Review Date: October 9, 2009
Released by: Marketing Film
Release date: 9/25/2003
Region 2, PAL
Widescreen 1.66:1 | 16x9: Yes
After carrying the first two films to wide critical recognition, Terry O'Quinn was virtually inseparable from the stepfather character. When talks came up about following up the successful second with a third, all eyes turned to O'Quinn. How could you make a Stepfather without him? ITC reportedly offered him a ton of money and even the opportunity to write or direct the sequel, but ultimately talks fell through. With that, theatrical hopes became a cable reality, as Stepfather 3
debuted on HBO before finding its way to video shelves. It may not have had O'Quinn, but it had a great cover, with daddy lit from below holding a bloody shovel. But what was with that tagline? "Daddy's been in the garden...again!" Again? Did he take horticulture classes between sequels or what? The closest he came to plant life was walking through autumn leaves in the first. No matter, here's the third and closing entry in the trilogy. Does it live up to the high standards of the first two, or should that family declare this one orphan?
Most horror of the late eighties and early nineties was of the Freddy vein, which is partially why the genre was laid to rest until Scream
brought it back to life. Stepfather 3
's opening certainly could pass for another rollick down Elm Street, with the stepfather (now played by Robert Wightman
) walking down hazy, industrial streets with a blue moonlight hue. He's not going to the incinerator, though, but instead to an underground plastic surgeon whom he pays to alter his face. After camping out Michael Myers style a la Halloween 5
, the stepfather recovers and slices up the guy who helped him. These eighties killers just have no manners. How did he escape in the first place? The film doesn't even tell us he escaped until the halfway point, so if they don't care, why should we?
Now adopting the name Keith Grant, the stepfather finds solace in another suburb. He sold real estate in the first and upgraded to psychiatrist in the second, but must have really hit rock bottom to accept his gardening gig here in the third. After the progression of the first two, I was betting on astronaut. That doesn't stop the single mothers from swooning all over him, as he quickly latches on to Cristine Davis (Priscilla Barnes
, The Devil's Rejects
), while in a bunny suit, no less. She's got a computer whiz kid who is relegated to a wheelchair after running onto a road during a domestic dispute. Pussy. The kid, Andy (David Tom
, Stay Tuned
), spends his time doing turn-based sluethery on his computer and fraternizing with the local priest (John H. Ingle
). Imagine having that story arc now. Things move film fast, and the next scene he's proposing to her after she begs for sex. Classy.
The stepfather's plans for the perfect family are dodged when Andy's real father comes back on the scene, asking to take Andy for the summer. With Andy gone the family unit is no longer and the stepfather starts to date another single mother (Season Hubley
, a long way from being Kurt Russell's bride) on the side. Eventually the stepfather must make a choice between the two, although Christine is already starting to have her suspicions. Andy's been hacking it up too, so the stepfather's facade may just be up. The only question now is who is he going to take down?
The common opinion on the third film is that without O'Quinn the film falters. On the contrary, though - that's the quality that makes it interesting. O'Quinn already gave us the same take twice - a third trip no doubt would have felt like redundancy. Bringing in a fresh
actor into the role, even if he doesn't hold a candle to O'Quinn at least makes for a fresh take. Wightman is pretty one note, overlooking all the sympathy O'Quinn was able to bring into the role to instead turn the stepfather into a psychotic automaton. But still, it's different, and like all the different actors to play Jason Voorhees, even a worse interpretation is still a fresh one.
Although the acting certainly takes a hit the third time round with
the absence of O'Quinn, it's more the direction that suffers worst of all. Guy Magar, who would go on to helm one of the Children of the Corn
sequels, directs without any sense of photographic style, instead covering every scene as if it were sitcom. Camera placement feels totally arbitrary and none of the scenes ever feel as if they are driven by a filmic vision. Lighting is done to expose and little else and nobody, not the director nor the cinematographer do anything to mask that this is a television production. The budget was the same as the second film, but without vision the product is much worse.
It's a shame the direction is so uninspired because the story actually introduces a few novel concepts to the franchise. Bringing religion to the story via the priest allows for all sort of creative ambiguity with the notion of "Our Father" and indeed the film almost refers exclusively to the pastor as Father. This sets up a nice contrast between the stepfather and the priest, since both are vying for the attention of Andy. Another thing the religious angle adds is the notion that humanity is all one big family and that rather than condemn him, we should empathize with the plight of the stepfather. If Wightman's performance couldn't sell the sympathy at least the story can.
The script also offers a few clever throwbacks to the original without seeming derivative. The best bit is when the stepfather confuses Andy's name for Nicky, bringing back the whole "who am I here?" angle. The child finally gets an arc all his own after being more a cog in the story for the first too. The computer crap is dated and beyond believability (can you really pull all the personal licensing data from government sites just by typing in your name of choice?) but Andy still gets plenty of story time and his triumph at the end at the very least pays off. Working Father's Day (and the irony of it falling on the day the priest died) and the conflict of choosing between two different families keeps what should be stale by now involving.
No matter the modest flourishes of the story though, Stepfather 3
is ultimately a low rent downgrade of the original two. Even if the blood is surprisingly bountiful for TV, the uninspired staging takes away all impact. There's some camp and by this point an infectious familiarity with the formula, so while it may not be good filmmaking like the first two, it's at least good trash and hey, that worked for Pauline Kael.
The is still no domestic release of the third film on DVD but
receives nice treatment here from German outfit Marketing. Released as part of a trilogy three pack, Stepfather 3 more than holds it's own alone, with sharp picture and a clean master. Colors are muted and a tad pastel but still vibrant enough to be a big improvement over VHS. Even the night scenes at the end show considerable delineation and black fortitude. Presented 1.66:1 and anamorphic, the added space on the edges opens up the framing significantly compared to the TV airing. You'll need a PAL player to decode it, but for fans of the film it's worth it for a job well done.
Although a German release the English track is included and sounds fine in Dolby Digital 2.0. There is a matching German track and even a Dolby Digital 5.1 upgrade, but since this is an English language film why would you want it German? There is a little more hiss compared to the previous films and overall things sound flatter. Levels are mixed together fine and sounds come through audible. It's about what the film deserves.
As with most R2 stuff of cheap American horror, the extras here are of the generic IMDb variety. We get trailers, biographies, an art gallery and some random pictures. Better than nothing, I guess.
shows initial promise with a fresh face and a story that explores new familial directions. The new stepfather ain't O'Quinn though and the new director can't hold a candle to Ruben or Burr from the first two. It's a downgrade for sure, but it still has it's trashy moments. The video transfer is quality throughout but the audio is not quite Thanksgiving dinner. The extras are pretty bare, so really this is recommended to completists and stringent family men only.
Movie - C
Image Quality - B
Sound - C
Supplements - C-
- Running time - 1 hour 45 minutes
- Not Rated
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English Dolby Digital 2.0
- German Dolby Digital 2.0
- German Dolby Digital 5.1
- Still gallery