This derivative thriller attempts to up the ante of the conventional "...from hell" plot line by featuring a young woman imperiled by a stepmother and a stepsister with a lethal agenda. The movie premiered on the USA cable network.
Officially, pediatrician Donna Canfield (Cheryl Wilson) died from an accidental fall down a hospital elevator shaft, but in reality, a mystery assailant shoved her. College-student daughter Darcy (Rena Sofer) has mixed emotions when only a year later her father Derek (Alan Rachins) announces his
engagement to attractive widow Joan (Linda Evans). After the wedding Joan moves in accompanied by her adult daughter Melinda (Bridgette Wilson), a highly competitive blonde vixen who's already offended Darcy by seducing her date at the reception. The stepsister also flounces around the house in
provocative outfits, and seems uncomfortably close with Derek, whose health starts failing.
It is revealed that Joan and Melinda are homicidal mother-and-daughter con artists, gradually overstraining the wealthy Derek's heart with drugs. Even though Joan sincerely grows to love Derek and calls off the scheme, Melinda goes ahead and induces his fatal cardiac arrest. Darcy is no fool, and
publicly accuses the newcomers, especially when Derek's will leaves much of his estate to Joan. Darcy discovers that Joan's previous husband expired under nearly identical circumstances, and that the merry widow may have been planning for years to get her hands on the Canfield fortune. But before
Darcy can get much farther, Melinda tries to eliminate both hostile obstacles to inheritance by bludgeoning Joan to death and framing Darcy for the murder. Despite a restraining order, Darcy assaults her stepsister and gets locked in jail.
Things look up for Melinda until a doctor at the hospital appears to have learned it was she who pushed Donna down the elevator shaft. Melinda sneaks in, syringe in hand, for the kill, only to discover Darcy and the police waiting. They've lured the stepsister into a trap. In prison, convict
Melinda starts using her seductive wiles on a male physician.
Shot in Vancouver, like many of its cable-TV feature siblings, THE STEPSISTER merely gains by comparison with what it is not: the many, paranoid psychothrillers inspired by FATAL ATTRACTION (1987) that pitted a protagonist-whom-nobody-believes against the maniacally obsessed mistress/fiancee/ex-
wife/roommate/dogcatcher "from hell." After BODY CHEMISTRY (1990), BREACH OF CONDUCT (1994), THE EX (1996), SINGLE WHITE FEMALE (1992), and others, it's almost a bit of a relief to encounter in THE STEPSISTER a plain old-fashioned grifter, although the film adds a token psychological backdrop
(Darcy researches deviant behavior in children), for what little that's worth. Rena Sofer does what may be expected as a sort of Dr. Nancy Drew, PhD. Wilson, with her Barbie-doll good looks, makes a properly hissable heavy. Vicariously enjoyable as it is, the elaborate police "sting" operation (in
an operating theater, no less) against her in the finale does seem a bit farfetched. Writer/director Matt Dorff's style leans toward film noir, but as bodies start piling up, it becomes merely depressing. (Violence, sexual situations, adult situations, substance abuse.)
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