The idea that there would be a sequel to the thriller The Stepfather seems utterly absurd. The 1987 had been entirely self-contained, it told its story, reached a resolution, there was nothing else to say. Not to mention the fact that the title character appeared to be dead by the time the end credits started to roll. But it had also been a well-received success, and there’s a possibility that the concept could draw in more money if the story was continued, so a sequel went into development.
John Auerbach received his only screenwriting credit on the film, while Jeff Burr, who had recently made his feature directorial debut with the horror anthology film From a Whisper to a Scream (a.k.a. The Offspring), was hired to direct.
There was some question as to whether or not Terry O’Quinn would return to reprise the role of The Stepfather, who we had primarily known by the name Jerry Blake in the original film, but O’Quinn did eventually agree to come back.
The film begins with the revelation that Jerry was not killed during the climactic sequence of the previous movie, just wounded, and has since been locked up in the Puget Sound Psychiatric Hospital in Washington state. His real name still unknown, he has been nicknamed Bad Daddy by one of the guards.
When the hospital hires a new psychiatrist who is friendly, understanding, and delighted by the progress Jerry seems to be making during his time in the hospital, Jerry takes advantage of the doctor’s relaxed attitude and kills him, then kills the guard who calls him Bad Daddy and sneaks out of the place in his uniform.
Back out in the world, Jerry steals the identity of a dead man named Gene Clifford and moves into a home in Palm Meadow Estates, located in beautiful Loma Linda, California, an hour drive from Los Angeles. The Palm Meadow housing development is advertised as a wonderful place to raise a family and pursue the American dream, which makes it perfect for Jerry/Gene and his twisted view of family, warped by fantasies of achieving a level of wholesome 1950s happiness that never really existed.
The Stepfather has been trying for a long time to marry his way into the perfect existence. The perfect wife with the perfect children. When his situations go bad, he murders the wife and children and moves on to try again with a different family. As soon as he’s in Loma Linda, he once again begins looking for love, and finds it with the real estate agent who showed him the house he leases; the recently divorced Carol Grayland, played by Meg Foster with her otherworldly blue eyes, who has a young son named Todd (Jonathan Brandis).
Rather than simply replicate the first film, which found Jerry already married into his new family and showed how the situation fell apart, Burr and Auerbach’s story follows Jerry/Gene through the process of wooing Carol and bonding with Todd, trying to work his way into being a stepfather again.
But life can be complicated when you’re a serial killer on the run with a stolen identity, and Jerry occasionally lapses into killer mode to resolve certain situations. Like when Carol’s ex shows up after a year and says he wants to get back together with her – Jerry can’t let that happen, Carol is his. And when Carol’s friend Matty (played by Caroline Williams of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, Leprechaun 3, and Hatchet III) gets suspicious of him and starts snooping into his business, well that just won’t do. Despite Jerry’s best efforts, things still manage to fall apart all over again.
Typically, the impulse is to enhance everything about a film in its sequel – broaden the scope, up the body count substantially, add more gore and carnage. Thankfully, instead of turning Stepfather 2 into a total slashfest, Burr and Auerbach restrained themselves and kept their follow-up in the same vein as its predecessor. It may be an unnecessary cash-in at its core, but it’s executed in a respectable way, playing out as a low-key character study of a thriller that chooses tension and story over bloodshed.
Oh, there is still bloodshed, that’s just not the main focus.
At the end of the day, you’re still not really missing out if you skip Stepfather 2 and just stick with the first movie, but if you do venture into the sequel’s territory you’ll find that it’s not the disaster an extension of such a close-ended story could have been. The filmmakers found a way to make it work that isn’t insulting to what came before.