Father’s Day is a holiday when we honor the “King of the Castle”. For many, the day is filled with sporting goods gifts, action or western movies, or the dreaded new tie. No matter how one celebrates, remember Father knows best – even if he is homicidal.
Last month, I featured “Mother’s Day Horror Movies”. Staying true to theme, this blog showcases horror movies ideal for Father’s Day. While exploring the “Daddy Horror” subgenre, there is the Heroic Dad and the Psycho Dad to consider. Between these two polar opposites, I find the Psycho Dad more interesting. Therefore, this blog will focus on some of the creepiest “Psycho Dads” in cult cinema.
“The Stepfather” feels like a forbidden peek into the life of a real serial killer, and rightfully so. While not a true story, this classic is loosely inspired by murderer, John List. In the early 70s, List slaughtered his family; and until the late 80s, he remained at large. Due to List’s gap of freedom, “The Stepfather” could speculate of his time in society.
The movie opens with a man who has murdered his family and has undergone a new identity and alias. By the turn of a year, he has weaseled his way into a new family, which consists of a mother, Susan, and her daughter, Stephanie. Early on, their introduction sparks a noteworthy scene of character development and symbolism.
Centered on mother and daughter, Stephanie arrives home from school and finds her mother raking the yard. Considering the degree of work Susan has accomplished, and by the condition of her clothes, it’s obvious she isn’t in the workforce. After insight into their strong bonded relationship, in steps Susan’s new husband, Jerry. As Susan greets Jerry with hugs and kisses, Stephanie doesn’t share her mother’s enthusiasm. To try and win his new stepdaughter over, Jerry presents Stephanie with a pet dog, claiming no family should be without one. Of course, Susan is smitten by his yesteryear morals and optimism. Yet, Stephanie sees through his façade.
In the background, a second storyline emerges. Jerry’s last brother in law, Jim, is on the hunt. Determined to receive justice, Jim has dedicated his life to finding his ex-brother in law. To increase his chances, and bring public awareness, Jim has local and surrounding newspapers run an article that revisits last year’s homicide. Although the article lacks a picture of the murderer, it lands in Jerry’s hands while he’s hosting a party. When Jerry’s friends see the article, they question how someone could murder their own family. Unable to control himself, Jerry mumbles, “Maybe they disappointed him.”
With Jerry’s new family growing unsatisfactory, his vision of perfection becomes shattered once more. Unable to accept their mannerisms, or individualism, it’s time for him to kill again, create a new identity and alias, then relocate.
“The Stepfather” is the ultimate “father knows best” horror movie. Yet, alongside its gore and suspense, it provides a profound social commentary. One message suggests that a single parent home can be just as successful as a two-parent home. To reinforce this, Stephanie states that she and her mother don’t need Jerry. Furthermore, they would do fine without him.
In contradiction, Susan remains old school. Her philosophy indicates that Jerry provides financial, physical, and emotional support. Not until Susan sees his true colors does she shed her housewife uniform and step into a business outfit. Because of Susan’s formalwear transformation, we can assume she has seen the light. At last, she realizes a man isn’t required to succeed.
From Jerry’s standpoint, he wants to receive love while dominating an entire household. Even worse, is his delusions of the perfect family, which trap him in yesteryear ideals. Since he is unable to regress modern family ideals, his only option is to destroy the modern family. Adding to his character is his obsession with the American dream. This fascination is noted when he referenced the magazine article “All American Towns” to select his next family. Also, Jerry is a real estate agent for American Eagle Reality. Although he will sell to anyone, he prefers to only sell to established families. Unfortunately for Jerry, the traditional American dream fizzled out long ago. In this decade, the American dream has undergone an evolution that allows a greater liberation.
“Frailty” is a twisted American portrait of a widower and his two young sons. Presented in a psychological light, this gem never determines if a higher power is to blame or not. Although its ending is conclusive, the viewer remains in limbo, pondering the narrator’s reliability.
In the beginning, there was Fenton Meeks, the narrator. On a rainy night, Fenton walks into the FBI. After meeting Agent Doyle, he reveals his little brother, Adam, has committed suicide. Also, he confesses that Adam was the “God’s Hand Killer”. At first, Agent Doyle seems reluctant to trust Fenton. But as Fenton continues talking, Agent Doyle becomes more invested.
Fenton then elaborates on his childhood. Following the death of his mother, he, Adam, and their father have established acceptance. All seems peaceful, until Dad interrupts their ordinary routine. After a long day, Dad explains to his sons that he has received a vision from God. Although one might expect the vision to grant peace and serenity, it doesn’t. Rather, Dad prophesizes that God has chosen himself and his boys to kill demons.
One might expect these demons to appear Lovecraftian, or like horned beasts sporting pitchforks. Instead, these demons look like everyday people who lead ordinary lives. To ensure what he’s saying is true, Dad shows his boys that God has supplied them with a Heavenly hitlist.
Without question, Dad obeys God’s word and exposes his sons to serial murders. Throughout these homicides, Fenton tries to reason with Dad that he is killing people. To prove otherwise, Dad places his hands on his victims and receives a vision of their sins. When asking his boys if they saw the same, Fenton denies having received a vision. However, Adam sides with Dad, claiming he saw the victims as demons.
Still, Fenton tries to discourage Dad’s actions while claiming Adam isn’t seeing anything supernatural. To counteract Fenton’s argument, Dad explains why he isn’t having the same experiences. The facts are simple, Fenton lacks faith and he too is a demon.
“Frailty” provides a twist that presents multiple philosophical debates. One notion suggests to accept any Heavenly vision, may it be to create peace, or to carry out God’s wrath. Due to Dad’s brutality, another implies that Dad hasn’t received a message from God at all. Instead, the devil is manipulating him. The final impression alludes that Dad is insane, Adam is a sociopathic, and Fenton is normal.
Yes, there are elements that could be supernatural. One example are the scenes of identity protection at the end. From a rational viewpoint, one could say technical difficulties and luck are to blame. Another example is the list of names. Again, from a rational viewpoint, the list of names could have come from stalking, or luck. From a supernatural viewpoint, on both accounts, it could be a higher or lower power at work.
In this domesticated horror classic, I consider Adam to be the only true villain. I wouldn’t consider Dad to be evil. The reason why is because he’s either carrying out God’s will, or he’s innocent by insanity. Yet, Adam is another story.
At an early age, Adam shows sociopathic tendencies as he piggybacks on Dad’s visions. To reinforce this, Adam presents Dad with a hitlist of people he doesn’t like. Hoping Dad acts without question, Adam claims that God provided him with these names.
“Frailty” packs in the symbolism. Like the Bible, and most religion, its message changes due to the viewer’s outlook. Regardless, a few facts are relevant. These visions and the family dysfunction didn’t begin until after Dad became a widower. Fanaticism rules the household. Finally, it’s never clear if the perspective granted is reliable.
“Mr. Brooks” is a quirky peek into the life of a serial killer who has gone on a murdering hiatus. Providing a twist, unlike other serial killers, Mr. Brooks doesn’t enjoy killing. Actually, the act of murder is like suffering from an addiction. Such as any other addiction that provides temporary pleasure, burdens are sure to follow.
Mr. Brooks opens with the title character receiving an award for “Man of the Year”. He is successful, charming, kind, attractive, and has a good sense of humor. Behind his everyday exterior, is his persona, “The Thumbprint Killer”. Having retired his bloodlust, he attends an alcoholics anonymous program to help him cope. When he feels his temptation rise, his alter ego appears as a sociopathic man named Marshall. To repress Marshall’s lethality, Mr. Brooks recites the serenity prayer until the urge passes.
After receiving his award, Mr. Brooks treats himself out to some murder. Once fulfilling his need, he goes about his business until tomorrow comes. His day begins with his daughter returning home after dropping out of college. At first, she tries to excuse her actions by manipulation. Set on not returning to college, she urges her father to hire her at the bottom level. This way she can advance to his position when he’s ready to retire. Although her tenacity should be pleasing, Mr. Brooks senses deceit.
Shortly thereafter, a stranger, Mr. Smith, confronts Mr. Brooks. Last night, while Mr. Brooks committed murder, Mr. Smith observed from his apartment window. Rather than inform the police, Mr. Smith took pictures of the act. This material is then used as collateral so that Mr. Brooks will make Mr. Smith his protégé. Having no other choice but to bow to his demands, Mr. Brooks promises to include Mr. Smith in his rendezvous.
While Mr. Smith remains eager, little does he know the mess that he has gotten himself into. As life has become too chaotic, Mr. Brooks has devised a scheme to restore order. Yet, no matter how it ends, someone will lose.
Although planned as a series, “Mr. Brooks” failed to achieve franchising possibilities at the box office. Still, this movie can stand as a solitary film without presenting any major cliffhangers. Pretty much, the viewer can receive closure by using their own imagination.
“Mr. Brooks” provides insight into how murder is an addiction, similar to the classic, “M”. Yet, more blatant is the toxic relationship. This is depicted under four scenarios. One, the relationship of a failed marriage. Two, the relationship built on secrets. Three, the relationship built on bribery. Last, the toxic relationship with oneself.
Internal conspicuous details are relevant with Mr. Brooks. These depict how he and his homicidal alter ego, Marshall, argue. Despite his better judgement, Mr. Brooks surrenders to Marshall’s instigations and ends his hiatus. This decision then creates external conflict for his victims, his family, and himself.
Due to his actions, Mr. Brooks becomes forced into a toxic relationship with Mr. Smith. This peeping tom acts as a tangible source, who encourages Mr. Brooks to continue murder. As his life spirals downward, he discovers his daughter is also a serial killer. Yet, rather than be honest about who he is and what she is, their relationship only results in more death.
Opposing Mr. Brooks is Detective Atwood. She’s a side character who is experiencing her own toxic relationship. An interesting aspect she provides shows the difference between the introvert and extrovert. Whereas Mr. Brooks’s relationships show an introverted toxicity, Detective Atwood confronts each issue openly.
Perhaps the movie is trying to shine light on the toxic nature of our lives. Maybe it’s urging we do whatever is necessary to reach a more positive level of being so healing can begin.
Although more “Daddy Horror” movies exist, this concludes today’s blog. As I have noted before, I don’t offer an honorable mentions section. So, next year will likely present other possibilities. For those who enjoy reading, I have created a literary blog for pride month, honoring Clive Barker. One may read this blog by clicking HERE.