Follow TV Tropes


Film / The Stepfather

Go To

The Stepfather is a 1987 thriller film, written by esteemed crime novelist Donald Westlake and directed by Joseph Ruben. The film tells the story of an unnamed bluebeard Serial Killer (played by Terry O'Quinn) 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 first film was famous for putting O'Quinn on the map, with even Roger Ebert raving about his acting.

The film was followed by two sequels, the first direct-to-video and the second made for television and replacing O'Quinn with Robert Wightman. A remake was released in 2009.


Provides examples of:

    open/close all folders 

    In General 
  • Affably Evil: The Stepfather, in the first two films, at least. He legitimately does want to make his brides and their children happy and to be apart of an idyllic family unit with them, and throughout the series he's shown partaking in and genuinely enjoying social gatherings, counselling, church and charity work, etc. Unfortunately, he's a borderline-psychotic perfectionist with Uncontrollable Rage (which he is aware of, going by scenes like the one in II where he asks if his new home has a basement) that makes him prone to violent overreactions and Crime After Crime. He Took a Level in Jerkass in III, and is more overtly sociopathic and a much harsher Control Freak in the remake, which also did away with his implied Freudian Excuse (during a few of his aforementioned freak outs, he's seemingly reliving some kind of abuse, an element absent from the remake, where his freak outs are just plain old tantrums).
  • Arc Words: "Who am I here?"
  • Archnemesis Dad / Wicked Stepfather: zigzagged. Sometimes he bonds with the child, sometimes he doesn’t. In all three films it’s the child, not the wife who finishes him off.
  • Ax-Crazy: The Stepfather does not take it well whenever something does not go his way, or whenever someone threatens his marital bliss (even if that someone is his wife or stepchild).
  • The Bluebeard: The Stepfather specifically seeks out women, them having children is merely a bonus.
  • Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: Non-verbal example. Both the original 1987 film and the 2009 remake, begin with the stepfather going about his daily routine... then it reveals he's murdered his current family.
  • Freak Out: Happens frequently when something or someone upsets the stepfather.
  • He Knows Too Much: Aside from killing those who acts as competition (like Phil in the second film), or do not fit with his values like the families he butchered, or simply just get in the way, the stepfather also kill those who suspects him of being not what he initially appeared to be to tie up loose ends, such as Dr. A. Bondurant and James "Jim" Ogilvie in the first film. Susan in the first film, aside from being targeted for not living up to the stepfather's standards, nearly got offed early when she suspects something's wrong when she discovered the stepfather quit his job several days ago without informing her and witnessed the stepfather mixed up his identities. The protagonists of films finds themselves in this predicament as well once they discovered what the stepfather's truly is.
  • 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.
  • Ironic Nursery Tune: The stepfather often whistles "Camptown Races" after his murders.
  • Knife Nut: The stepfather has used a lot of different objects to kill people, but the knife is still his preferred weapon.
  • Master Actor: The stepfather is almost supernaturally talented at reinventing himself.
  • Master of Disguise: The stepfather has the tendency to alter his appearance and change his name when it comes to finding a new family after killing the last one.
  • Ms. Fanservice:
    • All of the mothers the stepfather marries in the original trilogy (Shelley Hack, Meg Foster, and Priscilla Barnes respectively) are good-looking and each have a passionate sex scene with him. Granted, the latter can also be Fan Disservice since by then it has been made clear that the stepfather is a Serial Killer.
    • Kelly (played by Amber Heard) in the remake, who almost never wears pants. This is lampshaded in the DVD commentary.
  • Murder Is the Best Solution: Family problems? Get the knife.
  • Mysterious Past: Four films and the stepfather still doesn't have an origin... or even a real name. Closest we get is Doctor Danvers calling 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.
  • 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.
  • Pater Familicide: When he snaps, the Stepfather wipes out everyone, from wife to children to any other relatives unfortunate enough to be in the house at the time.
  • Scars Are Forever: But its pretty easy to lie about how you got them.
  • Sinister Whistling: The titular Stepfather often whistles the tune of "Camp Down Races" to himself, usually after he commits a murder.
  • The Sociopath: The stepfather can easily be considered this.
  • Standard '50s Father: The stepfather seems to think of himself as this, and at one point is explicitly compared to Ward Cleaver from Leave It to Beaver.
  • Stepford Smiler: The stepfather is a very cheerful individual, unless someone makes him angry.
  • They Look Just Like Everyone Else!: One of the scariest things about the Stepfather is that he looks and acts like a normal guy.
  • 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.
  • Villain Protagonist: The stepfather is the real main focal point of the films, while anyone out to stop him actually qualifies as a Hero Antagonist.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: The stepfather, in the original at least.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: The trope that does not involve any henchmen in this series of films. The stepfather would kill the last family for not living up to his expectations before moving to the next one until a point they fatally don't live up to his standards as well. This is at least one of the motives behind his mass-murders of families.
  • You're Not My Father: At least Once an Episode, there'll be a scene where a stepchild says this.

    The Stepfather (1987) 
  • Amateur Sleuth: James "Jim" Ogilvie has no formal law enforcement or investigation training, but spent a good chunk of the first movie following the stepfather's trail from town to town to apprehend his sister's killer outside of the law.
  • Color Motifs: The Stepfather either wears red or has something red nearby.
  • Drop the Hammer: The stepfather contemplates killing his family with one.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: James "Jim" Ogilvie, who's been treated as a major character in the first film, gets killed off unceremoniously in the climax and treated as another Red Shirt on the Stepfather's bodycount following that.
  • Fanservice: Jill Schoelen has an entirely random and gratuitous topless shower scene.
  • Five-Second Foreshadowing: Susan's line about how the receptionist "probably just... got the name wrong, or something...", right before Jerry mixes up his identities.
  • Guess Who I'm Marrying?: The Stepfather is introduced as a mass murderer, and when we next see him, he and Susan are together.
  • Improvised Weapon: A board (which is used to fatally beat Bondurant) and a telephone (which is used to smack around Susan).
  • Infant Immortality: Averted in the first few minutes of the film, as a butchered body of a little girl is shown.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: The Stepfather bludgeons Doctor Bondurant, and then makes it look like he was the victim of a car accident.
  • Overprotective Dad: When the stepfather sees his stepdaughter Stephanie kissing a boy named Paul 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.
  • Pop-Star Composer: The film's score was composed by former Yes and Moody Blues keyboardist Patrick Moraz.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: Happens to James "Jim" Ogilvie, 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.
  • Shower Scene: A pretty random one near the end involving Jill Schoelen, whose character wasn't a Ms. Fanservice up until then, and in fact, was established as being only 16.
  • The Shrink: Stephanie’s psychiatrist Dr. Bondurant, who is of the Awesome Shrink variety.
  • Spot the Thread: When Bondurant poses as 'Ray Martin', a "confirmed bachelor" in the market for a new house, he mentions that he has a wife without thinking, and the stepfather immediately picks up on it, confirming his own suspicions about it being a trap of some kind. Bondurant tries to backpedal, claiming he was recently divorced and that it was a slip of the tongue, but it doesn't work.
  • Vigilante Man: James "Jim" Ogilvie is an Amateur Sleuth example; he even arms himself with a revolver with an intent, under the advice of a police detective he met, to blow him away upon confronting him rather then just simply apprehend him.
  • Wham Line: "'Hodgkins', what's to get wrong?!"

    Stepfather II (1989) 

    Stepfather III (1992) 
  • An Axe to Grind: The stepfather comes close to killing his current family with one, but relents at the last minute.
  • Back-Alley Doctor: The stepfather visits one at the beginning of the film, to get a new face after his escape from the institution.
  • Bloodier and Gorier: Much more emphasis is put on the kills, the highlights being the shovel, rake and woodchipper deaths.
  • Continuity Nod: 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, who shares Andy's interest in solving mysteries, and even starts helping him to find info on his stepfather.
  • Drop the Hammer: Annoyed with his wife, the stepfather moves in to bash her brains with one, but is stopped by the last minute by two potential witnesses.
  • Every Car Is a Pinto: The stepfather pushes Father Brennan's car over a cliff, and it explodes on impact.
  • Horror Doesn't Settle for Simple Tuesday: Not counting the prologue, Stepfather III begins on Easter, and ends on Father's Day.
  • Improvised Weapon: The Stepfather now works at a greenhouse, so most of the victims are dispatched with gardening equipment.
  • Killed Off for Real: The stepfather finally dies for good, by being pushed into a wood chipper.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: The stepfather makes Father Brennan's death seem like he had a car accident.
  • Numbered Sequels
  • Red Herring: Mark Wraynal. 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.
  • Slashed Throat: The stepfather kills the backalley plastic surgeon by cutting his throat open with a bonesaw.
  • Soft Glass: Averted. The stepfather punches through a car window to get at a victim, cutting his hand up pretty badly and necessitating a bandage for the rest of the film.
  • Unexplained Recovery: Stepfather II ends with the Family Killer getting a claw hammer in the chest, which he somehow survived.

    The Stepfather (2009) 
  • Adaptational Villainy: The stepfather, who comes across as much more of a cold-blooded sociopath in the remake compared to his predecessor, who was probably insane.
  • Bloodless Carnage: Due to its PG-13 status. He kills all his onscreen victims via some form of oxygen deprivation.
  • Bury Your Gays: Jackie, though the fact that she's a lesbian is only made clear shortly before her death.
  • But Not Too Gay: Its only pretty close to the end of the film that we realize Jackie and Leah are lovers, and not just roommates or something.
  • Call-Back: The film 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 remakes, both of which are borderline In Name Only.
  • Cat Scare: Happens right before Mrs. Cutters's death.
  • Horror Doesn't Settle for Simple Tuesday: The opening of the film is set sometime around Christmas.
  • Idiot Ball: Firmly gripped by many characters. 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.
  • It's All About Me: Susan, 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.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: Mrs. Cutter. The Stepfather knocks her down a flight of stairs, and then asphyxiates her in a way (holding her nose and mouth shut while wearing gloves) that leaves no evidence, so investigators are left to assume that she died from the fall.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: That awesome swinging buzzsaw scene that was in all the trailers and TV spots? Its completely absent from the film.
  • Police Are Useless: Obviously, 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.
  • Soft Glass: 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" appear during less-than-peaceful moments.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Susan 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.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Stepfather while Sean is playing videogames.


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: