Director: Joseph Ruben
Starring: Shelley Hack, Terry O’Quinn, Jill Schoelen
Runtime: 89 minutes
Though sometimes lumped in with slasher films, this is not a slasher film, although it does feature a psychologically disturbed killer, played excellently by Terry O’Quinn (now known mostly through his portrayal of John Locke on Lost). The figure was based loosely on real life killer John List. O’Quinn manages to create one of the few enduring and chilling non-supernatural horror villains. He just exudes creepiness, whether he’s in his charming, all-American conservative man mode, or going into one of his explosive rages.
The Stepfather’s modus operandi is to find a single mother with a child, and take over their lives, hoping to create the perfect family. Of course, no family can be perfect, and as soon as illusion’s mirror starts to crack, so does his mind. We see how he goes from life to life, changing his name and appearance to take on each new identity—which explains how he has eluded the law for so long. Despite the fact that this isn’t a slasher, there are some similarities to Psycho, such as the killer being an “all-American” sort, the fluid identity, and a few surprises.
While O’Quinn’s presence dominates this movie, he squares off against the daughter of the latest wife he has taken, Stephanie (Jill Schoelen), who doesn’t like him, and suspects something shady in his past. Her sleuthing shows that she is not the helpless teen typical of these kinds of movies (where the heroines usually don’t display any power until they are driven to desperation toward the movie’s end). Still, this is only a small part of the problem. It is really the fact that the Stepfather is severely off-the-rails loony. We see, in one of the film’s most chilling scenes, how he starts to lose control, and using the wrong name in front of his wife, he asks: “Who am I here?”