A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
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 & Scariness
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.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
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.
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One-time uses of "s--t" and "f--k," plus "bitch," "bastard," and "a--hole."
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Products & Purchases
Product labels include Toshiba and the magazine Cosmopolitan.
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. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
As a horror-suspense rendering of a stepkid's worst imaginings and a twisted view of "family values" gone wrong, this movie functions smoothly and doesn't insult viewer intelligence. No, it's not quite Hitchcock quality, and in fact The Stepfather wasn't even a big hit when it was released. Its "sleeper" status did inspire two poor sequels (just reruns of the original, with more gore) and a needless 2009 remake.
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.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.