Monday, January 9, 2017



THE STEPFATHER, an enjoyable psycho-thriller that's been much imitated over the years, doesn't go into that much depth in a psychological sense.

The story centers upon a psycho whose true name is never revealed in the film, but who is known through most of the narrative as "Jerry Blake." Whereas some real men have carried on bigamous affairs, sustaining two if not more separate family lives, Jerry seeks to find the ideal family life due to some traumatic event in his past. To this end he worms his way into a family that lacks a father-figure-- from what we see, the families of widows with children. However, when each family fails to live up to his exacting standards of what the ideal family should be, he scouts around for a new family, beginning the process of inveigling himself into the new familial unit, and then kills the previous family.

A year after the audience sees Jerry slay one unsatisfactory adoptive group, he has managed to marry widow Susan Maine, who has one high-school-age daughter, Stephanie. In contrast with some stories dealing with an unwanted step-parent, Stephanie's animus for her new father does not stem from any fixation on her dead dad, who is barely referenced in the storyline. Nor is Jerry, like other evil step-parents, covetous of his stepdaughter's sexuality: he simply wants to control her absolutely, and on some level Stephanie recognizes that his controlling nature goes beyond the bounds of the average step-parent. Unfortunately for Jerry, the brother of a previous murder-victim is trying to track down his sister's killer, and Jerry's efforts to short-circuit Stephanie's suspicions only further his own mental breakdown. In the film's best scene, the killer uses the wrong false name for himself in front of Susan-- precipitating a bloody showdown between the ersatz father and his step-family.

In the symbolic sense Jerry Blake is a "heavy father," but rather than simply imposing his will as most such figures do, he's actually trying to impose a false ideal upon lived reality: an ideal close to the heart of American pop culture. While there's no question in my mind that Jerry is a "perilous psycho" in the uncanny mode, I had to think whether or not STEPFATHER also made use of the uncanny version of the "bizarre crime." Certainly Jerry's not an artful psycho: he clubs one victim to death with a board. But I finally decided that his motif of moving from family to family in pursuit of his twisted ideal qualified as a bizarre crime in itself-- though of course, like any uncanny facet of a narrative, it can be reconfigured to take on a purely naturalistic phenomenality, as one indeed sees in some of STEPFATHER's imitators.

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