The Stepfather (1987)

  • Review Date: December 30, 2009
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Thriller
  • Release Year: 1987

Common Sense Media says

Popular '80s horror-suspense about parent from hell.
  • Review Date: December 30, 2009
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Thriller
  • Release Year: 1987

Age(i)

2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17

Quality(i)

 

What parents need to know

Positive messages

The movie suggests that childhood abuse/discipline -- combined with media images -- has turned the title character into the monster that he is, somebody so determined to maintain a stereotypically "normal," traditional household that he'll commit mass murder, again and again, rather than deal with the messiness of actual modern family life.

Positive role models

The movie's central character is a nice-acting, "all-American" dad who's really a maniac; his demands for order, respect, and propriety are really pathologies. The movie puts a negative spin on patriotic symbols and "wholesome" attitudes. Police, teachers, and authority figures seem clueless and ineffective. Stephanie is delinqunt in class but still seems like a smart teen.

Violence

Bloody violence -- characters are bashed to death, knifed, and shot. Children's dead bodies are shown (among other victims). At one point it looks like a dog will be slain, too, but nothing is shown.

Sex

Full male nudity (in a washing-up-after-a-murder context); bare female breasts in a shower. Jerry and his (present) wife have non-explicit sex. Jerry is accused of having sexual hangups.

Language

One-time uses of "s--t" and "f--k," plus "bitch," "bastard," and "a--hole."

Consumerism

Product labels include Toshiba and the magazine Cosmopolitan.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking
Not applicable

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this tense thriller (which was remade in 2009) includes brief but bloody, brutal violence -- characters are beaten to death, knifed, and shot. The famously disturbing opening scene depicts the aftermath of a mass murder, with dead bodies of children especially prominent. Nudity includes a flash of bare breasts and full male nudity (though the latter isn't presented in a sexual context), and there's a non-explicit sex scene and a bit of rough language (including "s--t" and "f--k"). Blended families in which stepparents and kids have trouble getting along may not necessarily be the best audience for this film, for obvious reasons.

Parents say

Kids say

What's the story?

In the Pacific Northwest, a normal-looking man named Hank Morrison (Terry O'Quinn) slaughters his whole suburban family -- including the kids -- then changes his appearance, neighborhood, and identity. One year later, high-school troublemaker Stephanie (Jill Schoelen) worries that something isn't right about her widowed mom's ever-smiling new husband, Jerry ... who's really the lethal Morrison. Jerry is an almost cartoonishly upbeat guy, bent on having a perfect, wholesome American family -- or else. Whenever life doesn't pan out easily, he shows a Jekyll-and-Hyde maniac rage that only Stephanie senses. As the girl's suspicions grow, a relative of Morrison's past victims picks up the trail of the deadly stepfather.

Is it any good?

QUALITY
 

Coming as it did after a 1980s flood of sickening slasher flicks aimed at teens, THE STEPFATHER earned good reviews by being smarter and better acted than the other cheapies about kids chopped up at the prom. Typical youth-bait material -- pranks, drugs, sex, rock music, skateboarding -- are almost entirely absent in the script co-authored by thriller novelists Donald Westlake and Brian Garfield, which fleshes out the characters well and gives grown-ups equal validity and importance.

No, it's not quite Hitchcock quality, and in fact The Stepfather wasn't even a big hit when it was released. But as a horror-suspense rendering of a stepkid's worst imaginings and a twisted view of "family values" gone wrong, it
functions smoothly and doesn't insult viewer intelligence. Its "sleeper" status inspired two poor sequels (just reruns of the original, with more gore) and a needless 2009 remake.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the stereotypical fear of wicked stepparents, from fairy-tales to here. Is that fair or realistic?

  • How does the violence in this movie compare to bloodier horror films like the Saw series? Do the different types of violence have different impact? Is one scarier than the other?

  • Some critics complain that mainstream moviemakers cynically bash "traditional American values" by making conservative characters and patriotic symbols look bad. Is this movie guilty of that, or is it just trying to be clever suspense?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:January 23, 1987
DVD release date:October 13, 2009
Cast:Jill Schoelen, Shelley Hack, Terry O'Quinn
Director:Joseph Ruben
Studio:Shout! Factory
Genre:Thriller
Run time:89 minutes
MPAA rating:R

This review of The Stepfather (1987) was written by

About our rating system

  • ON: Content is age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • PAUSE: Know your child; some content may not be right for some kids.
  • OFF: Not age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • NOT FOR KIDS: Not appropriate for kids of any age.

Find out more

Quality

Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

Find out more

Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging, great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging, good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging, good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging, okay learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

Find out more

About our buy links

When you use our links to make a purchase, Common Sense Media earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes. As a nonprofit organization, these funds help us continue providing independent, ad-free services for educators, families, and kids while the price you pay remains the same. Thank you for your support.

See more about how we rate and review.

What parents and kids say

See all user reviews

Share your thoughts with other parents and kids Write a user review

A safe community is important to us. Please observe our guidelines

Kid, 10 years old Written byianmahabub March 17, 2010
AGE
12
QUALITY
 

The Stepfather Has Off For 12 Years Old

It Been Off For 14 Years Old

What other families should know
Too much swearing
Adult Written bypaco17 March 1, 2010
AGE
13
QUALITY
 

my out look of the step father

The movie the godfatheder was a great movie to me i like violent films and it was very violent and gorry. I would watch this movie with friends and my fiance because they dont like blood and stuff like that so it would be intresting to see how they react. If i summarized the movie the best way i could for u to understand it i would say. This movie is about a man who is a seriel killer. He gets involved with families and kills them when he's done he moves on to another family. After he murdered his last family he meets a woman in a grocery store. She is a divorced mother of three. He gradually gets her to fall in love with him and soon they are engaged. Soon after the oldest son comes home from bootcamp, the step dad faces a problem. The oldest son soon realizes that the step dad is lieing after a conversation at the diner. After finding nothing out about the step dad he decided to ask his girlfriend for help andf she told him he was crazy and needed to drop it. Soon everyone in the family comes to realize they are faced with the challenge of surviving the step father. this is how i would summarize it i think it's an awesome movie and if you haven't seen it you need to.

What other families should know
Too much violence
Great messages

Poll

Did our review help you make an informed decision about this product?

Top Kids' Movies: An Essential Guide for Families