Picking up right after the first (including a quick recap, so if you haven’t seen the original yet, do so before this!), Stepfather II begins with daddy himself, still going under the name Jerry Blake, locked away in the loony bin. Apparently he survived the first film, and someone actually thinks the man can be turned into a productive member of society. You can probably surmise that was a boneheaded decision, and before long Jerry is back out on the streets, assuming the role of Dr. Gene Clifford, a family psychiatrist. His uncanny ability to integrate himself seamlessly into a new community soon has him living in an upscale suburban neighborhood and running his practice right from his house.
As luck would have it, the real estate agent that shows him his new abode is a recent divorcee by the name of Carol; and wouldn’t you know it? She has a son too! Oh, the heavens are shining down on Jer…er, Gene. Things wouldn't be very interesting without some conflict, and Carol's ex-husband comes back looking for a second chance just when Gene is getting his foot in the door. We all know he’s not above removing any unwanted elements, and he does so rather quickly. But Carol still has friends, and one in particular is quite suspicious about Gene. With the wedding day looming, will Carol find out the truth or will Gene finally have his home sweet home?
Directed by the king of decent sequels (except for Pumpkinhead II, but we’ll just pretend that doesn't exist) Jeff Burr, Stepfather II surprisingly does a pretty good job of differentiating itself from the original, a film that many in the horror community consider a classic. It’s up for debate whether the decision to eliminate a lot of the familial turmoil that was present in the first film (only friends of the family catch a vibe about Jerry this time, Carol and her son adore him) and plunge the film into the realm of slashers was a good one, but whether you like it or not it does make the film a different experience. And lets be honest; even though this sequel exists, the original has a solid finality to it that if you end up despising this, you can just wipe it from your memory by watching the first film again. It’s not as if the end of it had you sitting around twiddling your thumbs in anticipation of part two.
While the film may be perfectly acceptable and entertaining, it definitely has its fair share of problems. For one, you’ll have to really suspend your disbelief in regards to Jerry’s new situation going so smooth. Not one person throughout the film ever has suspicions about who is really is, and only start wondering because of some of his usual idiosyncrasies. You’d think, since he murdered two people and escaped a mental institution his face would be plastered all over the news and a massive manhunt would be on, but nope! Hell, the one newscast that does come on doesn’t even show his picture! If breaking out of custody and becoming a member of society undetected was this easy, we'd really have to start worrying about our well-being. There are also some real cookie-cutter elements on hand that take the film down a notch, such as the blue lighting that attempts to give off an unecessary Halloween-esque vibe and the worst horror film offender of them all: the fake cat scare. Yet there is one area in which Stepfather II improves upon its predecessor, and that’s the score. I find the soundtrack in the original to be borderline offensive, completely playing against the actual mood and tone of the film. In the sequel, it’s much more appropriate.
And then there’s that little constant throughout both films called Terry O’Quinn. He was awesome the first time around, and he’s equally awesome here. Hell, he may even be a bit better, as he’s allowed to really go for broke. Not only does he still go from Ward Cleaver to Ted Bundy at the drop of a dime, but he has a wit about him that wasn’t present before. It’s almost as if he finally realizes this is a game he’s never going to be satisfied with, so why not have some fun? He delivers some great one-liners and just altogether feels more comfortable in the role. There’s also some recognizable faces 80’s genre fans will get a kick out of, such as Meg Foster (Holly from They Live), Caroline Williams (Stretch from Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2), and the late Jonathan Brandis in his first meaty film role.
Could we have lived without Stepfather II? Yes. But it doesn’t ruin the reputation of the original at all, Terry O’Quinn is in top form, and it features an appropriately blood-spattered finale. Also, my Spidey Sense tells me that even if this is ultimately an inferior sequel, it’ll still be a hell of a lot better than that upcoming remake. So, make room for daddy!
Synapse Films comes to the rescue of Stepfather II and offers up a solid special edition. The film is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and looks really solid, with no print damage to speak of and an acceptable level of grain. It’s not the most sharp-looking, but it gets the job done nicely. Audio is served up courtesy of a Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track (the back of the case says 2.0 surround, but my receiver didn’t pick it up that way) and sounds fine. Dialogue is perfectly clear and there are no problems with hiss or pops. A second audio track is included which features commentary with director Jeff Burr and producer Darin Scott. These two have great memories, recounting tons of information, and if you’re fan of the film you’ll likely want to check it out.
First up on the extras front is 30 minutes of deleted and alternate scenes that include optional commentary with Jeff Burr. These are taken from a tape source and are full frame, so don’t expect great quality, but it’s nice to have them here, as some of the death scenes are extended (and in one case completely different) and the killer ending is a bit longer. The second substantial extra is a 30-minute featurette entitled “The Stepfather Chronicles” which features interviews with Burr, Scott, writer John Auerbach, DOP Jacek Laskus, editor Pasquale Buba, and actress Caroline Williams. This piece is easily one of the more engaging supplements I’ve come across in a while, as everyone has great stories to tell. We get to hear everything from how the production went from a planned STV affair to getting a theatrical run, edits that Burr wanted no parts of yet Miramax went ahead with anyway (it was their bright idea to toss in the cat scare), and a studio exec that would snap his fingers at any moment in the film where he thought it needed tighter editing. Definitely some fun stuff! Rounding out the extras is a stills gallery and both a trailer and teaser for the film.
Please feel free to discuss "Stepfather II" here, in our forums!