The Stepfather is a 1987 American psychological horror thriller film directed by Joseph Ruben and starring Terry O’Quinn, Jill Schoelen and Shelley Hack. O’Quinn stars as Henry Morrison, an identity-assuming serial killer who remarries a widow with a teenage daughter. After previously killing his family and changing his identity, his killing spree continues after his stepdaughter becomes suspicious about him. It is loosely based on the life of mass murderer John List, although the plot is more commonly associated with slasher films of the era than a true story. The film was written by Donald E. Westlake, from a story by Westlake, Carolyn Lefcourt and Brian Garfield.
The film was theatrically released January 23, 1987, in the United States. Upon its release, the film grossed $2.4 million at the box office and was well-received by critics. It has since gained a cult following and was followed by two sequels: Stepfather II (1989) and Stepfather III (1992), and a remake also called The Stepfather, released on October 16, 2009.
The Stepfather has an 86% approval rating from Rotten Tomatoes and an average rating of 6.7/10 out of 29 reviews. Film critic Roger Ebert, from the Chicago Sun Times, gave the movie 2.5 stars out of 4, and commented: “Violence itself seems to sell at the box office, even when it’s divorced from any context. Maybe that’s what the filmmakers were thinking. What often happens, though, is that in an otherwise flawed film there are a couple of things that are wonderful. The Stepfather has one wonderful element: Terry O’Quinn’s performance.”
On “Combustible Celluloid”, the film ranked 3 out of 4 stars, and reviewer Jeffrey M. Anderson commented: “Joseph Ruben directs competently but perhaps not as playfully as the material could have used, but O’Quinn gets in a few prime moments, such as the startling one in which he forgets which persona he’s currently occupying. Nevertheless, The Stepfather is still a high water mark of 1980s horror/suspense.”
For his performance, O’Quinn was nominated for both a Saturn and an Independent Spirit Award. Director Ruben was honored with the Critics award at the 1988 Cognac Festival. The film was also nominated for the International Fantasy Film Award for Best Film at the 1990 Fantasporto and included in Bravo‘s 100 Scariest Movie Moments on spot #70.
Years since its release, it is also now considered a cult film.