How Profitable Sequels Succeed: They Just Bring 'em Back Alive

Posted: December 03, 1989

The arrival this weekend of The Stepfather II - wouldn't Son of Stepfather have been catchier? - is the result of one of film's odder cases of success by failing.

When The Stepfather was released in 1987, it seemed to be just another horror movie destined to die at the box office. Crisply directed by Joseph Ruben and written by novelist Donald Westlake, it deals with a psychotic stepfather who has less than paternal ideas about how to treat his new family. The story was based on the true-life case involving John List and murders he is accused of committing in Union County, N.J., in 1971. List lived and worked in Richmond, Va., under a false identity and was captured only this year, when a viewer recognized him on a TV show devoted to America's most wanted criminals and tipped off the FBI.

The psychological thriller caught on in Europe, and when it began popping up on U.S. cable services and entered the video market in this country, it quickly developed a cult following here. Hence the sequel. But if you've caught The Stepfather on cable or video, a question arises. Wasn't the murderer stabbed to death in the final scene?

Terry O'Quinn, who reprises his title role in The Stepfather II, was as surprised as anyone else when reports of the death turned out to exaggerated. ''I thought he was dead like everybody else," said O'Quinn. The problem is resolved by showing O'Quinn, now covered with scars from his wounds, living in a hospital for the criminally insane.

Elsewhere on the sequel front, there is no word yet how Twentieth Century Fox is going to explain the return of the featured creature who departed this mortal coil in no uncertain manner at the conclusion of Predator.

The 1987 hit starred Arnold Schwarzenegger and announced the talent of John McTiernan as a director of action and suspense. He confirmed that impression with his impeccable work on last year's Die Hard.

Predator II, for which a new SWAT team is forming, at least holds out some promise for Danny Glover, who is currently most widely known as Mel Gibson's long-suffering sidekick in the Lethal Weapon films. This time, Glover gets the lead, and rumor has it that instead of hanging out in the jungles of South America, the monster is going to pop up in Manhattan, where it will have trouble standing out in the crowd. The director will be Stephen Hopkins, whose sins include A Nightmare on Elm Street 5. The screenplay is by Jim and John Thomas, who wrote the original, and filming is set to start in February.

HOMELESS AT HARVARD. Damon Payne was a homeless man adrift on the streets of Boston in the early '70s. It was a time when such men were called hobos and homelessness was not the national problem and disgrace it has become in the '80s.

His life was changed one Thanksgiving when some compassionate Harvard students invited him in for dinner at their Cambridge rooming house. He stayed for 15 years and cooked meals and ran errands for the students who lived there. When he died in 1985, hundreds of former students came back to Harvard for the funeral.

This timely story is set to become Damon, and the man said to be set to play him is Dustin Hoffman, who made the plight of the autistic so compelling in Rain Man. Hoffman is attracted by the topicality of the theme and Damon is the kind of downtrodden character he has made his own since the days of Midnight Cowboy. Hoffman will soon be seen in a lighter vein - co-starring with Sean Connery and Matthew Broderick in Sidney Lumet's Family Business.

IN BRIEF. Richard Gere - who has kept a low profile of late as he busies

himself studying Buddhism - has chosen as his next project The Grand Tour, a science-fiction movie based on the novel Vintage Season by Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore. . . . Producer-director Roger Corman - who has already made plans for Quake!, a film about the San Francisco earthquake - has ripped another page out of today's newspaper. He has announced a joint venture with a German film studio to make The Day the Wall Came Down, an espionage thriller with the breached Berlin Wall as a backdrop. . . . Paul Newman and his wife, Joanne Woodward, have finished shooting Mr. and Mrs. Bridge in Kansas City. James Ivory directed the adaptation of two Evan Connell novels, Mr. Bridge and Mrs. Bridge. The film will be released in August.

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