Ira Levin’s 1972 novel, The Stepford Wives, and the 1975 movie that was based on it are both cultural phenomena. Even the phrase “Stepford wife” has entered into our lexicon. So why did things have to stop after one movie? Luckily, NBC aired this sequel on October 12, 1980.
Whereas the original Stepford wives were androids, the new ones are controlled by drugs and hypnosis. That’s why the town of Stepford has the lowest divorce and crime rate in the U.S. And it’s also what brings reporter Kaye Foster (Shannon Gless, TV’s Cagney and Lacey) to town.
The town is against outsiders, who enjoy the quiet surroundings they live in. And oh yeah, the fact that others than 4 sirens a day to tell them to take their pills, they don’t have to tell their wives to do anything. They’ve become the perfect wives — complaint in all ways.
Kaye meets two other outsiders, Megan Brady (Julie Kavner, Marge Simpson!) and her policeman husband, the dim-witted Andy (Don Johnson, singer of “Heartbeat.” Oh yeah and Miami Vice, A Boy and His Dog and The Magic Garden of Stanley Sweetheart). Unlike the other women in town, Megan is sarcastic (and near caustic at times) to her husband. She becomes Kay’s research assistant.
The Stepford Men’s Association, run by Dale “Diz” Coba (The Andromeda Strain), is in charge of town. They even send Barbara Parkinson (Audra Lindley, Mrs. Roper from Three’s Company) to run her down with her car. Afterward, all she can do is repeat the same words and appears to be controlled.
Meanwhile, Wally the hotel manager (Mason Adams, God Told Me To) confesses that he wants to leave his wife but can’t. She’s been programmed to be someone he no longer wants her to be.
Meanwhile, Andy gets the job with the Stepford Police and we see his wife got through the Stepford process. Soon, she’s wearing a frilly dress, as well as cooking and cleaning with no complaint. As long as she takes her pills and doesn’t drink, all will be well. Kaye sneaks in to watch their initiation ritual and barely escapes with her life.
Kaye then frees Megan by boozing her up. They try to use Wally to escape town, but even though they had already planned on him betraying them, they are still caught. Kaye manages to get a gun and hold Diz at gunpoint while Megan continually rings the siren. As the Stepford Wives overdose on pills, they become violent and attack their men.
Andy returns to help save the day as the women of the town push Diz off a balcony and tear him to pieces as Kaye leaves.
This was directed by Robert Fuest, who also brought us The Abominable Dr. Phibes, Dr. Phibes Rises Again and The Devil’s Rain! It’s not a bad effort, but a lot of his quirkier touches are absent. Genre vet James MacKrell also shows up (he played Lew Landers in both Gremlins and The Howling).
One of my issues with this movie — and any of the Stepford stores — is that it’s a really simplistic view on feminism. At the risk of mansplaining, I think that women can choose wherever they want to be — in the workforce, at home raising a family, not raising a family, doing all of the above. Or none! By placing the battle between liberated career women and drones who only exist to cook and clean, these stories simplify the very complicated battle of the sexes.
That doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy this, though! It has some great tension throughout and makes me miss when movies like this would air regularly. This was released on VHS in the 1980’s after Don Johnson’s Miami Vice fame and even retitled Terror in New York when released internationally. In fact, the version I watched on YouTube has a really poor computer graphics title for this that is just dubbed in!
Like most TV movies, this has not been released on DVD. You can find it on the grey market or, as mentioned above, YouTube.
By the way, check out this awesome art for the film by Johnny Pahlsson!