The Stepfather (1987)

R | 89 mins | Horror | 23 January 1987

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HISTORY

       Principal photography began on 16 Oct 1985 in Vancouver, Canada, according to production charts in the 12 Nov 1985 HR. Promotional materials in AMPAS library files indicate the inspiration for the story came from a 1971 crime in Metuchen, NJ, in which John List murdered his wife, three children and mother-in-law. List had lost his job, but continued the pretense of going to work each day in New York City for weeks before he murdered his family and disappeared without a trace.
       Carolyn Lefcourt, who was working as a story editor for Walt Disney Pictures, showed a newspaper article about the case to writer Brian Garfield, who was the head of Shan Productions. They brought in novelist Donald E. Westlake and the three crafted the story of a man betrayed by the American dream. Westlake then wrote the screenplay.
       A trade advertisement from ITC (Independent Television Company) Productions in the 9 Jul 1986 DV indicated the film was in post-production and looking for distribution. New Century/Vista Film Corporation, a new company started by Norman Levy, the former chair of Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, secured distribution rights in fall 1986 as the company’s first acquisition, according to an article in the 4 Mar 1987 LAT.
       Test screenings were generally positive and the film opened on 100 screens in the Southern California area on 23 Jan 1987. Reviews were also positive, but audiences stayed away. New Century tried several different advertising campaigns positioning the movie as an adult psychological thriller, but after six weeks, the film had grossed a mere $1.3 million, according to the LAT. Levy ... More Less

       Principal photography began on 16 Oct 1985 in Vancouver, Canada, according to production charts in the 12 Nov 1985 HR. Promotional materials in AMPAS library files indicate the inspiration for the story came from a 1971 crime in Metuchen, NJ, in which John List murdered his wife, three children and mother-in-law. List had lost his job, but continued the pretense of going to work each day in New York City for weeks before he murdered his family and disappeared without a trace.
       Carolyn Lefcourt, who was working as a story editor for Walt Disney Pictures, showed a newspaper article about the case to writer Brian Garfield, who was the head of Shan Productions. They brought in novelist Donald E. Westlake and the three crafted the story of a man betrayed by the American dream. Westlake then wrote the screenplay.
       A trade advertisement from ITC (Independent Television Company) Productions in the 9 Jul 1986 DV indicated the film was in post-production and looking for distribution. New Century/Vista Film Corporation, a new company started by Norman Levy, the former chair of Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, secured distribution rights in fall 1986 as the company’s first acquisition, according to an article in the 4 Mar 1987 LAT.
       Test screenings were generally positive and the film opened on 100 screens in the Southern California area on 23 Jan 1987. Reviews were also positive, but audiences stayed away. New Century tried several different advertising campaigns positioning the movie as an adult psychological thriller, but after six weeks, the film had grossed a mere $1.3 million, according to the LAT. Levy speculated that The Stepfather’s lack of a major stars or a well known director contributed to the film not getting on moviegoers “radars.” Finally, New Century tired a new advertising campaign positioning the movie as a slasher film aimed at younger audiences and re-released it in Los Angeles at the Coronet Theatre. That release brought in $11,396 in the first week, slightly more than the $10,949 it made in its opening week at the Egyptian Theatre during its original release in Los Angeles, according to an 11 Mar 1987 DV report.
       Because of its mediocre performance, the film did not receive a wide opening. The Village Voice , after giving it a glowing review in its 3 Mar 1987 issue, pushed to get the film booked in New York City in its 7 Apr 1987 issue. According to an 8 May 1987 NYT review, the film opened in New York City on that day at the Gemini Theatre. However, the Village Voice, in its 12 May 1987 issue, indicated it would open on 15 May 1987. Levy told the paper that New York exhibitors had screened the film earlier in the year, but were not interested in booking it until Village Voice helped stir interest.
       In 2006, Screen Gems acquired the rights to remake The Stepfather, according to the 6 Jun 2006 DV. The movie, directed by Nelson McCormick and starring Dylan Walsh and Sela Ward, was released in Oct 2009 also under the title The Stepfather (see entry).

      End credits include “special thanks” to Kurzweil Music Systems.
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GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
9 Jul 1986.
---
Daily Variety
20 Jan 1987
p. 3, 8.
Daily Variety
11 Mar 1987.
---
Daily Variety
6 Jun 2006.
---
Hollywood Reporter
12 Nov 1985.
---
Hollywood Reporter
22 Jan 1987
p. 5, 66.
Los Angeles Times
23 Jan 1987
p. 15.
Los Angeles Times
4 Mar 1987
Part VI, p. 1, 8.
New York Times
8 May 1987
p. 9.
Variety
21 Jan 1987
p. 16.
Village Voice
3 Mar 1987.
---
Village Voice
7 Apr 1987.
---
Village Voice
12 May 1987.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
ITC Productions Presents
DISTRIBUTION COMPANIES
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
3d asst dir
2d unit 1st asst dir
PRODUCER
Prod
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
1st asst cam
2d asst cam
Addl cam op
Steadicam op
Key grip
2d grip
Dolly grip
Grip
Best boy
Best boy
Lamp op
Lamp op
Lamp op
Lamp op
Lamp op
Lamp op
Lamp op
Lamp op
Lamp op
Lamp op
Still photog
Lenses and Panaflex camera by
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Asst art dir
Story board artist
FILM EDITORS
Asst ed
SET DECORATORS
Asst set dec
Set dresser
Set dresser
Prop master
Const coord
Head painter
Greensman
COSTUMES
Cost des
Cost supv
Costumer
MUSIC
Mus comp and performed by
Mus ed
Segue Music
Mus sd track prod by
Mus sd track prod by
Mus sd track eng by
Mus sd track eng by
Mus sd track eng by
Ms clearances by
SOUND
Prod sd mixer
Boom op
Supv sd ed
Sd ed
Asst sd ed
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
ADR voice casting
ADR voice casting
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff coord
Spec eff best boy
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Casting
Casting
Exec in charge of prod
Scr supv
Pub coord
Craft services
Prod controller
Prod coord
Asst prod coord
Los Angeles coord
Prod estimator
Prod accountant
Asst prod accountant
Asst to Mr. Benson
Asst to Mr. Ruben
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Canadian casting asst
Transportation coord
Transportation capt
Transportation co-capt
Post prod supv
Scr material provided by
Canadian casting by
STAND INS
Stunt coord
SOURCES
SONGS
“Run Between The Raindrops,” performed by Pat Benatar, music and lyrics by M. Grombacher and N. Geraldo, published by Tyreach Music/Neil Geraldo Music Co./ Rare Blue Music, Inc. (ASCAP), courtesy of Chrysalis Records, Inc.
“Sleeping Beauty,” performed by the Divinyls, music and lyrics by C. Amphlett and M. McEntee, published by Astute Lullaby Kings/Rare Blue Music, Inc. (ASCAP), courtesy of Chrysalis Records, Inc.
“I Want You,” performed by Patrick Moraz and John McBurnie, music by Patrick Moraz, lyrics by John McBurnie, published by Zoram Music (ASCAP), Inc., courtesy of Passport Records (JEM).
DETAILS
Release Date:
23 January 1987
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles opening: 23 Jan 1987; New York opening: 8 May 1987 or 15 May 1987
Production Date:
began 16 Oct 1985 in Vancouver, Canada
Copyright Claimant:
ITC Productions, Inc.
Copyright Date:
19 March 1987
Copyright Number:
PA321922
Physical Properties:
Sound
Recorded in Ultra Stereo
Color
Duration(in mins):
89
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In Bellevue, Washington, an upscale suburb of Seattle, Henry Morrison murders his wife and stepdaughter, then shaves off his beard, takes a shower, puts on a suit and tie, throws his bloody clothes in a suitcase and leaves the house, passing by his family’s corpses. He takes a ferry and drops the suitcase into Lake Washington during the crossing. One year later, Henry has remarried and changed his name to Jerry Blake. He works as a real estate agent in Oak Ridge, Washington, another suburb of Seattle. His wife, Susan, adores him, but his sixteen-year-old stepdaughter, Stephanie Maine, is wary of him, despite Jerry buying her a puppy. Stephanie has been suspended from school five times in the past year and now sees a psychiatrist, Dr. Bondurant, for help accepting her father’s death and her mother’s remarriage. Stephanie tells Dr. Bondurant that the real problem in the family is Jerry. One day, Jerry picks Stephanie up after school and stresses the importance of studying and getting good grades. The next day, Stephanie gets into a fight in art class and is expelled. She asks her mother and Jerry to send her to boarding school, but Jerry refuses, saying “father knows best” and that a family does not exist without children. That night, Stephanie complains to one of her friends that “Scary Jerry,” as she calls him, thinks everyone should act like the families on television situation comedies. The next day, Jerry shows a couple a house for sale and then pushes their little girl on a swing in the backyard. He starts telling the girl about his daughter, Stephanie, but in mid-conversation says his daughter is named “Jill” ... +


In Bellevue, Washington, an upscale suburb of Seattle, Henry Morrison murders his wife and stepdaughter, then shaves off his beard, takes a shower, puts on a suit and tie, throws his bloody clothes in a suitcase and leaves the house, passing by his family’s corpses. He takes a ferry and drops the suitcase into Lake Washington during the crossing. One year later, Henry has remarried and changed his name to Jerry Blake. He works as a real estate agent in Oak Ridge, Washington, another suburb of Seattle. His wife, Susan, adores him, but his sixteen-year-old stepdaughter, Stephanie Maine, is wary of him, despite Jerry buying her a puppy. Stephanie has been suspended from school five times in the past year and now sees a psychiatrist, Dr. Bondurant, for help accepting her father’s death and her mother’s remarriage. Stephanie tells Dr. Bondurant that the real problem in the family is Jerry. One day, Jerry picks Stephanie up after school and stresses the importance of studying and getting good grades. The next day, Stephanie gets into a fight in art class and is expelled. She asks her mother and Jerry to send her to boarding school, but Jerry refuses, saying “father knows best” and that a family does not exist without children. That night, Stephanie complains to one of her friends that “Scary Jerry,” as she calls him, thinks everyone should act like the families on television situation comedies. The next day, Jerry shows a couple a house for sale and then pushes their little girl on a swing in the backyard. He starts telling the girl about his daughter, Stephanie, but in mid-conversation says his daughter is named “Jill” and that she is a straight-A student and on the student council. Susan tells her daughter she never expected to have a second chance at love after her husband died and asks Stephanie to try harder to get along with Jerry. However, when Susan asks Jerry questions about his past, he will not give her any answers, replying that only the present matters. Meanwhile, in Bellevue, Jim Ogilvie asks a reporter to do a follow-up story about the unsolved murders of his sister and niece. Jim reminds the reporter that Henry Morrison is the prime suspect, who quit his job three weeks before the murders, but still pretended to go to work each day during that time. Jim believes that Henry was busy setting up a new life in those three weeks and must be in the Seattle area. A few days later, Jerry throws a party for the families who bought houses from him in the past year. As some of the men chat, they notice the newspaper article about the unsolved murders in Bellevue. They wonder what could make a man kill his own family. Jerry replies, “Maybe they disappointed him.” When Stephanie goes to the basement to get ice cream from the freezer, she finds Jerry there having a fit, banging his fists on the table and saying to himself, “Let me out.” When he sees Stephanie, he makes excuses, saying it is hard to always be “on” for people, and he has to let off steam. Later, Stephanie sees the newspaper article and wonders if the murderer could be Jerry. She writes the newspapers asking for a photo of Henry Morrison, saying it is for a school project. A few days later, Jerry brings the mail in and notices the envelope addressed to Stephanie. He opens it and has a panic attack seeing his picture inside. He goes to the basement and practices making stabbing motions with a knife. Later, he substitutes a different photo and leaves the envelope for Stephanie. Dr. Bondurant believes boarding school will be good for Stephanie, as it will give everyone in the family some breathing room. When he telephones Jerry to discuss it, Jerry refuses to talk with him and instead goes to the school to convince the principal to let Stephanie return. Meanwhile, Jim Ogilvie goes to the police for a progress report about his sister’s murder. The police tell him Henry Morrison was not the husband’s real name, that he falsified his background and his fingerprints were untraceable. Consequently, a police psychologist believes that Henry likely did the same thing before: married into an existing family, then killed them when something upset his world. The police advise Jim to get a gun if he intends to investigate this on his own. Soon, Jim has a handgun and is practicing at the firing range. Using a different name, Dr. Bondurant makes an appointment to have Jerry show him a house. During the house tour, Bondurant makes disparaging remarks about families and marriage, trying to provoke a reaction from Jerry. When Bondurant says something contradicting a previous statement, Jerry becomes suspicious and grows upset. He hits Bondurant repeatedly with a two-by-four board, killing him. He wraps the body in paper to carry it away, then sets Bondurant’s car on fire and pushes it over a cliff with Bondurant’s body inside. Later, when Jerry tells Stephanie about Bondurant’s death, she starts crying on Jerry’s shoulder, which pleases him. That weekend, the family puts up a birdhouse in the backyard together. A few days later at Thanksgiving dinner, Jerry cuts the turkey and says he never knew what Thanksgiving was about until that moment. Meanwhile at the public library, Jim sees a magazine listing ten great all-American towns, one of which is Oak Ridge. He goes to the Oak Ridge public records office and gets a list of everyone who has been married in the past year. When Stephanie goes out with some friends, they run into classmate Paul Barker, who offers to give Stephanie a ride on his Vespa motorcycle. When Paul takes Stephanie home, he kisses her on the front steps. At that moment, Jerry rushes outside and chases Paul away, screaming that he is trying to rape Stephanie. Susan tries to defend her husband’s action, but Stephanie is outraged. Susan slaps Stephanie, who runs away. Susan berates Jerry, saying all the progress they have made has just been thrown away. The next day, Jerry quits his job. Over the next several weeks, Jerry takes the ferry to Rosedale, Washington, each day, changing his appearance by adding a moustache and colored contact lenses. In Rosedale, he begins setting up a new life as Bill Hodgkins, gets a job as an insurance salesman and rents an apartment. Meanwhile, in his quest to find Henry/Jerry, Jim goes to the homes of the people who have recently married, crossing them off his list. Susan telephones Jerry at the real estate agency, but is told he no longer works there. When Jerry gets home, he dismisses Susan’s concern saying the new receptionist made a mistake. However, he accidently calls himself “Hodgkins” instead of “Blake.” When Susan corrects him, Jerry slaps her. She rushes to the basement, but Jerry pushes her down the stairs and leaves her there, believing she is dead. As Jerry takes a knife upstairs, Jim rings the doorbell. Since the door is ajar, Jim lets himself in and comes eye to eye with Jerry, who stabs Jim in the stomach, killing him. When Jerry tries to stab Stephanie, she locks herself in the bathroom. Jerry bangs at the door repeatedly until he breaks the door. Stephanie stabs him in the shoulder with a shaft of broken glass and rushes away with Jerry in pursuit. Jerry stabs her in the shoulder, but Susan appears and shoots him with a gun. He falls down the stairs, but comes back, intent on killing Susan and Stephanie. Susan shoots him again, but Jerry gets back up. Stephanie takes the knife and stabs Jerry in the chest. Jerry falls down the stairs, dead. Sometime later, Susan and Stephanie take an ax and chop down the birdhouse Jerry put up earlier.
+

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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