A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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.
- 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?
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?
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?
For kids who love scares
Our editors recommend
Top advice and articles
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.