The Stepfather (1987) Movie Poster Image

The Stepfather (1987)



Popular '80s horror-suspense about parent from hell.
  • Review Date: December 30, 2009
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Thriller
  • Release Year: 1987
  • Running Time: 89 minutes

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.


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.


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.


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


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.

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.

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
Run time:89 minutes
MPAA rating:R

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What parents and kids say

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Kid, 10 years old March 17, 2010

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

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


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