Nether Regions 07.13.12: Revenge of the Stepford Wives
Posted by Chad Webb on 07.13.2012
Yes readers, rest assured, the long-awaited articles covering the threesome of Stepford Wives sequels if finally here. I’m sure you’ve already clicked….
Nether Regions started as a segment of the Big Screen Bulletin in the movie-zone that meant to showcase films that have been discontinued on DVD, are out of print in the United States, are only available in certain regions outside the United States, or are generally hard to find. Now it is a column all its own! You might ask, "Why should I care about a film I have no access to?" My goal is to keep these films relevant because some of them genuinely deserve to be recognized. Every time I review a new film I will have a list of those I covered below so you can see if they have been announced for DVD release, or are still out of print.
REVENGE OF THE STEPFORD WIVES
Starring: Sharon Gless, Julie Klavner, and Don Johnson Directed By: Robert Fuest Written By: David Wiltse (Based on Ira Levin's Novel) Original Release Date: October 12, 1980 Running Time: 95 minutes Missing Since: February 23, 1989 Existing Formats:VHS Netflix Status: Not Available Availability: Moderately Rare
Revenge of the Stepford Wives continued that long-running Hollywood tradition of "classics" that carried "Revenge of the" in the title. One wonders how many there are now, but once you see those words viewers have a general idea of the type of movie in front of them. If you were hoping for a diamond in the rough in this instance, I'm sorry to disappoint you. Revenge of the Stepford Wives is every bit as lousy as you might have guessed. Aside from the ending and a few minor details, this is a clumsy, unnecessary retread of the original.
Five years after Colombia/Paramount released the first adaptation of Ira Levin's novel, the powers that be decided to launch production on a made-for-TV sequel. It was distributed by the ever-prestigious Embassy Home Entertainment. And don't fret, the idyllic town of Stepford continues to prosper, despite having to knock off (or convert) anyone that tries to leave or get suspicious. That is evidenced by a cop running a father and daughter off a cliff at the beginning. But due to the astoundingly low reported crime and divorce rates, not to mention the fact that they have the tightest real estate market (no one ever leaves), a TV reporter from the show Inside America visits to snoop around for a story. So far the premise is intriguing. News agencies would take notice to a town with statistics such as this.
Are you ready for your close up Marge?
The reporter is Kaye Foster (Sharon Gless). Before long those kooky cats at the Stepford Men's Association mark Kaye as a potential threat and send someone to dispose of her. Dale "Diz" Coba (Arthur Hill) actually orders his own wife to kill her, but the attempts fail. Running her over with a car and attacks with butcher knives just don't do the trick as much as they used to. Obviously Kaye realizes that something fishy is going on, and it revolves around a mysterious siren that prompts the women to take pills for a "thyroid condition." Kaye hires Megan Brady (Julie Kavner) as an assistant to help with her story. She is hoping to become a permanent resident of Stepford if her husband (Don Johnson) lands a job at the police department. Soon Megan disappears and reappears as one of Stepford's newest "wives." Kaye realizes that her life is constant danger and escaping is impossible.
Having seen both the original 1975 Stepford Wives starring Katherine Ross and its 2004 remake starring Nicole Kidman and Matthew Broderick, I can tell you that this follow-up suffers from similar faults to both. The first film posed some terrific performances, but took too long to get to the point and approached a lame concept in an overly serious manner. That satirical piece was also somewhat dull, which is at least one mistake the remake did not succumb to, though it had boatloads. The premise shares many qualities with Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which is vastly superior (almost all versions) if you ask me. There are certainly a few subtly creepy spots, but The Stepford Wives lacks enough humor and tries to be too believable. Revenge never breaks precedent.
The acting is actually quite competent, and the characters fleshed out in a shockingly adequate manner. Sharon Gless is the star. You might recognize her now as Michael's mother on Burn Notice. Gless is talented, especially compared to Katherine Ross. As Kaye Foster, she is determined and caring. Several of the more tolerable moments are simple, one-on-one conversations between Gless and someone else, specifically Wally. Julie Kavner, a.k.a. the voice of Marge Simpson, acts as the de facto best friend Megan Brady. She brings about the only humor to the proceedings, though her turn is mainly straight forward and fairly assured. This was post-Rhoda for Kavner, which she likely was trying to distance herself from. Don Johnson had a grand opportunity to accentuate his villainous ways as Megan's police office husband Andy, but he basically sleepwalks through each meaningless appearance.
One new character that supplied a welcomed sub-plot was that of the aforementioned Wally, the motel owner who longs for his old wife's imperfections and finds overdue solace with Kaye's company as a drinking buddy. Sadly, this is not explored to the fullest and is dropped rather unapologetically late in the tale. But Mason Adams does well with Wally in his brief, yet convincing scenes. Arthur Hill tries too hard to be sinister as Diz, the evil orchestrator of the scheme. The wives themselves are the highlight of the movie(s), so Diz's "man behind the curtain" role is unimpressive and somewhat arduous. Audrey Lindley's Barbara is given plenty of screen time as his wife since she's sent to kill Kaye on numerous occasions. She is fantastic, sporting a frighteningly glassy expression during each attack sequence.
At this point I will be mentioning some details of the plot that involve potential spoilers. I doubt many of you will be heartbroken about this if you read onward, but here is a warning just in case. A major problem is that the method with which the wives transform is totally different from the first film. Instead of being robots, they have pills to further cement the change. While this is more plausible than androids, the unexplained switch makes no sense, is overwhelmingly silly, and most importantly…insipid. The "revenge" part of the sequel doesn't actually materialize until the final 10 minutes or so and is only possible because of the pill modifications which sandbag what we learned from the initial adaptation. Yes it is entertaining and definitely leaves an impression, but for an unstable rehash to try on a new outfit right at the conclusion is hardly satisfying. Too little, too late.
"Ladies, don't be angry. You have me confused with a different AJ Grey."
The '75 Stepford, whether we enjoyed it or not, did carry a weighty theme. With the rise of feminism, the men were reinforcing the male order of life. Any modern woman was perceived as troublesome (or a menace) to that routine. The goal was to construct a woman in their own image, ones who lack independence, character, ambition, but who are eternally beautiful and do their every bidding. It is all about control, and in the original the women were once activists. Revenge of the Stepford Wives all but eliminates that profundity. Besides one casual reference from Diz regarding his intentions, the symbolism is vague and barely addressed in favor of cheap B-level thrills. Since David Wiltse's script is three-quarters repeat of previous events and one-quarter undermining fresh twists, the project as a whole is conveyed as unbalanced, languid, and dry. Had he dove head-on into B-movie mode, this could have been greatly improved, but it comes off as a laborious job Wiltse was forced to do and finished just so he could be rid of the stench.
Director Robert Fuest was certainly no stranger to television. His career is known predominantly for the large amount of The Avengers episodes he stood at the helm for, but he also gave us The Abominable Dr. Phibes and its sequel starring Vincent Price. Sadly, none of the cleverness, wit, or idiosyncrasies of his work in the horror genre can be found here. His style is severely pedestrian in nature, the lighting is often poor, and the editing from Jerrold Ludwig even worse. The abrupt cuts away when any intense action is about to transpire is beyond ridiculous. Cinematographer Ric Waite had California at his disposal for capturing the gorgeous Stepford atmosphere, but the camerawork is pretty conventional. Laurence Rosenthal's score retain the general theme from the Bryan Forbes film, but is no more/less exciting or chilling.
Revenge of the Stepford Wives fails to afford a reason for existing. The same story structure and trajectory is retained, while a couple of relatively insignificant alterations are tossed in for good measure. I have the uneasy feeling that the other sequels, The Stepford Children and The Stepford Husbands will be plagued with the same virus, but you'll have to stay tuned for those articles. I'm not sure what sparked my interest in this title. I suppose it was the fact that I had no clue three sequels had even been made. A little fraction of me hoped that this would be absorbing, unintentionally funny, or cheesily engrossing. Even if it was atrocious it could have at least been memorable. What makes Revenge of the Stepford Wives torturous is how unbearably mediocre it is. Had Fuest injected more trashy effects and comedy, this could have been worthwhile to an extent, but alas this is not a car wreck you can't help but watch or an underrated treasure, it's just there, taking up space among the universal movie library.