The Stepfather is a 1987 American horror\thriller film directed by Joseph Ruben, starring Terry O'Quinn, Shelley Hack and Jill Schoelen. It is loosely based on the life of mass murderer John List.

The movie was released on January 23, 1987 (although it was filmed in 1985) by the New Century Vista Film Company. It was preceeded by two sequels Stepfather II and "Stepfather III" & a remake in 2009.


Spoiler warning: The following contains plot details about
the entire movie.

A man named Henry Morrison is shown washing off blood in a bathroom before changing his appearance and putting a few of his belongings into a suitcase. After he packs his things, Henry leaves through the front door of his house, nonchalantly passing the butchered remains of his family and other people. He boards a ferry and throws the suitcase into the ocean.

A year later, Henry (who is now operating as a real estate agent named Jerry Blake) has married widow Susan Maine. Jerry's relationship with Susan's 16-year-old daughter, Stephanie is strained and her psychiatrist, Dr. Bondurant advises Stephanie to give Jerry a chance.

Meanwhile, amateur detective Jim Ogilvie (who is the brother of Jerry's murdered wife) runs an article about his sister's murder in the newspaper. While hosting a neighborhood barbecue, Jerry discovers the article and is disturbed by it. He goes into the basement of the house and begins maniacally rambling to himself, unaware that Stephanie is also in there as well.

Jerry explains to Stephanie that he was simply letting off steam. Stephanie finds the newspaper mentioning Jerry's earlier killings and comes to believe that her stepfather is the murderer mentioned in the article. She writes a letter to the newspaper requesting a photo of Henry Morrison, but Jerry discovers the photo in the mail and replaces it with another one allaying her suspicions.

Curious about Stephanie's stepfather, Dr. Bondurant makes an appointment with Jerry under an assumed name, saying he wants to buy a house. During their meeting, Jerry realizes that Dr. Bondurant is not who he says he is, beats him to death and fakes a car accident.

The next day, Jerry informs Stephanie of Dr. Bondurant's death and succeeds in bonding with her, but his newfound relationship with her is adruptly cut short when he catches Stephanie kissing her boyfriend, Paul. Jerry accuses Paul of attempting to rape Stephanie which causes an argument with Stephanie & Susan and drives Paul away. Stephanie runs out on Jerry & Susan because Susan says that Jerry's her father, but he's not.

The next day, Jerry quits his job and creates a new identity ("Bill Hodgkins") for himself in another town. He starts dating another widow while planning to get rid of Susan and Stephanie.

Having discovered where Jerry is now living, Jim Ogilvie begins going door to door, looking for his former brother-in-law. After Jim stops by the house, Susan phones the real estate agency to tell Jerry that someone was looking for him, only to be informed that Jerry quit his job several days ago.

Susan confronts Jerry about this, but while explaining himself to Susan, Jerry ends up confusing his identities and Susan comes to the realization that Stephanie was telling the truth about Jerry.

Jerry assaults Susan with the phone and knocks her down the basement stairs. After believing that Susan is dead, Jerry sets out to kill Stephanie, but first kills Jim. After he terrorizing Stephanie, he corners her in the attic, but he ends up falling through the weak floor down to the bathroom.

Jerry recovers from his injuries and attempts to attack Susan & Stephanie again (despite Susan shooting him twice from behind with Jim's revolver), but Stephanie stabs him in the chest,seemingly killing him and he weakly utters "I love you", tumbles down the stairs and dies.

The film ends with Stephanie cutting down a birdhouse that she and Jerry had built together.


  • Terry O'Quinn as Jerry Blake/Henry Morrison/Bill Hodgkins
  • Jill Schoelen as Stephanie Maine
  • Shelley Hack as Susan Maine
  • Charles Lanyer as Dr. A. Bondurant
  • Stephen Shellen as Jim Ogilvie


The principal photography for the movie took place from October 16 to November 23, 1985 in British Columbia, Canada and concluded in 38 days.

Director Joseph Ruben was initially reluctant to direct the movie because he didn't want to make another average slasher film, but he accepted to do it. He also wanted the character Jerry Blake to whistle Barbara Streisand's song "The Way We Were", but the song rights were too expensive, so the idea was scratched.

Cinematographer John Lindley was hired as a last-minute replacement for the initial director of photography in the movie who was arrested in a domestic dispute right before shooting began.

Box Office

During its opening weekend, "The Stepfather" grossed around $260,587 and earned a total domestic gross of $2,488,740.

Critical Reception

The movie has an 86% approval rating from Rotten Tomatoes, with an average rating of 6.7/10, out of 29 reviews.

Roger Ebert gave the movie 2.5 stars out of 4, commenting: "Violence itself seems to sell at the box office, even when it's divorced from any context. Maybe that's what the filmmakers were thinking. What often happens, though, is that in an otherwise flawed film there are a couple of things that are wonderful. The Stepfather has one wonderful element: Terry O'Quinn's performance."

The Washington Post called it "a psychological thriller but with real-life horror bubbling underneath the surface" and said it made a few references to Albert Hitchcock.

Common Sense Media described it as "a popular '80s horror-suspense about parent from hell."

On "Combustible Celluloid", the movie ranked 3 out of 4 stars with reviewer Jeffrey M. Anderson commenting:

"Joseph Ruben directs competently but perhaps not as playfully as the material could have used, but O'Quinn gets in a few prime moments, such as the startling one in which he forgets which persona he's currently occupying. Nevertheless, The Stepfather is still a high water mark of 1980s horror/suspense."



The Stepfather (1987) HD Trailer