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The Stepfather Review

For Families provided by Common Sense Media

Iffy for 14+

Popular '80s horror-suspense about parent from hell.

What Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this tense thriller (which was remade in 2009) includes brief but bloody, brutal violence -- characters are beaten to death, knifed, and shot. The famously disturbing opening scene depicts the aftermath of a mass murder, with dead bodies of children especially prominent. Nudity includes a flash of bare breasts and full male nudity (though the latter isn't presented in a sexual context), and there's a non-explicit sex scene and a bit of rough language (including "s--t" and "f--k"). Blended families in which stepparents and kids have trouble getting along may not necessarily be the best audience for this film, for obvious reasons.

  • Families can talk about the stereotypical fear of wicked stepparents, from fairy-tales to here. Is that fair or realistic?
  • How does the violence in this movie compare to bloodier horror films like the Saw series? Do the different types of violence have different impact? Is one scarier than the other?
  • Some critics complain that mainstream moviemakers cynically bash "traditional American values" by making conservative characters and patriotic symbols look bad. Is this movie guilty of that, or is it just trying to be clever suspense?

The good stuff
  • message true0

    Messages: The movie suggests that childhood abuse/discipline -- combined with media images -- has turned the title character into the monster that he is, somebody so determined to maintain a stereotypically "normal," traditional household that he'll commit mass murder, again and again, rather than deal with the messiness of actual modern family life.

  • rolemodels true0

    Role models: The movie's central character is a nice-acting, "all-American" dad who's really a maniac; his demands for order, respect, and propriety are really pathologies. The movie puts a negative spin on patriotic symbols and "wholesome" attitudes. Police, teachers, and authority figures seem clueless and ineffective. Stephanie is delinqunt in class but still seems like a smart teen.

What to watch for
  • violence false4

    Violence: Bloody violence -- characters are bashed to death, knifed, and shot. Children's dead bodies are shown (among other victims). At one point it looks like a dog will be slain, too, but nothing is shown.

  • sex false4

    Sex: Full male nudity (in a washing-up-after-a-murder context); bare female breasts in a shower. Jerry and his (present) wife have non-explicit sex. Jerry is accused of having sexual hangups.

  • language false3

    Language: One-time uses of "s--t" and "f--k," plus "bitch," "bastard," and "a--hole."

  • consumerism false1

    Consumerism: Product labels include Toshiba and the magazine Cosmopolitan.

  • drugsalcoholtobacco false0

    Drinking, drugs and smoking: Not an issue