From Damon–“I recently saw this last entry in the franchise for the first time and absolutely fell in love with every last minute. From the wheelchair bound kid with an affinity for neon clothes to the pretty creepy actions of the ‘new’ titular character. He’s no Terry O’Quinn, but who is? As a bonus Priscilla Barnes plays the wife, which kind of makes a Three’s Company connection with Ritter in one of the other movies I picked for Brian. Also, BK picked a part three film for me so I thought it only fair.”
There’s something to be said for being committed enough to doing some sort of justice to a series that you cast your lead role based on vocal similarities to the star of the previous entries. While there’s no proof that that’s the case with the choice to replace Terry O’Quinn with Robert Wightman, the fact that Wightman’s biggest credit prior to Stepfather III was a three season stint as John Boy during the twilight years of The Waltons indicates something other than the desire to sell this made-for-video threequel based on star power. Premiering on HBO in 1992, Stepfather III is a lean sequel that ditches atmosphere and character development for a bare-bones endgame to the psychotic stepfather’s story.
Things get off to a fast start with The Stepfather escaping from the mental asylum and opting for immediate, painkiller-free plastic surgery that makes him unrecognizable and blessed with a healthier hairline. His new persona is Keith Grant (never trust a guy with two monosyllabic names) and his introduction is during an Easter egg hunt (a nod to Critters 2? probably not) donning an Easter bunny suit. He’s pretty much perfect, God-fearing husband material and that’s why Christine Davis (Priscilla Barnes, Three’s Company) decides to make him her husband. It’s her wheelchair-bound son Andy that’s having a hard time with the marriage, seeing him for the evil Stepfather he is. So begins the expected cat-and-mouse came between stepfather and stepchild as Andy uses his futuristic 1992 home computer system to research Keith’s background while Keith tries to cover up his tracks by piling up bodies of people that threaten to expose his ruse.
Stepfather III is certainly not a great film but it works by reducing the Stepfather franchise to its most base elements, ditching any needless setup in Christine and Keith’s relationship and just jumping to the part where his brat, lazy (Andy doesn’t have a real reason for being in a wheelchair) stepson makes his life complicated. Keith takes this out on Andy by (as usual) trying to mold him into being a functioning unit of the “perfect family”- namely by playing rough football with him and making him fall out of his wheelchair. By day The Stepfather is a gardener which gives him access to murder devices (including a woodchipper that factors wonderfully into the finale) removing the white-collar restrictions of previous entries. Things begin to unravel for him (and he begins to fall back on his old “Who am I here?” shtick) when he learns Christine is unable to have children. This causes a crack in the family that soon widens into a chasm. Fortunately, another family takes a shining to him, the wife is loving and fertile and the son can walk.
Wightman does an admirable job channeling O’Quinn, he’s got the voice and obviously studied his predecessor’s mannerisms well. David Tom as Andy, though, is an obnoxious little shit, perhaps in an attempt to have the audience sympathize with The Stepfather, but more likely it’s a case of a bad child actor trying to work with a subpar script. Andy’s refusal to walk is more of a project to Keith than a hindrance to his ideals, but when the boy constantly whines and makes it obvious that he is snooping (even going so far as to putting his priest friend, the only person who seems to believe him, in direct danger) his decision to cut and run seems like a good one. Fortunately for all involved in the story and those watching the movie, things come completely undone on (gasp!) Father’s Day in a truly fun third act.
Stepfather III never transcends its cheapie sequel origins but it does manage to be quite an entertaining cap to the trilogy. It does feel a little long (110 minutes is a bit much for a slasher) but what’s there is the series stripped of anything but horror. What remains is the trail of bodies left by The Stepfather going full-on psycho when what will prove to be his final attempts at the perfect family go awry. What’s most surprising isn’t that Stepfather III is an entirely watchable film, it’s that it is the second enjoyable sequel to a minor (but excellent) horror film that never felt like it needed any.