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Old 10-09-2009, 02:26 AM
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Stepfather 2 (Synapse)




Reviewer: Rhett
Review Date: October 8, 2009

Released by: Synapse Films
Release date: 9/29/2009
MSRP: $19.99
Region 1, NTSC
Progressive Scan
Widescreen 1.78:1 | 16x9: Yes
1989



inline ImageI was never old enough to watch The Stepfather movies when they came out, but I definitely remembered the covers. Now the first film had a different box art than the theatrical poster, and despite the overall mediocrity of both, it sold incredibly well on video. The third film had a much more striking image, with the bloody shovel concealing a bottom lit face. For an impressionable kid, though, nothing beat the cover for the second film. I didn’t care about the first film – I wanted to see that second! Who cares if the little girl and the dog aren’t even in the movie? Who cares if Terry O’Quinn doesn’t really even brandish a knife throughout? It was that image of the unstoppable father with the T-1000 eyes, and then that bloody 2 (a trend for sequels that has sadly fallen out of favor) that just created such an impression. By the poster alone, Stepfather 2: Make Room for Daddy should be awesome. Synapse seems to think so, re-releasing Miramax’s initial 2003 special edition with even more bonus features. Should we make room for daddy?

The Story

inline ImageRemember when Terry O’Quinn died in the original? Yeah, neither did the screenwriters. Our favorite family man is back again, this time chained and shackled in a psychiatric institution. He’s responsible for impersonating at least three different men and hacking apart three different widows or divorcees and their kids when his ideal of the perfect family didn’t pan out. We learn a little more about the man through his talks with a psychiatrist, and even the psychiatrist is won over by his wholesome desire for the American Dream. The psychiatrist is so amused by his stories and his custom built miniature home that he even starts to talk to the Stepfather without his cuffs. Bad idea. Daddy stabs him with his father action figure and heads on out to a California suburb for life anew.

inline ImageBefore he sold houses, but now the Stepfather’s vocation is psychiatrist, where he’s better able to meet grieving women who may be good candidates for his dreams of family. He finds his dream in Carol Greyland (Meg Foster, They Live) and her son Todd (the late Jonathan Brandis, Ladybugs, seaQuest DSV). They all hit it off right from day one, but there are a few obstacles that the Stepfather has to take care of before he can get his storybook marriage. First, there’s her ex, who wants back into her and their child’s life. Then there’s her friend, Matty (Caroline Williams, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, H2). Matty’s in on the psychiatric meetings too, but she suspects Mr. Family man isn’t all he appears to be.

inline ImageSuspicions mount when Matty catches the Stepfather in a lie when she looks at his notebook and finds nothing written inside of it despite his claims to the contrary at the meeting. Being a mail deliverer, she looks through his letters and finds that none are ever from friends and family. What’s his secret? Before she gets to find out he stamps her out of his life, not shortly after doing likewise to the ex-husband. With them gone he’s whistling show tunes and on his way down the aisle once more. Somehow, though, I imagine cutting the cake is going to bring its own slew of problems.

inline ImageNow this is how you do a sequel! The producers did well by securing the talk of the first film, Terry O’Quinn, back for a second courtship, but both the writing and direction this time around is much tighter and in greater service to the subject matter. Many reviews have called the film a rehash, but Stepfather 2 is far from it. Rather than watch Jerry’s family slowly slip away from him, we instead journey with him as he tries to win over a new family. We see the act in progress, rather than its decline in the original. This time he gets along with the kid, another significant difference, and having the divorced dad back throws in a good second act hitch. By comparison, having the brother of one of the original slain family members play detective was a pretty weak plot device in the first film – especially since after all those throwaway scenes he just ends up going the way of Scatman Crothers in The Shining.

inline ImageHaving the Stepfather this time as a psychiatrist allows for much greater character development, both for O’Quinn and all the actors on the periphery. Instead of talking about houses like in the first they can talk about feelings, desires and hang ups, and as a result Stepfather 2 feels much more zeroed in on its characters. We learn more about the Stepfather, but at the same time the film follows the lead of the first by never revealing too much. We get a monologue about his childhood pet and then it’s back to killing, keeping the world’s worst dad still shrouded in secrecy.

inline ImageThe whole opening in the mental hospital allows for a lot more variety than the first film as well. It takes the Stepfather character through a much greater arc, since we see him at his worst and with his guard completely destroyed. It’s a fun journey, then, to see him devise a way out and to then get his life started anew. Then finally, the end also adds the variety the original was lacking by having daddy flip out at the most fitting locale – his own wedding. The original had a great concept buoyed by a great performance, but it’s this second film that really does that story justice. Filled with wit, clever plot devices and taught focus, the script really steps it up for numero deux.

inline ImageAs good as the script is for this second outing, much of the accolades must go to under appreciated genre vet Director Jeff Burr (Leatherface¸ From a Whisper to a Scream). In the extras he mentions how he storyboarded the majority of the film, and it’s clear here he had a strong visual sense throughout. Many sequences are effectively cross cut with smaller metaphors, like the figurine from the wedding cake shattering on the ground as daddy flips out on his bride to be. The standout kill would make Argento proud, with the lighting gradually tinting red as blood splatters on a toppled lamp, getting redder with each stab. From the cold claustrophobia of the start to the oppressive suburbia of the remainder, Stepfather 2 has a style to match to story, something the original only demonstrated in bursts.

inline ImageSequels get a bad rap, but much like Child's Play 2 or Friday the 13th Part 2, it took the first film to lay the foundation and the second film to take it and run. Stepfather 2 is very much the superior film in the franchise, and on its own is certainly one of the best films of the hollow void of late eighties horror. It's a shame the stepfather character was laid to rest after the made for television threequel, because the way O'Quinn plays him, he could easily have lived the longevity of Freddy or Jason or Chucky. And the way he was directed here, horror fans couldn't have asked for a better father. Or a worse one, even better.

Image Quality

inline ImageMost will remember Dimension's early days of DVD as ones of botched non-anamorphic transfers and missing supplements with big titles like Scream and Halloween H20 the major casualties. Surprisingly, though, their disc of little ol' Stepfather 2 was a welcome upset to the norm. It had a commentary, and a bunch of deleted scenes, and even the still gallery was well done. Taking the if it ain't broke mentality, Synapse presents the film in the same 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer found on the original Dimension release. Even if the transfer is getting up their in years, it's still a clean and crisp presentation of the film. Contrast could certainly use a boost, since many of the scenes have a a grey tinge when a black would have made it pop. Colors are vibrant, especially during that lamp kill, but flesh tones seem a bit cold for the bulk of the film. Stepfather 2 was shot on multiple film stocks to separate the various phases of O'Quinn's transition, but with the color timing here, those differences seem muted, with both the asylum stuff and the bulk of the suburb scenes having little distinguishable color difference. Still, the transfer is very clean, detail is adequate and edges are sharp. Well done Synapse, err, Dimension.

Sound

inline ImageThe Dolby Digital 2.0 track from the Dimension release has also been brought over, and it's vanilla. No stereo separation (despite the back of the box touting "surround sound") is audible. The track is clean without any playback noise and levels are properly mixed.


Supplemental Material

inline ImageIn addition to the video and audio, Synapse also brought over the audio commentary, alternate scenes and still gallery from the original release. Go in with the pretense that these are older extras, since in the commentary both participants, director Jeff Burr and producer Darin Scott talk about Jonathan Brandis as if he's still alive. Well, he was alive when they recorded this at the start of the decade, but hearing it now, comments suggesting he has a promising career ahead of him seem insensitive. That aside, the track is a lively one, with the two sharing a ton of production anecdotes and both very conscious of the edits and the shooting days of the film. Compared to the Joseph Ruben commentary on the first, where he really could remember, or seemingly care, about the production, Burr and Scott bask in the memories of their first big break. It's a fun listen.

inline ImageThe eight alternate scenes from the original Dimension disc are also here once more. When Miramax initially picked up the film for distribution, they reshot a number of the death scenes to add more violence. This was against Burr's wishes, so another director was brought in. What's included here are Burr's original and preferred cuts, but honestly, Miramax did a pretty good job on the reshoots. Matty's death, in particular, is much better as it is in the film, with that eerie shot of the hands holding a tie leering into frame. So effective that sequence is, they took that art for the theatrical poster for the remake. In Burr's version it is a drab death that's poorly covered, with the stepfather simply placing Matty's head in the fireplace and turning on the gas. The other major death change where the stepfather kills the salesman to steal his car also works better in the finished film, with the added bit of closing the trunk on the salesman's hands. It comes close to camp, but it's a lot of fun.

inline ImageAnother alternate death scene is the opening escape, which again is more effective in the Miramax cut. In Burr's version, the scene ends before we see the aftermath of the security guard, but in the film we see his face hit the door with blood shooting out the mouth. Burr states time and again he was going for subtlety, but hey, this is a sequel to a movie that certainly didn't shy away from bloodletting, so why not embrace the crimson! One alternate death scene that is longer is Phil's death, with Burr's cut featuring many more stabs to the throat. As it is here in the alternate scenes, the sequence plays even better than in the film - and that's saying a lot since it was already the standout murder. This wasn't cut out by Miramax, but instead the sole levy the MPAA placed on the picture. Too bad. Rounding off the alternate scenes is a bit more exposition with Todd, lengthier hotel and wedding sequences and an entirely different opening featuring macro shots of model houses. It's a good idea that wasn't effectively executed, so it being cut from the film is probably for the better.

inline ImageOkay, so at this point you're wondering -if Synapse brought over the same audio, video and extras from the previous release, why even bother? Well, thankfully they did add a few features that make this an even better release. All the alternate scenes now have optional commentary with Burr, where he can give context for each sequence, how they are different and why they were cut. Considering many of the changes were pretty significant, adding Burr's commentary makes an already essential collection of takes even better. The other major new inclusion is the 30-minute documentary "The Stepfather Chronicles: Daddy's New Home", which like te other chronicles doc on the first film, is made by Red Shirt Pictures. This one features Burr and Scott as well as the writer John Auebach, cinematographer Jacek Laskus and actress Caroline Williams. Like withe commentary, this is a much more entertaining extra compared to the one on the first film because everyone involved really has fond and vivid recollections of the original. That there was more drama with the reshoots also makes for more intrigue here as well.

The still gallery is the same as before (except on a different background), but teaser and theatrical trailers are new and welcome additions. The teaser has new footage shot specifically for the trailer, and it's quite well done. Much more effective than the trailer for the original film. And that about does it.

As for nitpicks, Synapse did a pretty good job on the cover, but it's busy and not nearly as effective as the iconic theatrical art that was used for the Dimension release. A variation on that would have been better. Also, what's up with using and almost identical plot description from disc to disc? They changed "TV's JAG" to "TV's LOST" for Terry O'Quinn's credit on the new one, but what's with keeping Jonathan Brandis's sole credit as Hart's War? His scenes were cut from that movie and really, the guy is known for a ton of other movies over that, like The NeverEnding Story II, Sidekicks and Ladybugs. Have some respect for the dead!


Final Thoughts

inline ImageStepfather 2 is a fantastic follow up to the low key original, with a tauter script, better murders and a more stylish visual sense. O'Quinn is better than ever, and the supporting cast of genre vets always keeps things interesting. In all respects, this is a superior follow up...a rare thing indeed. This disc is superior to Dimension's disc as well, but solely for the few added extras. The doc is solid and the addition of Burr's commentary on the deleted scenes was a needed inclusion. As for the audio and video, they are the same as the previous disc, so if you're looking to upgrade for the presentation alone, save your dollars. If you're looking for the father from hell formula done right, though, you can do no better than Stepfather 2. As producer Darin Scott says in the documentary - make room for daddy and add this essential eighties chiller to your collection.

Rating

.
Movie - A-

Image Quality - B+

Sound - B-

Supplements - A-





Technical Info.
  • Color
  • Running time - 1 hour 28 minutes
  • Not Rated
  • 1 Disc
  • Chapter Stops
  • English Dolby Surround 2.0

Supplements
  • Audio commentaries by director and producer
  • "The Stepfather Chronicles: Daddy's New Home" featurette
  • Alternate scenes with optional director commentary
  • Trailers
  • Still gallery

Other Pictures

 

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Old 10-09-2009, 07:48 AM
Master of Doom
Another excellent review rhett! I watched the new disc the other night and was quite pleased.

I'll probably just hang on to my old Dimension DVD as well.
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Old 10-09-2009, 03:05 PM
Maniac
Fantastic rewiew!

Don't think I have the money for this one....damn
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Old 11-05-2009, 06:42 PM
Great review
Screamy Bopper
The movie was pretty good, but a tighter script? Not sure, I really agree.

MAJOR SPOILERS:
The whole reason he's pretty much caught is because he's whistling camp town races, and being brazen enough to bring a wine bottle from the murder victims house back to his wife-to-be (who happens to be best friends with murder victim!). If you just committed a murder, why are you whistling and drawing attention to yourself!? We're supposed to believe that earlier he escaped a mental hospital successfully...I dunno...

The movie is fun for what it is and is very nice looking, but I don't agree that it's better than the original. O'Quinn is also way better in the original

Great review though!
 
 
Old 11-06-2009, 08:13 AM
Moderator
Spoiler:
The whistling was definitely a slip, but it certainly was in character. He was just trying to be casual about it, as if nothing had happened, just like he had done many a time in the previous film. Taking the wine was stupid, too, but motivated, since it gave him the alibi that he was at the liquor store. Think about it - how many people do you know that only get one type of wine? Of all the people I've met, I've never ever seen wine monogamy, so if anything the characters in the film are jumping to conclusions they probably shouldn't.


Both films are a grand time, so I do appreciate the feedback!
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Old 11-21-2009, 09:36 PM
Death By Ejaculation
Great review, for a great sequel.

The film IS underrated, but not as good as the first.
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Old 11-22-2009, 12:29 PM
Just watched this last night with my wife. Haven't seen it since it was released on VHS back in the day. Not the biggest fan of director Jeff Burr, and Stepfather 2 gives many examples of why I don't care for his work.

Where the original was tightly paced, wonderfully acted and perfectly edited, this film tries to walk the fine line between psychological horror and slasher film. It never really succeeds. While the acting is on par with the original, the overall craftsmanship of the film is really lacking. Pacing is sketchy at best, editing is borderline amatuer and on a few occassions I laughed out loud at the directors shot compositions.

Not a horrible fim, but far from great.

Mike
 
 

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