Synapse // 1989 // 88 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // October 9th, 2009
Make room for daddy.
Before he was running around a magic island, Terry O'Quinn (Lost) was menacing innocent families and strangling female postal employees.
Following the events of the first film, Gene (O'Quinn) -- the psycho, homicidal "stepfather" who's made a habit out of charming his way into families then killing a bunch of people -- has been calling a psychiatric ward his home. He has yet to fulfill his longtime dream of finding the perfect family, so he won't be in custody long.
After killing a couple of guys, Gene undergoes an extreme makeover (he buys a toupee) and transplants himself into an all-new neighborhood. After taking on the identity of a psychiatrist, he quickly spots a potential new lady friend -- Carol (Meg Foster, They Live) a realtor and single mom, nice and vulnerable thanks to a recently dissolved marriage. That's perfect for Gene and he makes his move, tricking nearly everyone into believing he's a good guy. Alas, he is, of course, a psycho.
This isn't so much straight horror, but rather a slice of psychological terror. The kills are neither graphic nor creative, and Gene as a villain is far from colorful or exotic. He's just a severely disturbed individual with an unattainably idealistic vision of marriage and family life. Why can't people just believe he's as awesome as he says he is?
The film is concerned with Gene's methodology in securing Carol's trust and winning over her son's affections. As his identity unravels (thanks to nosy friends), he's forced to improvise (get his murder on) and frantically preserve his façade. Until the wedding, that is, when presumably he'll have finally achieved his dream (because as we all know, it gets easier to mask the fact you're a sociopath after the nuptials). This slow build-up to the wedding day is the main tension driver. When will Carol and her son figure out who this douchebag really is? And what is going to finally do him in?
My two biggest complaints stem from the answers to two specific questions:
How long will it take Carol and her son figure out who this douchebag
A looooooooooonnnngggggg time. Stepfather II doesn't exactly zip along, director Jeff Burr opting to take his time to develop the suspense. It's a choice that sort of works. You'll definitely get a robust dose of character development, and thankfully both O'Quinn and Foster are seasoned vets, so the performances are there. But that all comes at the expense of a brisk pace. With the kills so few and far between, there is plenty of downtime, which could be crippling if you're going into the film expecting a slasher. Pro-tip: Don't do that.
What is ultimately going to do Gene in?
I won't spoil anything except to say it really seems like this script was written without a solid ending in mind. A last minute plot device makes an appearance, blowing his identity in a too-tidy fashion. O'Quinn flipping out, however, is definitely noteworthy. His endgame is nice and bloody, too.
Synapse did well with the DVD release. The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is solid, as is the 2.0 Dolby surround. A nice selection of extras round out the set: commentary from director Jeff Burr and producer Darin Scott, an all-new making-of featurette, deleted scenes, and a photo gallery. Nice job Synapse.
Terry O'Quinn is boss as the titular wack job, but the movie lags in spots.
Daddy is a deadbeat.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 88 Minutes
Release Year: 1989
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes
* Image Gallery