Category Archives: Valley of the Cheapjack Franchises

Aromatherapy

reeker 2005REEKER

3 Stars  2005/15/87m

“Evil is in the air.”

Director/Writer: Dave Payne / Cast: Devon Gummersall, Tina Illman, Scott Whyte, Derek Richardson, Arielle Kebbell, Michael Ironside, Eric Mabius, David Hadinger.

Body Count: 8

Laughter Lines: “Are you afraid of the dark?” / “No, I’m afraid of psycho desert crackheads who hunt small animals with Dahmer’s garden tools.”


Spoilers in the road ahead. Commencing with a great double-shock opener which gives new meaning to the term roadkill, this strange little film, with echoes of Dead End, the terrible Soul Survivors, and even The Sixth Sense, strands five college kids during a ride share for a desert festival at a seemingly abandoned roadhouse.

The phones are out, nobody’s around for miles, and whomever was there before them was obviously a bit mad – and might still be there. They’re soon joined by Michael Ironside in his enormous RV, looking for his absent wife. Apparent ghosts also appear, though only to us, the characters can’t see them for the most part.

A bad smell fills the air and an incorporeal cloaked figure manifests to start killing everybody one by one with a variety of almost comically oversized and bizarre contraptions, forecast each time by the stench – one poor soul is pulled down into an outhouse toilet, recalling Sleepaway Camp II. The characters fall as expected, leaving the predictable pair to duke it out with their hunter. The blind guy falls back on his other senses to help save the day.

reeker 2005

The twist – obvious to anyone who has seen the aforementioned titles – is nicely realised and elevates Reeker from being confusingly dumb to a little bit smart, wrapping up its loose ends without the need to staple gun on a last second shock.

Going the funny-gruesome route was the right move and there are some genuinely LOL moments from Scott Whyte’s paranoid frat boy, and Ironside is dependably amusing. A pre-Ugly Betty Eric Mabius also turns up as a nasty drug dealer. Watch to the end of the credits to read the disclaimer from the filmmakers calling out critics before they whip up any clever puns on the title to say the movie stinks.

*

NO MAN’S LAND: THE RISE OF THE REEno man's land rise of the reekerKER

2 Stars  2008/18/85m

“Terror lurks between the living and the dead.”

Director/Writer: Dave Payne / Cast: Michael Muhney, Mircea Monroe, Stephen Martines, Valerie Cruz, Robert Pine, Desmond Askew, Gil Birmingham, Michael Robert Brandon, Ben Gunther.

Body Count: 10

Laughter Lines: “Bad smells are nature’s warning.”


Reeker‘s semi-clever twist was clearly enough for creator Dave Payne to forge ahead with a sequel with bits of a prequel to prevent in from becoming a Xerox of the first one. Both play like reverse Final Destination instalments though: The cast members of gorily offed by the blurry Krueger-esque creature, and the high concept FX work is showcased at the end as the event that caused their induction into limbo is revealed.

It’s back to the secluded diner again, with a trio of bank hopeless robbers in the mix, father and son issues between local Sheriffs, and not-so-funny comic relief is inserted to try and thicken and lend depth to the characters, but little of it works after the opening manoeuvre, which veers off in a not so predictable direction.

The ultimate catastrophe is good, but not different enough to that of the first film, rendering it all a bit void. Askew is good as the leader of the rubbish robbers though.

Blurbs-of-interest: Michael Ironside was also in American NightmareVisiting HoursHello Mary Lou: Prom Night IIChildren of the Corn: Revelation, and Fallen Angels; Arielle Kebbell was also in Red Mist; Desmond Askew was in Turistas.

Valley of the Cheapjack Franchises: JOY RIDE

joy ride 2001

JOY RIDE

3 Stars  2001/15/93m

A.k.a. RoadKill (UK)

Director: John Dahl / Writers: J.J. Abrams & Clay Tarver / Cast: Paul Walker, Steve Zahn, Leelee Sobieski, Jessica Bowman, Ted Levine (voice).

Body Count: 2

Laughter Lines: “I’m not going anywhere until somebody tells me why I should be afraid of a radio.”


There’s a sad irony that the late Paul Walker featured in several movies that centered on reckless driving and its relative consequences.

Joy Ride sprang up in 2001 at the tail end of the teen-slasher/thriller cycle, hijacking elements of Spielberg’s debut classic Duel and mixing them with Screamie stalker madness from a classic prank gone wrong opus, resulting in a solid chiller, albeit not one with a body count.

College kid Lewis Thomas (Walker) is due to fly back to New Jersey from Berkeley, California, for summer vacation and, on a whim, purchases a car on the basis of picking up his unrequited object of lust Venna (Sobieski) from her Colorado school and cruising back east slowly. On route, he’s asked to pick up his wayward brother Fuller (Zahn) from jail in Salt Lake City.

joy ride 2001 steve zahn paul walker roadkill

Fuller installs a CB radio into the 1971 sedan (’71 being the year Duel was made) to get the heads up on a clear run to Denver, and the brothers end up playing a prank on a creepy sounding trucker who identifies himself as Rusty Nail. Fuller convinces Lewis into impersonating a horny female trucker and, when they encounter a racist asshole at a motel, lure Rusty Nail to the guy’s room with the promise of sex. One near-fatal beating later, the brothers confess to the cops their prank and are told to get going.

Down the road somewhat, Rusty Nail’s voice comes back over the airwaves demanding an apology, which Fuller flat out refuses to do, and, in a true “the call is coming from inside the house” moment, it turns out he is right behind them on the freeway. The brothers flee and are accosted by the big scary truck, and eventually given a stay of execution when they apologise.

But Rusty Nail doesn’t move on so easily and continues to stalk them, even when they pick up Venna from her school, kidnapping her roommate in a bid to exact further revenge, which includes making the brothers walk naked into a diner to order cheeseburgers, a cat and mouse chase around a cornfield, and playing them off against one another over their mutual attraction to Venna.

joy ride 2001 leelee sobieski

Predicament thrillers are usually only good for a single watch, once you’re confronted with some of the bizarre decisions the characters make (they sometimes have to be bad to drive the plot forward), and Joy Ride lacks incessant rewatchability, but is helped along by Dahl’s nice direction, keeping Rusty Nail as an off-camera presence, and the likeable trio of leads, although you’d want to kick Fuller’s ass out of the car if you were either of the other two. The entire final act was re-shot, and the DVD features a total of four alternate endings, of which the happiest was chosen for theatrical releases. Possibly trying to lean away from becoming ‘just another slasher flick’, options for a few extra homicides were skipped, wrapping it up tamely.

Jeepers Creepers made slightly better use of Duel‘s creepier aesthetics and beat Joy Ride to the punch by just over a month, and is just as askew a slasher flick – but then came the sequels…

*

JOY RIDE 2: DEAD AHEADjoy ride 2 dead ahead 2008 roadkill 2

3 Stars  2008/18/90m

“Detours can be deadly.”

A.k.a. RoadKill 2 (UK)

Director: Louis Morneau / Writers: James Robert Johnston & Bennett Yellin / Cast: Nick Aycox, Nick Zano, Laura Jordan, Kyle Schmid, Mark Gibbon.

Body Count: 4


This efficient enough DVD follow up moves the series into neo-teen slasher territory, borrowing from the likes of Wrong Turn and Wolf Creek, as a quartet of young folks on their way to a joint bachelor/bachelorette party in Las Vegas break down on a dusty backroad when trying to save time.

They happen across a remote ranch house where the mail hasn’t been collected in over a month, break in, find the phones don’t work, and decide to ‘borrow’ a classic 1971 Chevy Chevelle, with the intention to rent a car in the next town, bring it back and leave cash for any damages. Good girl/bride-to-be Melissa even leaves a note with her number.

Naturally, the ranch belongs to Rusty Nail, who decapitated a hooker in the prologue, and finds his plans for downtime scuppered by this new drama. Thus, he kidnaps groom-to-be Bobby from a roadhouse bathroom and calls the others, sending them on several humiliating missions to get him back. First thing he wants is Kayla’s finger after she flipped him off, so they break into a morgue to retrieve one from a corpse. Melissa then has to do a striptease in front of his truck. Kayla’s internet-boyfriend Nik then has to dress as a woman and score some crank.

joy ride 2 2008

Rusty Nail, as we expected, isn’t going to play so fair, and Joy Ride 2 reaches an interesting third act as the girls race to save the boys, both of whom are bound to chairs in Rusty’s lair and tortured in a reversal of the usual scenario (and that of the original).

While the Duel-pilfering is kept on the lowdown (there’s a short car chase), the horror and grue is ratcheted up in its place, with the antagonist slotting into a sort of sub-Ben Willis position, facially still kept off camera. There’s a gross open-mouth garrotting, which recalls Wrong Turn. Nicki Aycox – previously seen fending off the winged beastie of Jeepers Creepers II – makes for a heroine you can root for and avoids some of the dumber decisions that tend to plague these things. Given the small cast, the wheels turn at a fast enough pace to make this worth a look.

*

joy ride 3 roadkill 2014JOY RIDE 3: ROADKILL

3 Stars

Director/Writer: Declan O’Brien / Cast: Ken Kirzinger, Jesse Hutch, Kirsten Prout, Benjamin Hollingsworth, Leela Savasta, Gianpaolo Venuta, Jake Manley, Dean Armstrong, James Durham.

Body Count: 7

Laughter Lines: “Some say it’s aliens… I say it’s the damn government – the NSA!!!”


Rusty’s third outing is actually a lot better than it ought to be, given that the writing and directing reigns were handed to Declan O’Brien, who outdoes the combined efforts of the three Wrong Turn sequels he turned out. I also like that the film’s subtitle, Roadkill (though curiously not on the film itself) was the UK title for the franchise, which should, by rights, make this one Roadkill 3: Roadkill, but it looks like they didn’t even bother and just kept the original moniker.

A couple of meth-heads plot to rob whichever strung-out trucker they can lure to their hotel room and, of course, pick on the wrong fellow, who overpowers them and chains the pair to the hood of his Peterbilt, challenging them to hang on for a mile, at which point he’ll set them free with a bag of crystal for their trouble. Predictably, their thirst for a high gets the better of them and they end up dragged under the truck and left in chunks along the freeway. Roll titles.

joy ride 3 2014

We meet the meat in the form of six members of the Wells Racing team, who are on their way to some tournament or other when they learn of a possible shortcut that’ll save them a day. I know, it is virtually the same plot as The Hills Have Eyes Part II. The old Highway 17, affectionately known as Slaughter Alley, will go unpatrolled so they let loose and end up pissing off guess who?

The Duel-inspired action missing from the previous film reasserts itself to decent effect, as the team’s two cars and Rusty’s truck barrel down the deserted highway, eventually escaping his lethal manoeuvres but far from off the hook, as he succeeds in capturing two of them and holding them to ransom, apparently willing to exchange them for the race car.

joy ride 3 2014

The series ventures further into slasher territory, with gruesome demises including the fingers and then the face of one poor soul forced into a fan, a shrinking chain suit thingy, and a guy’s head squashed between a jack and the underside of a truck. A showdown at a wrecking yard reveals a decent twist so that the predicted survivors are changed around a bit, although they resistance against further sequels proves too tempting for some and, well, you can look out for Joy Ride 4: Full Throttle circa 2020 at this rate of turnover.

A little tight-budgeted but still surprisingly fun stuff.

Overall-blurbs-of-interest: Nick Zano was in The Final Destination; Kyle Schmid was in Fear Island; Jesse Hutch was in The Tooth Fairy and Freddy vs Jason, in which Ken Kirzinger played the hockey masked one and got to squish him with a fold-up bed. Kirzinger was also in Stan Helsing and Wrong Turn 2; Kirsten Prout was in My Super Psycho Sweet 16 Parts 2 and 3; Dean Armstrong was in O’Brien’s Wrong Turn 4.

Valley of the Overlooked Franchises: Maniac Cop

Yeeeee in a time when trust in the cops not to shoot you is lower than a Madonna chart debut, it’s surprising that they’re remaking it. But until that happens – and also, if ever – let’s revisit the trilogy of original 80s-into-90s thriller-cum-slasher-zombie flicks. Some spoilers follow.

*

maniac cop 1988

MANIAC COP

3.5 Stars  1988/18/82m

“You have the right to remain silent… forever.”

Director: William Lustig / Writer: Larry Cohen / Cast: Tom Atkins, Bruce Campbell, Laurene Landon, Richard Roundtree, William Smith, Sheree North, Robert Z’Dar.

Body Count: 16

Laughter Lines: “You always take a leak with a gun in your hand? That’s a good way to blow your balls off!”


RoboCopSumurai CopBeverly Hills Cop, Kindergarten CopPsycho Cop and Maniac Cop – sure were a lot of ‘Something Cop’ movies around in the mid-80s-to-early-90s. While most of these garnered a following – maybe not Psycho Cop - and several generated sequels of their own, Maniac Cop is a strange venture, a weird fusion of ideas from action thrillers with some voodoo-slasher shit mixed in too.

Starting as so many serial killer films have, a young woman is walking home alone in New York City, tormented by some thugs, she runs into a uniformed cop – BUT THEN HE KILLS HER! The thugs are the only witnesses but nobody believes them. Soon after, a guy is pushed face down into drying cement and a driver slashed to death over a traffic violation – all in the first twelve minutes.

New York is in the throes of terror – which of the boys in blue has turned to slaying the residents? Grizzled detective Tom Atkins is on the case and in shepherded into suspecting Bruce Campbell’s beat cop, Jack Forrest, after his wife turns up dead she follows him, having received a series of calls from a mystery voice who keeps telling her that Jack is the killer. Turns out Forrest was just having it away with vice cop Theresa Mallory (Landon). Concerned to clear his name, the two of them investigate the suspicious death of a cop sent to Sing Sing some years earlier and was beaten to death by inmates – or was he?

maniac cop 1988 tom atkins bruce campbell robert z'dar laurene landon

Before Forrest and Mallory can alert the important people to the truth, the undead cop – old-style super-cop Matt ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ Cordell – goes on a rampage around their precinct, even turning on his old flame after she tries to tell him he’s losing control.

Maniac Cop crams a lot into 82 minutes (look for Sam Raimi’s cameo) and is thus never boring. Cordell’s carnage-creating romp around HQ is expertly done; A scene where Malloy is handcuffed to a body; Car chases with slo-mo crashes, and all manner of creative shots and visual cues that serve to keep the horrors of the killer’s face out of shot. A longer cut with more to say on the city-in-fear perspective would be interesting, as that kinda gets left behind once our leading lovers suss out what’s really going on and who has covered up what.

Lustig and Cohen worked together on all three movies and separately have a few slasher credits between them (notably, Lustig directed the nasty Maniac, which also makes the most of NYC as a player), but this is arguably a stand-out. Although rarely bandied in with slasher movies, it has enough elements to include it, even if some of those were traded in for more mainstream concerns in the follow-ups.

*

maniac cop 2 1990MANIAC COP 2

3 Stars  1990/18/84m

“You have the right to remain silent… forever.” – again??

Director: William Lustig / Writer: Larry Cohen / Cast: Robert Davi, Claudia Christian, Michael Lerner, Bruce Campbell, Laurene Landon, Robert Z’Dar, Clarence Williams III, Leo Rossi, Lou Bonacki, Paula Trickey, Charles Napier.

Body Count: 32

Laughter Lines: “Shooting Cordell is only good for getting his attention.”


At the end of the first one, it was plainly obvious Matt Cordell wasn’t done with his Make New York Obedient Again missive, and so he returns shortly after his ‘death’ to take revenge, quickly doing away with Forrest and Mallory, who transfer the reigns of hero over to Robert Davi’s Detective McKinney and a department shrink (Christian), who has had a hard time believing Mallory, until she comes face to face with Cordell for herself.

After this solid first act, things begin to wobble as Cordell inexplicably teams up with serial killer-of-strippers Leo Rossi, breaks into Sing Sing to finish off the inmates who ‘murdered’ him, and go on a machine gun spree at police HQ, which explains that sky-high body count.

There are still some great scenes, peaking with Landon and Christian in a cab, attacked by Cordell, who handcuffs the latter to the steering wheels and sends her off down the city streets while he takes care of Mallory for good.

Some fun parts, but it lacks the charm of the first one. Joe Spinnell was originally to play the role taken by Leo Rossi, but died before production began and so the film carries a dedication to him.

*

maniac cop 3

MANIAC COP 3: BADGE OF SILENCE

2.5 Stars  1992/18/81m

“The wrong arm of the law is back.”

A.k.a. MC3: Maniac Cop 3

Director: William Lustig / Writer: Larry Cohen / Cast: Robert Davi, Caitlin Dulany, Gretchen Becker, Robert Z’Dar, Paul Gleason, Jackie Earle Haley, Robert Forster, Julius Harris, Doug Savant, Bobby Di Cicco.

Body Count: at least 18


A religious oddball resurrects Matt Cordell for no reason, just as a decorated female cop (Becker) is shot during an armed robbery and set up by the media to be a Cordell-like villain. Our maniac cop develops a bit of a crush on her and sets about clearing her name in the only way he knows how – by killing all of those responsible, as well as anyone else who crosses his path.

Davi returns as McKinney, this time joined by Caitlin Dulany as a doctor who just stands around in designer workwear looking pretty and screaming on cue.

More in the mould of a slasher film than the previous entry, but loses itself in a series of plot holes you could navigate the Titanic through. Still, as before, it’s a fun ride with lush production values and doesn’t outstay its welcome. Had so much time not passed, and Lustig not quit the project (his original cut was shorter than an hour!), from that ending we could’ve expected Bride of Maniac Cop to follow in 1994.

Overall blurbs-of-interest: Tom Atkins was in My Bloody Valentine 3D; Bruce Campbell appears briefly in Intruder; Robert Z’Dar was also in Grotesque; Michael Learner was in National Lampoon’s Class Reunion; Leo Rossi was Bud in Halloween II; Robert Forster was in Lustig’s Uncle Sam and also the 1998 Psycho remake; Charles Napier was in Camping Del Terrore and Wacko; Jackie Earle Haley was the new Freddy Krueger; Bobby Di Cicco was in The Baby Doll Murders; William Smith was in Valley of Death.

Valley of the Mid-Range Franchises: HOLLOW MAN

hollow man 2000HOLLOW MAN

4 Stars  2000/18/112m

“Think you’re alone? Think again.”

Director: Paul Verhoeven / Writers: Gary Scott Thompson & Andrew W. Marlowe / Cast: Kevin Bacon, Elisabeth Shue, Josh Brolin, William Devane, Kim Dickens, Greg Grunberg, Mary Randle, Joey Slotnick.

Body Count: 6


It’s doubtful the director of Total Recall and RoboCop would approve of anybody dubbing Hollow Man a slasher flick and most reviews at the time seemed oblivious to the pretty by-the-number stalk n’ slash opus that takes up the final act of a very ambitious movie.

Kevin Bacon is at centre-stage (sort of) as self-worshipping scientist Sebastian Caine, pioneer of a government project that turns living things absolutely invisible thanks to your go-to miracle serum. After initial and successful tests on animals, Caine volunteers to be the first human guinea pig in a scene that – at the time at least – was amazing enough to earn the movie an Academy nomination for best FX work (it lost to Gladiator).

He uses his new invisibility to do what most narcissistic heterosexual guys would do – he spies on his female co-workers, plays pranks on the other team members and is generally an ass.

However, when neither he nor the team can crack the restorative process, the consequences of having no reflection, no eyelids to enable sleep, and little conscience to begin with, Caine begins sliding down the rabbit hole. The latex masked made so he can be seen by the others is later removed and he discovers that former squeeze Linda (Shue) is now involved with other co-worker Matt (Brolin). Their lack of progress and Caine’s changing personality prompts a plan to confess all to the Pentagon and take their punishment for the deception.

hollow man 2000 kevin bacon

Predictably, Caine won’t have it and resolves to locking the rest of the team in their underground laboratory and killing them one by one. How’s that for a masked killer?

Gory stuff but not in the usual slashed throat / decapitated head way – the transformations in and out of invisibility are graphic as we’re given explicit glances at the interiors of the body, which isn’t so pretty – and Bacon happily goes full frontal again, levelling the objectification-by-gender table.

The FX work is the star here, and the film straddles its hybrid sensibilities between sci-fi, action and horror comfortably, almost as if it’s been concocted in a lab itself, with elements of Scream married to The Invisible Man and coated in Verhoeven’s clinical style of direction and Shue makes for a spunky heroine.

Listen out for the awesome Wonder Woman joke.

*

HOLLOW MAN II hollow man 2 2006

3 Stars  2006/15/92m

“There’s more to terror than meets the eye.”

Director: Claudio Faeh / Writers: Gary Scott Thompson & Joel Soisson / Cast: Peter Facinelli, Laura Regan, Christian Slater, David McIlwraith, William MacDonald, Sarah Deakins, Jessica Harmon, John Shaw, Bruce Dawson.

Body Count: 11

Laughter Lines: “You’ve really outdone yourself this time, usually when you people make a mess at least you can see it.”


Verhoeven returned as executive producer for this efficient enough straight-to-DVD sequel, in which the last of three invisible assassins from the DoD’s ‘Silent Knight’ operation is desperately trying to track down Laura Regan’s biologist, the only person with the knowledge to prevent his body deteriorating the same way as his predecessors.

In the meantime, he’s happy to eliminate anybody who gets in his way as well as various government high-ups responsible for his condition. For the most part, this is a chase-flick with biologist and the cop assigned to protect her on the run from Mr Invisible.

While clearly made for a helluva lot less than the first film, it’s still a handsomely put together and what visual FX are in play are done well enough, if not as CG-centric as before. Where a bit more investment could’ve helped is in the script itself, which, although armed by a good enough story built around the future of the project (events from HM1 are briefly referenced), there doesn’t seem to be very far to go with it. Perhaps it would’ve worked better as a TV show?

hollow man 2 2006

No more or less slashy than before; there’s a naked teen tryst in an early scene where, of course, when it’s time for the guy’s clothes to come off, the girl gets spooked so we only see her boobs and nothing of him. Yawn.

Blurbs-of-interest: Kevin Bacon was an early victim of Mama Voorhees in Friday the 13th; Christian Slater was in both Mindhunters and Playback; Laura Regan was the heroine in My Little Eye; Jessica Harmon was in Fear Island.

Valley of the Mid-Range Franchises: The Stepfather

For a long time I didn’t really consider The Stepfather movies to be slasher flicks: Slightly too-highbrow (the first one, at least) and more in common with the rush of late-80s demented family member/one night stand/roommate/nanny thrillers.

However, the titular character does kill his way through the three movies, laying to waste those who disrupt his vision of familial bliss. That the films are less about a string of victims and more focused on the facade created by the stepfather is relevant, but they’re cool films so let’s love them anyway…

the stepfather 1987THE STEPFATHER

3.5 Stars  1987/18/85m

“Jerry Blake loves taking care of the family. Any family.”

Director: Joseph Ruben / Writers: Carolyn Lefcourt, Brian Garfield & Donald E. Westlake / Cast: Terry O’Quinn, Jill Schoelen, Shelley Hack, Stephen Shellen, Charles Lanyer, Stephen E. Miller.

Body Count: 4

Laughter Lines: (to the grieving sibling of a murder victim) “Why don’t you get on with the rest of your life and forget about it?”


As the product of a family where the parents have stayed together for over 40 years, I don’t have much insight into what it’s like to grow up with a single parent and have a prospective new partner enter the scene, disrupting the routine that you likely cling on to in the wake of a divorce or loss.

I can only imagine what it must be like to have someone try to be your new best friend, especially if they glow with a plastic Ward Cleaver aura, one that feels so forced that, in the wake of films like this, you’d automatically suspect them of having some literal skeletons in their closet.

For Stephanie Maine (then-burgeoning scream queen Jill Schoelen), this is a nightmare come true as, after her father’s death, her mother has remarried Jerry Blake – smilin’ family guy, realtor, doting dad, unhinged psychopath. Beyond the expected issues of coping with her loss, Stephanie gets expelled from school and blames all of her problems on Jerry and his transparent attempts to reach her: The usual ‘champ’, ‘slugger’ platitudes, buying her a puppy etc…

step1-2

Of course, we know better having seen ‘Jerry’ dramatically alter his appearance and walk out on his slain previous family in the prologue, slipping effortlessly into a new life.

At a party hosted by the family, Stephanie gets a glimpse of Jerry’s hidden persona as he throws an anger hissy in the basement where he thinks he’s out of sight. Over hearing the tale of the still uncaptured family-slayer, Stephanie begins to believe Jerry is that guy.

Like the thrillers that came in its wake, a large midsection of The Stepfather concerns Jerry thwarting Stephanie’s attempts to out him, while mother Susan looks on, thinking all is rosy. He also finds time to murder Steph’s shrink and mocking up an accident, the event that eventually brings them closer, that is until he flips about her kissing her crush on the doorstep.

stepfather 1987 jill schoelen

Jerry finally decides enough is enough and begins sculpting a new life in preparation for getting shot of Susan and Stephanie and starting anew elsewhere, but unfortunately for him, not only does he confuse his identities, but the brother of his last wife has been busy tracking him down and is about to show up with a gun in hand. Things shunt into slasher gear when Stephanie is attacked and has to save herself.

O’Quinn’s commitment to what could easily have been a campy, over-hammed role as Dad is what carries both this and the sequel beyond the contrivances of the plot (more pertinent in the follow-up). His natural intensity, later seen in Lost, and a talent for balancing his below-the-surface psychotic tendencies with the outward guy-next-door charm is genuinely unsettling – the way he posits “maybe they disappointed him?” as a possible motive for the murders is chilling – and a series of glares serves to remind the viewer that we know a lot more than his family and friends.

stepfather 1987 terry o'quinn

The many stares of the Stepfather

For her part, Schoelen oozes likeability – as she did in all her horror roles – and rises to the challenge of final girl-dom with aplomb, using broken mirror shards and sledges to her advantage. The only weird thing about it is that, despite being in her early twenties during production, her brief topless shower moment seems wrong as her character is said to be fifteen. It’s buoyed in a way by some frontal nudity of O’Quinn, courtesy of a reflection in a mirror, but still seems weird.

A fine film, albeit with a narrative that’s been aped too many times to reap its rightful returns, but it seems over a little too soon and, I think, could work well in mini-series format if they ever wanted to resurrect it. Oh wait, they did…

.

stepfather ii make room for daddy

STEPFATHER II

3 Stars  1989/18/88m

A.k.a. Stepfather 2: Make Room for Daddy

“Tonight – Daddy’s coming home to slice more than just the cake!”

Director: Jeff Burr / Writer: John Auerbach / Cast: Terry O’Quinn, Meg Foster, Caroline Williams, Jonathan Brandis, Henry Brown, Mitchell Laurance.

Body Count: 5


Having miraculously survived the wounds inflicted on him at the end of the first film, Jerry is now locked up in an institution in Puget Sound, where the new doctor, Dr Danvers, is keen to help him and find out his real identity – but we know Jerry will have other plans.

After winning the doc’s trust, he dispatches him and a security guard before making his escape and rocking up in a Los Angeles suburb ‘for the family’ where he sets himself up as Dr Gene Clifford, a therapist specialising in familial stuff.

Before long, Gene is involved with local divorcee Carol and her sad son Todd. While he disappears her ex husband forever into a compactor, Carol’s friend Matty (Williams) begins to suspect the good doctor is not all he seems, using her access as local mail handler to find out that the actual Gene Clifford is not only dead, but was also black.

stepfather 2 terry o'quinn

Of course, Jerry/Gene isn’t going to let anybody ruin his plans for suburban family bliss and engineers her out of the picture so he can hurry up and wed Carol. A violent climax at the aborted wedding ramps things up the camp-o-meter a fair way, but, as before, O’Quinn’s performance always teeters on the brink.

The infamous Weinstein’s insisted on more gore for this follow-up, which O’Quinn flat out refused to participate in, which explains some of the insert-shots of various pools of blood etc, moving the property closer to a sort of Freddy-down-the-block slasher series, which probably explains why the leading man opted out of returning for any more rounds.

Either way, Meg Foster’s eyes are still the scariest thing in this film.

.

stepfather III

STEPFATHER III

3 Stars  1992/18/106m

A.k.a. Stepfather 3: Father’s Day

Director: Guy Magar / Writers: GM & Marc B. Ray / Cast: Robert Wightman, Priscilla Barnes, Season Hubley, David Tom, John Ingle, Dennis Paladino, Stephen Mendel, Mario Roccozzo.

Body Count: 5

Laughter Lines: “Maybe he’s not who he says he is?” / “Yeah, well with any luck maybe he’s Kevin Costner or Tom Cruise?”


Terry O’Quinn’s (wise) decision to not return to the series, probably for fear of being typecast, means that this third and very final entry required the biggest convolution of all: Plastic surgery.

That’s right, fresh from escaping from the same institution again, Family Guy gets back-alley surgery from a greasy, chain-smoking dude who then gets his throat cut with a surgical saw for his trouble.

Nine months later, ‘Keith Grant’ is the new guy in the small town of Deerview, working at the plant nursery, volunteering to dress up as the Easter Bunny at a church fete, and hunting for a new mother-child combo to call his own. Although, Stepfather III smells like it’s trying to create some kind of mystery as to who it is who’s had surgery, but entirely fails to disguise it in any way.

stepfather 3

Said schmuckette is Christine (Barnes), amicably divorced and with wheelchair-bound son Andy, whose condition is psychosomatic (so we all know he’ll rise up outta that thing at the perfect moment). After three dates, Keith and Christine are married, but detective-mad Andy is suspicious of his new stepfather.

The perfect family illusion Keith has been desperate for begins to shatter when Andy goes to stay with his father for awhile, leading psychodad to begin courting another single mom, Jennifer, and hatching plans to get rid of Christine, but abandons them when Andy comes back earlier than planned.

Andy, meanwhile, becomes convinced Keith is Jerry Blake/Gene/whoever else, and recruits Father Brennan to help him prove it, but of course those who get in the way end up shoveled to death, raked, or driven off the road.

A woodchipper-tastic finale brings forth the moment when Andy finally lifts his feet from the wheelchair, accompanied by some rousing superhero music, and he’s forced to finish ‘dad’ off with some ferocity, ensuring there’s no amount of plastic surgery that can resurrect the Stepfather for Part 4.

stepfather 3

The video sequel needs to be trimmed along with Keith’s plants, clocking in about 15 minutes longer than necessary, but Wightman does fine in O’Quinn’s big shoes, though the script leans towards tacky elements here and there and Christine is the most naive of the Stepfather’s victims to date. In fact, all through the series women are made to look a bit dumb, eager to get married ASAP despite knowing fuck all about this man, and it’s down to the children to strike the final blow at the end. Hope they use those guilt coupons wisely going forward.

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THE STEPFATHERthe stepfather remake 2009

2009/15/101m  2 Stars

“Daddy’s home.”

Director: Nelson McCormick / Writer: J.S. Cardone / Cast: Dylan Walsh, Sela Ward, Penn Badgley, Amber Heard, Sherry Stringfield, Paige Turco, Jon Tenney.

Body Count: 7


I saw this once ages ago and can’t remember much about it, beyond the fatal error of switching out the final girl to a final boy, a guy from a military background, no less – where’s the fear for our hero(ine) in that?

At the time it was just the latest in the factory line of people-remember-this-title-so-let’s-remake-it churn-outs, written by Cardone, who had also penned the risible Prom Night upchuck (directed by McCormick) and, back in ’81, The Slayer. O’Quinn was reportedly offered a cameo and sensibly said no. Sela Ward has an utterly thankless role as the new wife and Amber Heard spends most of the running time in a bikini, highlighting just how little thought went into this watered-down PG-13 retread.

No.

* * *

So, a quality series in terms of production values. O’Quinn was definitely the high point and the conservative/anti-conservative subtext of the whole thing is interesting even today, with all this “I like tradition,” rhetoric Steppie likes the spout.

As a slasher series, it’s definitely low-key, with far more emphasis on the character’s manipulative psychosis over a blade-wielding maniac chasing skimpy babes, which is refreshing in a way. Remember it next time you’re messaged on Tinder.

stepfather 2009

Blurbs-of-interest: Jill Schoelen was also in Cutting ClassThe Phantom of the OperaPopcorn, and When a Stranger Calls Back; Stephen Shellen was also in American Gothic; Stephen E. Miller was in Funeral Home and Matinee; Jeff Burr directed Texas Chainsaw Massacre III and Night of the Scarecrow; Caroline Williams had final girl duties in Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 and was also in Hatchet III; Guy Magar later directed Children of the Corn: Revelation; Priscilla Barnes was in The Back Lot Murders; David Tom was in Dead Scared; Stephen Mendel was in Jack Frost; Amber Heard was the title character in All the Boys Love Mandy Lane.

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