Now that I’m gearing up for Halloween, I have horror movies on almost every night. Last night was ‘The Stepfather’, the 1987 classic starring Terry O’ Quinn as the ‘too good to be true’ man with old-fashioned values who marries lonely divorcees in search of the ‘perfect family’, then inevitably kills them when things go wrong. The scariest part? There are several true-to-life scenes in every one of these movies that I see constantly as a private investigator.
1. ‘How much do you really know about him?’
In the 1987 original, part II and the 2009 remake, the voice of reason (embodied by the wife’s best friend) is ignored – and accused of being paranoid and/or jealous when she points out very valid concerns. In the first movie, the wife’s friend is a mail carrier who points out that ‘the only mail he gets is local junk mail and bills.’ Even the introduction of the Internet doesn’t help. Take the following piece of dialogue from the 2009 remake:
Susan Harding: David wants to have a church wedding.
Jackie Kerns: Oh that’s great, what church. I mean, do you even know what religion he is?
Susan Harding: I don’t care what goddamn religion he is!
Reality check: Trust, but verify. Sometimes in the first flush of romance, it can be tough to ask the hard questions. But meeting friends, family and having a good frame of reference is critical before making a commitment.
2. ‘It’s like living with Ward Cleaver.’
A good-looking man with old-fashioned values who just wants commitment. . . it’s a dream come true!
Reality check: No one is perfect. Even seemingly good personality traits often come with a downside, and people who can’t take responsibility for their past failures and instead just move on to the next setup have a very good chance of making the same mistakes over and over. The Stepfather blamed his past families; the real-life version of this would be someone who blames their ‘crazy exes’ for all of their problems.
3. Body language tells.
In all three movies, there are several red flag moments before the stepfather turns into a complete raging psycho at the end – usually a cray cray moment where he completely flips out over something totally irrational.
Reality check: Watch for inconsistent body language. Smiles that don’t reach the eyes, clenched teeth and fists or a head that shakes ‘no’ while saying yes are all signs that point to a darker temper under the surface. This is another reason why it is SO crucial that you go beyond the ‘honeymoon’ phase before making a decision about marriage – you need to see how a partner behaves when they are angry or under pressure, not just putting on a front.
And obviously, if the guy starts forgetting his own name, quits his job without telling your or starts sharpening that knife collection, it’s time to jump ship!