Director Bryan Forbes’ 1975 cult classic, The Stepford Wives, brings Ira Levin’s novel to life in this extremely unconventional horror movie. At first you’re not even sure why it’s billed as a horror movie, but stay for the ride, the eerie journey soon makes you realize why this movie works so well.
When Joanna Eberhart (Katharine Ross) and her husband move away from the grit and crime of the city, she soon finds that she is bored to death by the picturesque conformity of Stepford. She finds a kindred spirit in Bobbie Markowe (Paula Prentiss) and soon starts to bear life in the quiet, little town. They also befriend another newcomer, Charmaine, who is also settling into her new life.
At first, Stepford is exactly as it seems, provincial and safe. There is however, “The Stepford Men’s Association” where no are women allowed. Also, the women of Stepford are only interested in cleaning products, cooking, and looking perfect for their husbands. Joanna is baffled as to why her husband insists on spending time at the Men’s Association, especially with the stodgy president of the club, a computer and electronics expert who used to work at Disneyland.
When Charmaine – a self-proclaimed lover of tennis, has her tennis court bulldozed and, confesses that she has been selfish in wanting to devote her time to tennis when there is so much housework and cooking to do – Bobbie realizes that something is very wrong in the town of Stepford.
This is not your standard horror by any means and some may find the pacing of the film excessively slow, however, it serves a dramatic purpose. Bobbie’s slow realizations about the people of Stepford allow us to immerse ourselves into her persona, as it might be with us when we discover and realize new things. The social satire of the movie and the idea that the perfect wife needs to wear heels, bake cookies and wait for her husband to return from the office works remarkably well in 1975 America when the Women’s Liberation Movement was in full swing.
There might be a long wait but the twist ending and effectively creepy final scene is worth the wait. The entire movie is bathed in sunshine and vibrant colors while veiling the strangely dark subject matter within. Katharine Ross and Paula Prentiss offer remarkably entertaining performances which move the film even during the slower moments.
This one is definitely worth a rewatch (or a first watch) especially for us city dwellers who believe the grass is greener on the other side. With a little reprogramming, who knows, maybe it is.