After making a memorable debut with the Vincent Price horror anthology film The Offspring (aka From a Whisper to a Scream ), young filmmaker Jeff Burr was given the opportunity by ITC and Millimeter Films to helm Stepfather II: Make Room for Daddy in 1989. Smartly letting master thespian Terry O’Quinn reprise his most revered and well-known movie role as “Jerry Blake”, this sequel has a similar feel to the original , but has considerably more violence and an extra dash or two of black humor applied to the formula in the form of wisecracks by our twisted, whistling anti-hero. Originally intended to be released directly to video, Stepfather II did have a limited theatrical release like the first film before settling onto VHS and slowly acquiring a cult following.
At the beginning of Stepfather II , we learn that Jerry did not die after being stabbed in the chest by his stepdaughter Stephanie at the end of the first and has been locked up permanently in an instituation for the insane. After murdering his resident psychiatrist Dr. Joseph Danvers (Henry Brown) and escaping from the nuthouse, Jerry quickly assumes yet another identity in a different town: Dr. Gene Clifford, a sage, well-adjusted (and conspicuously single) relationship counselor. Gene uses the counselor angle as a front to meet single, widowed and unhappily married women during group therapy sessions, and he soon sets his sights on Carol Grayland (Meg Foster), a real estate agent with a young son named Todd (Jonathan Brandis) who has been abandoned by her husband Phil (Mitchell Laurance). Gene woos lovelorn Carol and makes friends with Todd, eagerly building rapport with a new prospective family in desperate need of a father figure … but soon Phil comes back into the picture and tries to persuade Carol to take him back. Gene is not surprisingly determined to push Phil back out of Carol’s life, and he does so violently when he slashes Phil to ribbons with a broken wine bottle and hides his corpse in his own car, which he trashes and leaves in a junkyard.
He comforts Carol and Todd after Phil’s unexplained disappearance, and within no time Gene and Carol are engaged to be married. Everything seems to be bliss, but Carol’s best friend Matty Crimmins (Caroline Williams) doesn’t trust Gene’s intentions and discovers that the man has lied about his identity and credentials as a psychiatrist. Before she can warn Carol about “Gene”, Matty is strangled in her home by the demented family man, who makes her death look like a suicide complete with note and noose. Carol grieves for her unfortunate friend, and despite a report that an unidentified person was heard leaving Matty’s apartment the night of her death whistling Camptown Races, her death is ruled a suicide and the case closed. On the night of her wedding to Gene, after dressing in her gown in a back room at the chapel, Carol overhears Todd whistling Camptown Races in the hallway outside and questions him about who he learned the tune from. After learning it was Gene that taught the melody to her son, Carol nervously confronts her fiance about what she’s learned, but gets more than she bargained for when Gene flies into a homicidal rage and tries to brutally dispose of his bride-to-be and her son with a large butcher knife.
Stepfather II was, like its predecessor , not a box office smash when released theatrically, but has since achieved a decent measure of attention as a cult favorite . It didn’t receive the critical acclaim that Part 1 did and was generally regarded as an inferior sequel more concerned with violence and gory shocks like the other slasher films of its day. It is indeed slicker, faster paced and much more brutal than the original sleeper , but features considerably more psychological slasher cliches and gimmicks that are old hat by now. Nevertheless, it’s so entertaining and well-acted that one can forgive its flaws and just enjoy the fright-filled ride. Terry O’Quinn’s psychopathic character doesn’t have the same nerve-jangling impact as in the first due to the abundance of Freddy-Kruegerish wisecracks written into the part (and the fact that his character has more screen time), but he’s just as enjoyable in the role and relishes his scenery-chewing moments. Meg Foster is always a welcome addition to any film’s cast and gives a subtle but heartfelt performance as unsuspecting Carol, and the late Jonathan Brandis is strong as the fatherless Todd who at first embraces Gene as his new role model figure. Caroline Williams of Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 fame is a particular standout as the ill-fated Matty, whose concern for her best friend’s well-being ends up getting her savagely killed.
Stepfather II is a fast-moving psychological slasher sequel that doesn’t quite match its predecessor ‘s subtler, more intriguing screenplay, but is equally entertaining and provides plenty of fun, bloody thrills for gorehounds and suspense fans. I give it a respectable 7 of 10.