Poster artwork © Screen Gems

On March 14, 2008, I visited the set of the horror/thriller The Stepfather. A remake of the minor 1987 classic, which starred Terry O’Quinn, who went on to fame in TV’s Lost, the movie stars Dylan Walsh (Nip/Tuck) who plays David Harris, very much a man of ‘family values’ who mysteriously comes into the lives of single mothers with children and becomes the dream man they always wanted – that is until they don’t fulfill his dream of the perfect family, and he murders them all. When he woos Susan Harding (Sela Ward), and eventually moves in with her family, her teenage son Michael (Penn Badgley) begins to suspect that David is not quite the dream man he pretends to be. I spoke with the movie’s producer, Mark Morgan, on soundstage 23 at Sony Studios.

How different does your take on the story stray from the original?

It doesn’t stray too much, it’s not really so much just horror per se; it’s actually more of a thriller. When David is watching the younger kids, or he’s watching Kelly, Michael’s girlfriend, it’s creepy, it’s eerie, it’s almost reminiscent of Hand That Rocks the Cradle.

When you pick a film that is a minor classic a lot of horror fans know it, is it easier to do more obscure titles that aren’t so well known?

Yes, the more obscure titles are easier because the more of a classic it is, the more you’re concerned about a backlash of people saying, ‘The original was better, why would you hurt a good thing?’ This one is actually better as far as remakes go, but to answer your question we usually try to find ones that had a great concept or were executed poorly for whatever reason.

It’s interesting that you’ve cast the movie with TV actors.

Kelly (Amber Heard) and boyfriend Michael (Penn Badgley) © Screen Gems

I don’t know that we had planned anything in that way, I think for us it started out with who is the stepfather, and after going through a list of people that we thought might be interesting candidates, Dylan Walsh rose to the top [of the list] to the extent he had that personality that seems very nice, jovial, trustworthy, and when you watch him, it’s delicate, it’s subtle, it’s like a small movement in the face, or a little moment where his smile dips just for a second, which are freaky. When he actually turns, and he gets really angry in the more violent scenes in the movie, then you’re like holy sh*t, you’re surprised because he goes from 0 to 60. I think you’re more scared from someone you don’t expect that kind of behavior from. In going for the mother we just happened to find Sela Ward. Again, she just happened to be the best one, she seems to be a staple when you think of mothers. For the son we thought of a few actors, and went with Penn Badgley, because Gossip Girl has a lot of fans. I think he’s a cool guy, I think we tried to get someone too who would be accepted with the younger audience, and we thought there would be some pre-awareness with him because of that show.

Do you have a teaser where you show David’s previous family?

He has a way of seducing women, he is charming and comes off as the ideal guy who would be the ideal father…

There is teaser stuff on his previous family, you see some of the police investigation of this guy who is brilliant; he knows how to cover his tracks. He’s never seen in any photographs when he’s with his families. He has a way of seducing women, he is charming and comes off as the ideal guy who would be the ideal father, and then gets disappointed with their behavior and when he realizes they are not the perfect family, it’s almost like, ‘Okay, they just weren’t what I thought they were, I’ll annihilate them. I need to go and find what’s perfect for me.’ You actually do get to see some of his work in the beginning.

Do you see him killing them or just the aftermath?

I can’t tell you, but it’s one of those punches for our opening that I think is really strong, that’s going to get people excited with what’s going to be in the film itself. Obviously he’s looking different, so there’s a transformation you’re going to see, you see what he did, his new life, and you see his previous family stuff.

Is Terry O’Quinn going to do a cameo?

We thought about that, in fact we approached him and his people who we thought seemed open to it, and then there was a change of heart. It was almost like, ‘Give us this amount of money,’ which was an absurd number for him to do a little cameo. I don’t think he seemed as excited as we hoped he would be. I think his focus is that was then and now I’m doing Lost. We thought it would be especially intriguing for fans, but at this point, no, it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen.

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter. More by Judy Sloane