Friday, February 19, 2010

"The Stepfather": "The boy is the problem" -- Screen Gems remakes a classic thriller (And, no, the boy isn't!)

This autumn Sony Screen Gems released a remake of a classic horror film, “The Stepfather”, originally made in 1987, based on a story by Carolyn Lefcourt, Brian Garfield, and Donald E. Westlake, directed by Nelson McCormick. In the DVD short “Open House,” McCormick talks as if he were looking for a classic horror film to remake, and he had missed this one. (He mentions Hitchcock’s “Shadow of a Doubt” as well as Minghella’s “The Talented Mr. Ripley”, “The Hand that Rocks the Cradle”, other suspense films (even "The Darkroom"), a genre particularly common in the 80s, where the menace lives within your house – a favorite theme for Lifetime Channel movies, too). The house for the film was actually built on a set, and the actors had to perform some skillful aerial stunts.

The story is well known: a man marries women with kids and does away with them. The “villain” is David Harris, played by Dylan Walsh. But his problem this time is “the boy”, Michael, played by Baltimore-born Penn Badgley. He has been sent away to a military school by his mother, but has returned home wiser, and a swimming champion. (Like Baltimore-born Michael Phelps, he has surrendered his chest hair for this movie, as with “Gossip Girl”; go back and look at Badgley in “The Bedford Diaries”.) Actors go through a lot – if they want to. In the 1987 film, the "teen" was a girl instead.

The director, in the commentary, says that the stepfather is in search of the "perfect family." What a twist on "family values." The movie, in fact, starts in Salt Lake City with the villain leaving his previous "family."

David tries to impress upon Michael that things will change in the family, and that Michael had better watch his step or else wind up in military school again, and, well, he overplays his hand. (Indeed, "Daddy's home"; the patriarchal family is tested to its limits.) Michael, having now to protect his mother, naturally becomes suspicious. One thing about Badgley’s performance: he seems a little too slick and polished (literally) to have needed military academy. Now the Army does give ROTC scholarships, pays for people to go to med school, etc. He fits more into that role – maybe his next movie will be about Afghanistan.

The end – let’s not spoil it – could invite a sequel. It’s not always true that all’s well that ends well.
The official site is here. I had some trouble in Vista and IE making it work. The video trailer is the most complicated to play I’ve seen at a movie site.

Screen Gems, a Sony subsidiary, now has studios in North Carolina and New York, mostly for smaller genre films, link here.

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