Revenge of the Stepford Wives (1980)

Own it!

review by Scott Hamilton and Chris Holland
See also:

The Stepford Wives

The Stepford Children

The Stepford Husbands

Revenge of the Stepford Wives

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Our rating: two LAVA® motion lamps.

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At the end of the original Stepford Wives film (spoilers ahead!), a great many things were left unexplained. How exactly were the men of Stepford turning their wives into “perfect” homemakers? Were they replacing the women with robots? Were they using brainwashing techniques? Were they promising a date with Antonio Banderas after a lifetime of service? The most disturbing thread left dangling is the question of why anyone would want to replace their wives in the first place — especially if they were doing so with robots! We can't understand the attraction of sex with a machine, and watching Cherry 2000 hasn’t helped one bit.

Revenge of the Stepford Wives takes a different tack to avoid the sticky issue of mechanical lovemaking. The script moves the sleepy Connecticut town of Stepford to California (we think) and inserts intrepid reporter Kate Foster (Sharon “Cagney” Gless) as the heroine. Foster is in Stepford to do research for an upcoming tv segment, which will focus on the town’s total lack of crime, poverty, and culture. Once there, however, she finds the locals to be largely unhelpful. The omnipresent police officers make it clear that they don’t cotton to the idea of unattached, independent woman, and the women of the town spend a lot of time cooing over dresses and popping mysterious pills at the sound of a klaxon that goes off twice a day.

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Kate, presented with the most blatant evidence possible (all of the women in town are taking the same “thyroid” medication?), starts to think that all is not right in the town of Stepford. Still, she befriends the hotel manager, Wally (Mason Andrews, recognizable for his narration voice), an older gent who seems dissatisfied with his subservient wife. She also hires and becomes pals with Megan Brady (Julie “Marge Simpson” Kavner!), a newcomer to Stepford whose husband Andy (Don Johnson!) has just joined the Stepford police force. Megan loafs around in overalls, cracks wise, and is generally sassy. Now why does that sound so familiar? Oh yeah, it’s because that’s the same role Paula Prentiss played in the previous film.

The sequel attempts to depart from its predecessor by giving a more straightforward explanation for the docile behavior of the Stepford wives. We see the drugs they are forced to take, and the (electronic?) mental conditioning to which they are subjected in a lab disguised as a beauty salon. But then the filmmakers reverse their decision to eschew the robot subplot by showing us a scene in which Foster is nearly assassinated by one of the Clorox zombies — an action which is clearly orchestrated with the use of a remote control. So what are we to think? That the scientists of Stepford have created a brain implant that responds to radio signals? That they have somehow discovered a way to implant hypnotic suggestions remotely? For a tv movie that otherwise adheres to some realism, this is a pretty far-fetched piece of science fiction. Besides, we’re pretty sure that if such a sure-fire method of mind control existed, it would have been invented by television evangelists, not hard-working executives with a fetish for waxed floors.

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Despite its weak efforts to divorce itself from the original Stepford Wives, Revenge mostly feels content to merely walk the path set before it. Kate’s investigative efforts are met with a combination of stonewalling and assassination attempts, and a nasty shock comes when Megan becomes one of the nattering drones she claimed to dislike. Dale “Diz” Coba (played this time by Arthur Hiller) is once again the villain, but his role seems limited to that of a sneering, abusive control freak. Don Johnson’s character seems a bit uncertain about Megan’s conversion, making him the only sympathetic man in the movie. Eventually, though, he succumbs to the lure of a spotless house and Megan receives the Stepford treatment, which sends Kate into a panic much like Katharine Ross’ character before her. It’s the same old game of cat and mouse, with Gless’ character on the run from the men of Stepford. We wonder why they bothered filming a sequel five years later. Why not just re-release the original?

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Perhaps the film’s only saving grace is its conclusion. Kate manages to bring Megan out of her trance by throwing away the dratted pills. Together, the two women discover that they can severely disrupt the workings of the domestic automatons by ringing the klaxon repeatedly, which turns the women of the town into a murderous mob. Finally, the Stepford Wives are able to exact their titular revenge by throwing Coba off a balcony. Despite this more satisfying ending, however, the intelligence of the audience is further insulted by the fact that the credits roll directly thereafter, leaving us with nothing to explain Coba’s methods or the fallout that would naturally occur after these events. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see the women confront their husbands following their deprogramming? Wouldn’t we like to see Kate’s triumph as she tells the story of Stepford to her tv audience? Either the filmmakers of Revenge of the Stepford Wives didn’t care about these aspects of the story or they weren’t capable of writing them, which is probably why their careers didn't outlast the 1980's. Hmmm, maybe they're the same people responsible for Capricorn One.

Our disappointment with the Stepford sequels we've seen so far (this film had two follow-ups, The Stepford Children and The Stepford Husbands) stems from the filmmakers' total lack of willingness to explain anything. Sure, it's nice to have a bit of mystery in one's entertainment, but there's a difference between mystery and confusion. Sadly, we fear that the remaining films will only muddy the waters further with lazy scripts and terrible actors. But why should Hollywood put any effort into our entertainment? In a world where David Spade continues to have an acting career, we're guessing they've already perfected the Stepford Audience.

Own it!

Review date: 10/18/2000

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