You know all those movies where a closely knit family bonds over some joyous occasion or crushing tragedy and emerge even tighter than before? Well, "The Stepfather" isn’t one of those films. Based on the 1987 thriller, Sony’s remake finds Michael Harding [Penn Badgley] returning from military school only to discover his mother [Sela Ward] deeply in love with a devoted David Harris. However, as David begins to crack and his dark side surfaces, Michael quickly discovers his potential new parent is anything but the perfect package. Although he already explores that dysfunctional element as Sean McNamara on "Nip/Tuck", Walsh immediately found plenty appealing about "The Stepfather" script.
“Well, it’s the lead and he’s such a complex guy,” explains Walsh. “For a good portion of the movie, David’s really a pretty good guy. To have to pull that off simultaneously with that other side of him, the killer, I thought it would be a fun challenge. It’s kind of a romp; it’s not one of these naturalistic art house movies. It’s something where you have to go in and make things believable but at the same time, you have to go in and elevate and make it something bigger with adrenaline.”
“As a rule, I thought to myself ‘What if he absolutely means everything he says?’” continues Walsh. “We are suspicious of killers and in the first 20 seconds of the movie, you know I’m the killer. Then the fun was to watch me say these very sincere sweet things about family being the most important and the way I go about trying to help Penn’s character Michael get back on the swim team. He’s so caring with his wife Susan. That was the fun of it is to play those aspects and let the killer sneak up in the other side.”
Nonetheless, many moviegoers would probably rather go camping with Jason Voorhees than hear about another remake and initially, Walsh had similar reservations.
“I’ll tell you I groaned when I first heard of this remake,” he confirms. “I felt a lot better when I met with director Nelson McCormick and we agreed we were going to make our own movie. First of all, I made sure I never watched the original which I mean out of respect to Terry O’Quinn because I’m too impressionable and would have stolen some things. Not only that, but we tried to inform it with our own imagination and outside material. We read about different serial killers like John List and Ted Bundy. I take pride that we made it our own thing. I know inevitably people are going to compare the two, but hopefully it’s brand new to enough people.”
Part of that fresh coat of paint included changing the main conflict between David and his stepdaughter for Penn’s stepson character.
“There’s something about a young man coming home to his house and the new head of household is a complete stranger,” offers Walsh. “It’s a little more formidable to have those two squaring off when both are men. I don’t know how the original worked, but this is strong. Watching Penn try to convince people something is wrong with this guy and of course nobody believes him. That has its own drive in the film while simultaneously with the suspense going on, you are rooting for Michael.”
And Walsh had nothing but high praise for the rising "Gossip Girl" actor.
“It was great working with Penn,” he says. “You never know when it’s someone much younger than you. You don’t know if you can even relate being from different generations. We had a great working relationship. He’s actually quite mature for his age and approaches it with a maturity. We knew where to make sure we were just having fun and weren’t taking it too seriously. However, there were days you had to show up and just get down to work. There were some psychological aspects of the movie that we both had to figure out and I really enjoyed working with him.”
Embracing another current trend, "The Stepfather" will be amping up the tension and watering down the blood shed. In Walsh’s eyes, the PG-13 rating serves this film better than the original’s graphic violence.
“I hope people will see this and know you can have a scary movie without showing the gore,” reasons Walsh. “If anybody knew that, it was Hitchcock. I know it’s a bit of a reach to compare ourselves to him, which I’m not, but just in terms of using the gore to create suspense and dread, it’s more artful this way. I appreciated it from the beginning when they said it was PG. That meant it contained the film and kept it on the tracks we all agreed on. For people who have seen it, they tell me they get really scared, that it’s a little bit like a roller coaster, and we didn’t have to show the heavy rated R stuff.”
Indeed, David may perform some truly horrific acts yet Walsh preferred the subtleties that hinted at his craziness instead.
“Yeah, I like the coffee shop scene with Penn because I wanted there to be a sense that something was so off with this guy, and yet everything he’s saying on the surface is so decent,” reports Walsh. “For instance, in that scene, I wanted to be trying too hard and it was a difficult thing to pull off. The idea is David wants Michael to be his best man and that’s a little over the top too quickly. Yet there’s a sincerity and deep need. More than anything, David needs to be appreciated, loved, and valued and I think you see that here.”
It all comes down to box office figures yet since "The Stepfather" spawned other installments, Walsh could certainly imagine returning to the deranged character again.
“I would have no problem with that because I enjoyed playing David so much,” he concludes. “I didn’t know how much I would and thought of it as a challenge. I did have fun with this role. Believe it or not, it’s probably as complex a role as I’ve ever played. I would have no problem doing a sequel.”