reveals he's murdered his current family.
  • Bury Your Gays: Jackie in the remake.
  • But Not Too Gay: Its only pretty close to the end of the remake that we realize Jackie and Leah are lovers, and not just roomates or something.
  • Cat Scare: Right before Maddy's death in Stepfather II and Mrs. Cutters's death in the remake.
  • Continuity Nod: The remake has a lot of references to the original. Surprising, considering it was made by the same people who brought us the When a Stranger Calls and Prom Night (2008) remakes, both of which are borderline In Name Only.
    • Stepfather III has a few, like the stepfather mentioning he once worked in real estate, and later, during a Freak Out, he starts screaming "Who am I here?! WHO AM I HERE?!" The asylum he was placed in Stepfather II is also mentioned in a news broadcast.
  • Cool Old Guy: Father Brennan from Stepfather III. His death is actually pretty sad.
  • Decoy Protagonist: James "Jim" Ogilvie from the original film, who spends the bulk of the film trying to find his sister's killer. When he finally does, he... gets knifed before he can even pull his gun out.
  • Drop the Hammer: Todd Grayland takes the stepfather out with one, stabbing him in the chest with the claw end, in Stepfather II. The stepfather also contemplates killing his family with one in the original and Stepfather III.
  • Every Car Is a Pinto: The stepfather destroys a car in Stepfather II and Stepfather III. Both explode spectacularly.
  • Fanservice: Jill Schoelen has an entirely random and gratuitous topless shower scene in the original.
  • Five Second Foreshadowing: Susan's line "[The receptionist] probably just... got the name wrong, or something...", right before Jerry mixes up his identities.
  • Flashback Nightmare: The stepfather himself has one in Stepfather II.
  • Freak Out: Happens frequently when something or someone upsets the stepfather.
  • Grievous Bottley Harm: Phil's death in Stepfather II involves him being smashed and stabbed with a champagne bottle.
  • Horror Doesn't Settle for Simple Tuesday: Surprisingly, the series constantly flirts with this trope. The original had a sequence set on Thanksgiving, while the climax of the second takes place during a wedding. Not counting the prologue, Stepfather III begins on Easter, and ends on Father's Day, while the opening of the remake is set sometime around Christmas.
  • I Have Many Names: There is no way of telling what The Stepfather's real name is, or which one of them he believes it to be.
  • Idiot Ball: Firmly gripped by many characters in the remake. Especially Susan. Let's just say that if Susan had half a braincell, the low kill count of about six or so would be down by three.
  • Improvised Weapon: A board and phone in the original, plus random gardening equipment in Stepfather III.
  • Infant Immortality: Averted in the first few minutes of the original film, where the butchered body of a little girl is shown.
  • It's All About Me: Susan in the remake, so much so that she seems overly obnoxious compared to most other examples on that page. Her oldest son is unhappy with the stepfather and her best friend, ex-husband, and even an old lady down the street try to point out the oddities in her new husband's behavior, but she refuses to hear anything bad about the man, always countering the arguments with how good he is to her, how happy he makes her. Its actually quite possible she wasn't really oblivious to the warning signs so much as deluding herself into ignoring them.
  • Karma Houdini
    • The stepfather in the remake. He survives, gets away and is last seen charming another single woman with kids.
    • Susan was never called out, or even felt remorse, for ignoring all the warning signs that her fiance is a serial killer and thus leading to the deaths of a neighbor, her ex-husband, and her sister. The closest thing she ever got was almost getting killed. Though considering that the word possibly have gotten out that her fiance is a serial killer and that she was indirectly responsible for the deaths of those three, chances are that she will eventually.
  • Killed Off for Real: The stepfather finally dies for good in III, by way of a wood chipper.
  • Knife Nut: The stepfather has used a lot of different objects to kill people, but the knife is still his prefered weapon.
  • Magic Plastic Surgery: How the stepfather evades the authorities in Stepfather III.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: Doctor Bondurant in the original, Father Brennan in Stepfather III and Mrs. Cutter in the remake.
  • Murder Is the Best Solution: Family problems? Get the knife.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Kelly (played by Amber Heard) in the remake.
    • She almost never wears pants. This is lampshaded in the commentary.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The remake. Oh God, the remake. That awesome swinging buzzsaw scene that was in all the trailers and TV spots? Its completely absent from the film.
  • No Name Given: It's never stated what the stepfather's real name is. He even wonders which man is supposed to be towards the end of the film. This is what ultimately causes him to kill his current family.
  • Nosy Neighbor: Maddie in Stepfather II.
  • Overprotective Dad: When the stepfather sees his stepdaughter Stephanie kissing a boy named Paul in the original film he completely freaks out, claiming Paul was going to try and rape Stephanie.
  • Pet the Dog: Literally. When the stepfather loses it at the end and prepares to kill his new family, he takes some time to hug the little dog that he bought for his stepdaughter before, as he just couldn't kill the thing. Earlier in the movie, he also fondly remembers a previous dog he had.
  • Police Are Useless: Obviously in the remake, but what sets them apart from the others is the fact that they couldn't catch a severely injured man crawling away when they were a few feet away.
  • Red Herring: Mark Wraynal in Stepfather III. We're briefly lead to believe he's the stepfather, but it turns out to be Keith, who kills him via...
  • Shovel Strike: A particularly gory example of this.
  • Scars Are Forever: But its pretty easy to lie about how you got them.
  • Shower Scene: A pretty random one near the end of the original. There's probably more examples in the series.
  • Slashed Throat: The plastic surgeon's death in Stepfather III.
  • The Sociopath: The stepfather can easily be considered this.
  • Soft Glass: The stepfather punches through a car window to get at a victim in Stepfather III, actually cutting his hand up pretty badly and necessitating a bandage for the rest of the film.
    • In the remake, Michael smashes a window with his elbow, but doesn't get cut at all, and the sleeve of his hoodie remains intact, without even a few glass shards to show for it.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: "Silent Night" and a more "hardcore" rendition of "Happy Together" in the remake.
  • Standard '50s Father: The stepfather seems to think of himself as this, and at one point is explicitly compared to Ward Cleaver.
  • Stepford Smiler: The stepfather is a very cheerful individual, unless someone makes him angry.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Susan in the remake cannot take a hint that her fiance is a murderer to save her life. Neighbor claiming she saw his face on America's Most Wanted? Susan passes it off as someone else. Ex-husband saying that Susan's youngest son was throttled by her fiance? She does not bring it up again. note  Her sister telling Susan that her fiance left as soon as he had to fill out some employment forms, Susan laughs it off. You know you have a dumb as shit character when she does not get the message when her fiance is pointing a knife at her, along with a whole bunch of weapons laid out on the table, saying that she should punish her son more, then ask, "Who Am I here?". Mother of the year.
  • Unexplained Recovery: The stepfather obviously dies at the end of the first film, but shows up with only a large scar where he got stabbed in the sequel. Likewise, Stepfather II ends with him getting a claw hammer in the chest, which he also somehow survives.
  • The Unreveal: Four films and the stepfather still doesn't have an origin... or even a real name.
    • Doctor Danvers calls him "Bill Krieger" in the second film, though they don't actually outright state if that's his real name, or an old alias. The stepfather also apparently tells Danvers about his past... offscreen... he also could have been lying.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The inspiration for the series was mass murderer John Emil List, who killed his family, fled to Virginia, assumed another identity, remarried and wasn't caught for eighteen years.

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alternative title(s): The Stepfather
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