Colour, 1989, 93m.
Directed by Jeff Burr
Starring Terry O’Quinn, Meg Foster, Caroline Williams, Jonathan Brandis, Henry Brown
Synapse (US R1 NTSC) , Buena Vista (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9) / DD2.0

Despite the fact that he was filled with gaping knife wounds after his last rampage, the serial killer known as Jerry Blake (O’Quinn) has survived and for some reason undergoes rehabilitation in a psychiatric hospital. Not surprisingly, this plan is short-lived as the psycho stepfather knocks off his shrink and a guard for a tidy escape back into the suburbs. Now going under the name Gene Clifford, he sets his sights on another single mom, Carol (Foster), and her son Todd (Brandis), with a swift courtship that soon leads to a marriage proposal. Carol’s friend Matty (Williams) harbors some suspicions which put her next in line on the lunatic’s hit list, and as the countdown to the wedding day approaches, Carol has only a short amount of time to realize the danger that awaits her.

Since the surprise video hit The Stepfather proved to be one of the most powerful horror films of the 1980s, it was only natural that a sequel would be put into production right away. Of course, the fact that the film’s very human villain was handily dispatched at the end set up one of many obstacles for the script (an issue solved even less convincingly in the ludicrous Stepfather 3), and the decision not to use any of the creative talent behind the first film means this one can’t hope to measure up. However, on its own modest terms, Stepfather 2 offers plenty of entertainment value primarily thanks to the return of O’Quinn, a terrific actor who eventually got the credit he was due on TV’s Lost, Alias and Millennium. Spooky-eyed Foster (They Live) and the late Bradis (TV’s Seaquest DSV) have less to do with their sketchy roles, which are completely sabotaged by the script’s idiotic assertion that no modern kid would possibly know how to whistle the song “Camptown Races” on his own.

Upon its initial release, Stepfather 2 (sometimes shown under the irritating title of Stepfather 2: Make Room for Daddy) had quite a bit of horror community buzz as the first big film for director Jeff Burr, who caused a minor stir with his grisly horror anthology, The Offspring (aka From a Whisper to a Scream). Despite the deeply flawed script, he does a fine job here and executes some solid suspense sequences while ratching up the brutality as well, particularly the blood-spattered wedding finale. After this he went on to a far more problematic sequel, Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III, and a couple of Puppet Master films to boot.

For some odd reason Miramax wound up with the rights to this film and tagged it for full-on special edition treatment on DVD, and all of those supplements are carried over along with a new featurette for Synapse’s reissue. Burr and producer Darrin Scott appear for a good commentary track about the making of the film; Burr in particular is one of the better chatters around for horror commentaries, and his enthusiasm and excellent memory serve him well here. On the video side you get over 30 minutes of deleted footage including some additional gore during the most memorable murder sequence; it’s all taken from a VHS-sourced work print but its nice to have all the same. The new addition to the Synapse release is “The Stepfather Chronicles: Daddy’s New Home,” a half-hour featurette prepared at the same time as the supplements for Shout! Factory’s release of the first film. It’s a very informative and well-constructed piece with Burr, Scott, Williams, writer John Auerbach, cinematographer Jacek Laskus and editor Pasquale Buba chatting about the making of the film, including its convoluted road from conception to screen and the challenges posed by creating new scenarios for America’s most unhinged stepdad. Theatrical trailers and a stills gallery round out a very solid presentation.

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