The Stepfather (1987)

Movie review by
Charles Cassady Jr., Common Sense Media
The Stepfather (1987) Movie Poster Image
Popular '80s horror-suspense about parent from hell.
  • R
  • 1987
  • 89 minutes

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 1 review

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

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 & Representations

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

What 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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bypaco17 March 1, 2010

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 be... Continue reading
Kid, 10 years old March 17, 2010

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?

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.

Talk to your kids 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

For kids who love scares

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