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Stepmonster Reviews

This blithely unambitious film succeeds on its own, limited terms. It's not too violent and not the least bit scary; it's a kid's movie with a hint of flesh to keep the older siblings satisfied; it's a comic-book adventure in which the most important thing in the world is finding your mom. There's even some sort of subtext about childhood traumas, though it doesn't pay to push that idea too far. Todd Dougherty (Bill Corben) is a pretty ordinary kid. He loves his parents, even if his father George (Alan Thicke), an architect, is a little humorless. He adores his grandparents, especially his grandfather (George Gaynes), whose lively imagination makes him seem like a much younger man. He has the pre-pubescent hots for his babysitter Wendy (Ami Dolenz), and doesn't think much of her metalhead boyfriend Phlegm (Corey Feldman). He hates violin practice and adores comic books. But everything changes after the family goes on a working vacation in the country. George is designing a house for the beguiling Denise Gore (Robin Riker), and Todd is convinced there are monsters--Tropopkins, to be precise--hiding in the woods. Todd's mother vanishes, and George sends the boy to stay with his grandparents. Six months later, to everyone's amazement, he announces his intention to marry Denise. Todd's natural dismay becomes more intense when he begins to suspect that his stepmother-to-be is more than a demanding, flirtatious bitch. In fact, she's a real monster. A tropopkin. People begin to die, first a jogger, then the paper boy, then the therapist (Edie McClurg) to whom Todd has been sent to deal with his "overactive imagination." Todd tries to warn his besotted father, with no success. His attempts to delay the wedding are equally futile. With the help of a rare comic book--a $500 collector's edition, the inevitable comic store nerd gloats--Todd, his grandfather, Wendy, and her boyfriend set out to destroy the tropopkin. The secret weapon: violin music. First they use Phlegm's ghettoblaster, which works until Denise's bat-like familiar chews through the wires. Todd's dad emerges to save the day, fiddling fit to beat the devil. The stepmonster dissolves into a pool of green slime, and--to complete the happy picture--Todd's mom is discovered in the monster's cave in the woods, unhurt and thrilled to see her family (and presumably happier for not knowing how close she came to being replaced). Though STEPMONSTER succumbs to the tv sitcom convention of smart-mouthed, pop-culture obsessed kids saving the world from fantastic dangers adults are too blind and preoccupied to notice, it's inoffensive and cheerful. Alan Thicke is appropriately stolid as George--you never doubt that he does, indeed, have no imagination at all--and Corben isn't too annoying as the precocious Todd, who carries the weight of the movie on his adolescent shoulders with surprising ease. John Astin, of television's "The Addams Family," appears in an obvious but crudely amusing cameo as a chain-smoking priest. The stepmonster herself, Robin Riker, is achingly perky; it's a pleasure to believe her beauty's only skin deep, and she's really green and scaly under that trophy-girl exterior. STEPMONSTER is based on a story by prolific exploitation director Fred Olen Ray, who also served as associate producer. It marks Ray's first collaboration with Roger Corman, the elder statesman of exploitation, who executive produced the film. (Violence.)