The Stepford Wives - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

The Stepford Wives Reviews

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Super Reviewer
March 12, 2014
Interesting, and eerie horror film, The Stepford Wives is one of those films that takes its time with the plot to grab you in, and it works. There are terrific elements in the script that make this a standout picture, one that can resonate with the viewer and make for a memorable, tense and thrilling horror going experience. The acting here deliver some great performances and each bring something unique to the film that enhances the film's story even more. The Stepford Wives is a stunning film, one that is a genre classic, and if you enjoy old school horror, then this is a must see film. The film's story is well layered and keeps you involved from start to finish. The film has plenty of atmosphere and tension to really make it stand out, and the storyline is well constructed, thought out, and is one of the most thrilling Sci Fi horror pictures of the 1970's. The idea here is simple, yet effective enough while delivering a film that is sure to delight genre fans. The Stepford Wives is a great horror film, one that is subtle, yet disturbing at the same time. The film uses the conspiracy angle to tell its story. The Script is smart, intriguing and keeps you on the edge of your seat till the very end. The film concerns a group of men who replace their wives with humanoid robots. This is a well acted film aided by a well thought out script that makes for a truly memorable viewing experience. The tone is subtle, but the subject is tackled with a steady pace, in order to make this a standout genre film, and even if you know how it might end, the strength of the previous hour or so makes it an impressive picture worth seeing. Director Bryan Forbes pulls off a horror tour de force that is not perfect, but is nonetheless a very good movie that horror fans will surely enjoy.
Super Reviewer
½ November 4, 2012
Uneven attempt to reach the level of unsettling paranoia and commentary on women's lib against conservative/intrusive community of "Rosemary's baby" (based on a novel by the same author).
Daniel Mumby
Super Reviewer
½ February 29, 2012
Whenever classic films are poorly remade, they have the side effect of putting audiences off seeing the originals. Many who saw Frank Oz's ghastly remake of The Stepford Wives would have been so bored or enraged that they would have steered well clear of the original, believing it to be no better. It would be a shame if many came to this conclusion, since they would be depriving themselves of a smart and suspenseful film, which is still chilling and unnerving more than 35 years on.

While the remake boasted an all-star cast and was directed by a muppet (in more ways than one), the pedigree of the original Stepford Wives is mainly to be found behind the camera. It is based on the novel by Ira Levin, author of Rosemary's Baby and The Boys from Brazil. Levin was a master at taking a contemporary subject (in this case the male backlash against feminism) and playing it for a mainstream audience through smart and subtle allegory.

Levin's novel is adapted for the screen by William Goldman, who would win an Oscar the following year for his work on All The President's Men. He approaches the source material and subject matter with intelligence, acknowledging the need to play certain scenes with a straight face while leaving room for humour to emerge naturally. And the film is helmed by Bryan Forbes, best known for producing The Railway Children and directing Whistle Down The Wind. This film sees Forbes refining the thriller techniques of Séance on a Wet Afternoon, and returning to the theme of female manipulation that he first explored in The L-Shaped Room.

When The Stepford Wives was first released, many critics complained about its slow pacing; there was, they believed, not enough in the novel to fill out two hours, and by drawing out the action the final act was not as tense as it should be. In fact, the gentle pacing of the film is one of its most distinctive features compared to other thrillers, and one of its greatest strengths. We are drawn in very slowly, almost unconsciously, so that our plight mirrors that of the female characters. The only difference is that we emerged with our minds intact, and our spines more than a little tingled.

Forbes' intention with this film was to make "a thriller in sunlight." While Chinatown found inspiration in the smoke and shadows of film noir, The Stepford Wives is a close precursor to David Lynch in its all-too-perfect imagining of American suburbia. Stepford embodies the American Dream to such an extent that it cannot possibly be right: every house has its mailbox and white picket fence, and the children go to school on bright yellow buses.

By shooting the majority of the action in bright daylight, Forbes makes us second-guess about our expectations of Stepford. Even as we pick up on all the chocolate box features that would repulse us or put us on alert, we are bit by bit won over by the seeming goodwill of the town's inhabitants. As the film moves on and the creeping sense of dread grows, both we and Joanna are torn between dismissing our feelings as paranoia and believing them to be the truth. It only becomes an edgy horror movie in its last 20 minutes, and even then there is an unnerving reserve to it: there is only one tiny bit of blood, and no explosions or pyrotechnics when Bobby starts to go wrong.

The Stepford Wives is at its heart a dark satirical allegory of the male backlash against feminism. The Men's Association, both as an institution and in its activities, is a reaction to the political and social freedom that women have demanded and increasingly enjoyed since the early-20th century. The men's response is one of cowardice; rather than embracing women's new-found freedom, they look on them as an inferior species, whose independence should be controlled, and whose purpose should be restricted to cooking, cleaning, gossiping and sexual pleasure.

Whilst its allegorical device may be both extreme and bizarre, it would be wrong to dismiss The Stepford Wives as heavy-handed. Rather than characterise misogyny or sexism as something distant or extreme, the film attacks the extent to which the inferior position of women has been normalised. Joanna's husband joins the Men's Association with the very best intentions, wanting to get involved in the local community. The majority of scenes featuring women are set in kitchens, dining rooms or other purely domestic settings; we are challenged to explain why we expect such conversations to be staged in this way. The fact that so many (male) critics denounced the film as "chauvinistic" shows how much it touched a nerve when first released.

From another angle, The Stepford Wives examines the pressures surrounding women to confirm to male expectations in society. Joanna and Bobby find it difficult recruiting women to their cause because the women have their expectations of life shaped by those of their husbands. Even without its famous twist, the film convincingly conveys how so much of the social order has been shaped by the expectations of men. This is most grotesquely demonstrated by the nature of the wives' replacements; not only have their personalities been diluted, but their physical attributes have been considerably enhanced.

An illustration of both these themes is found in the role of photography. Joanna is introduced as a photographer, an activity which requires creativity, independence and ambition to succeed. In the opening scene, she takes a photo of a man crossing the street with a blow-up sex doll just before her husband gets in the car. What seems like an innocuous non-sequitur takes on an eerie quality as things moves on. As Joanna's independence is stifled in Stepford, so too is her art, as she is unable to sell her prints to a dealer during a brief return to New York.

Like many low-budget sci-fi or horror efforts, The Stepford Wives benefits from not having too many famous faces in its cast. Katherine Ross is terrific as Joanna, having just enough presence and charisma to be commanding without overpowering. Paula Prentiss is a good match for her as Bobby, channelling Diane Keaton's performances with Woody Allen in her quirky, fun-loving attitude. There is also good support from Nanette Newman, whose mechanical repetition of "I'll just die if I can't get this recipe" rivals anything in Westworld.

The one real problem with The Stepford Wives is its final act, in which Joanna infiltrates the Men's Association. Having spent so long creating unease through subtle diversions from reality, the film turns to classic horror tropes to really Hammer things home (pun intended). Joanna arrives at the Men's Association in the middle of a storm, complete with cheap lightning effects and heavy rain. The building itself is like an old-school gothic spook-house, with dark corridors and moments with mirror that wouldn't look out of place in The Haunting.

Normally this ready a reversion to horror convention would spoil a film's good work. But you find yourself wanting to forgive The Stepford Wives because of how hard it has worked to get to this point. Crucially, even when surrounded by all these clichés, the film doesn't lose sight of its substance for the sake of a few cheap shocks. The revelation of Joanna's pulchritudinous, dead-eyed double is terrifying whatever its surroundings.

The Stepford Wives is a really great film whose message has lost none of its chill or bite. Forbes brings the substance of Levin's novel to life with respect for the audience's intelligence, allowing us to question everything we see and unnerve ourselves in the process. The unsettling atmosphere thus created is enhanced by great performances and naturalistic acting, particularly by Katherine Ross. It's not perfect, nor is it Forbes' finest work, but it remains essential viewing for sci-fi & horror fans.
Super Reviewer
½ January 31, 2011
I really like this film alot. I have not read all of the novel, but I have read enough of it to know that this adaptation is more in sync with the mood and tone of the book. It's dark, and quite disturbing. The new one is equally as entertaining, but I prefer this dark, creepy adaptation better than the satirical 2000's version. Very good film!
Super Reviewer
September 5, 2010
I loved this movie, it's a lot better than the new remake. It's creepy and kinda weird, but I loved it.
Super Reviewer
June 3, 2010
A really sad and morbid outlook on the future of male dominance, a true horror story. While it certainly puts you in the feminist perspective and makes you feel so much love and compassion for the characters, there is something very cynical being said about who is in control. It is such a great piece of film-making on top of the incredible story, it is truly a staple of the 70s. The long shots and slow pacing is one of its greatest assets. Of course, how can you mention the movie without bringing into account Katharine Ross' performance. She brings such a huge screen presence, but does it very subtle and calm. What is the real surprise of the film is that it doesn't feel like the typical horror movie. It feels like a sweet family drama with lots of soothing music and happy faces, that's what makes it so unique and powerful in my opinion. You fall victim the same way Joanna does.
Super Reviewer
February 6, 2010
I liked this version way better than the remake. But I liked the remake of the new version better than this one. Not because it was better but because it satisfied the feminist in me.
Super Reviewer
½ October 19, 2008
A brilliant, dense, dark and difficult satire of a male- and corporately-dominated society, hard to sit through due to its minimalism but with an ending that does not disappoint! A classic film based on a controversial novel and one which, from what I've read, is not to be judged by its recent (2004) remake.
Super Reviewer
November 15, 2006
Unsettling and comic by turns, a post feminist social satire in which egotistical small town men are trading their wives individuality and free will for baking skills and an increased bra cup size. As relevant now as it was then.
Super Reviewer
½ February 18, 2007
A very different thriller. Unmatched in tone or atmosphere by most of its 1970s counterparts, and unique enough to still stand on strong legs even today, this Stepford Wives is certainly better than its lousy remake.
Super Reviewer
½ October 27, 2006
While this movie really isn't good, it's still better than what I saw of the remake.
Super Reviewer
½ April 28, 2008
I liked it but it's pretty dark and creepy.
Super Reviewer
½ March 10, 2008
Forget about the horrible 2006´s remake and watch this one. Eventhough I knew what was happening, it has a good premise, engrossing plot, and a steady build up of fear and tension that keeps this flix as a intelligent psychological thriller about man looking for the perfection.
The movie presents the struggles and anxieties (feminism of its time) that modern women faced and the ideals that they valued.
The cast is good, as well as, the acting, specially Katharine Ross the main star. Maybe the pace is a little slow but it turns faster as the movie run.
Super Reviewer
November 11, 2008
A decent, watchable but slow moving drama does not really keep you guessing but offers up some unsettling and creepy almost 2 hours in length seems too drawn out; as implausible as the plot is, the acting and overall strangeness should hold your interest to the dark conclusion..
Super Reviewer
½ September 8, 2008
Considering the popular Feminist movement in the 70s, Bryan Forbes' film represents a bizarre depiction of women trapped in a world of men. It is a controversial portrayal which might offend some people, mainly women, but could also raise some questions about gender issues.
It is indeed an interesting film to see!
Super Reviewer
March 24, 2008
I loved this horror film,yes-horror film.The recent remake of this movie really made me gag.
Super Reviewer
½ June 1, 2007
Scared me rigid as a kid.
½ December 20, 2015
A bunch of guys in suburbia want to turn their wives into look alike robots that dress and act differently from their flesh and blood originals. As a feminist I find the idea repugnant, though I'm sure neither womankind nor mankind would wish to be killed and replaced by a robot. That's not the only disturbing part of Mr. masterson's dreadful movie. The living women are portrayed as agents of destruction who do not enjoy sex very much, want to dress like teen age boys all of the time, and whose sole mission in life is to use marriage as a method to infiltrate mankind in order to sabotage it. Of course, men are portrayed as insensitive, unfeeling and selfish. All this when the women's rights movement was at its apex. The movie emphasizes all of the ugly aspects of women's rights without in any way giving heed to any positive results the movement could have yielded.
When the katherine ross character and her annoying friend, portrayed just as annoyingly by paula prentiss, spy on a drugstore owner lifting his wife to new heights of nirvana through love making, ms. prentiss convinces ms. ross that the guy's wife is robot, because how could a drug store owner, basically described as being ugly besides being just a drug store owner ,get such a reaction from such a beautiful woman. There is never any second guessing or no one in the film is able to develop an independent perspective on things. In a way, the movie is for the most part correct that the population is coerced into accepting the media's one dimensional values, that is the way that it is correct , that it self reinforces the values of following the herd and not developing any thoughts of one's own.
It doesn't matter if there is any entertainment value in the stepford wives, it is too simplistic and repugnant to be watched.
Later, mr. masterson would go on to make The best little whorehouse in texas, which would seem to be a sequel to his stepford wives.
½ April 6, 2015
It takes a long build-up to what I thought was an obvious conclusion, but the acting was pretty good especially for the timeframe in which this film was made. Yep, they just don't make 'em right anymore.
December 21, 2013
Freaky movie from master author Ira Levin, who wrote "Rosemary's Baby" among others. The movie came out during the days of the Womens' Liberation Movement. So, in that way, it is a commentary on women wanting more independence with the men trying to keep them in "their place."

What ensues again proves Levin's mastery of creating a great plot, and beautifully following through with it. The film greatly benefits from William Goldman's screenplay adaptation and Owen Roizman's superior cinematography.
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