The Stepford Wives Organization reviews “Revenge of The Stepford Wives” made-for-TV movie 1980

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1980’s Revenge of the Stepford Wives is the next installment in the Stepford diorama. It is a made-for-TV movie directed by Robert Fuest and written by David Wiltse. The story advances 10 years after Joanna and Walter “assimilated” into the community. Where the original version involves killing the biological wife and replacing her with a robotic facsimile, new technological developments have apparently been made in the interim. The new, “kinder” implementation involves restructuring brain waves via a machine that looks not unlike an old-fashion hair-dryer at the ladies’ salon. The modern woman’s frenetic brain waves are tempered into steady, gentle waves of domestic tranquility. The only character carried over from the original story is Diz, the mastermind and godhead of Stepford.

Kaye Foster (Sharon Gless of 80’s tv series Cagney & Lacey) is a reporter who comes to town in search of a human-interest story for her newspaper. Where is this town where there are no divorce-rates, low crime rates, and virtually zero turnover in the real estate? Picturesque Stepford is where. Beautifully-manicured, soft spoken feminine women tend to perfect gardens in floral dresses, stopping only to pop a mysterious pill whenever a town-wide siren sounds, four times a day. The wives keep themselves perfect, without a strand of hair out of place. They speak softly and carry themselves gracefully: each tied and packaged with perfect bows and ribbons like gifts to their husbands, waiting to untied and unwrapped.

Foster lodges at the Stepford motel where she interviews the local women to be her assistant in typing and general administrative duties. One of our favorite scenes occurs whenn one applicant, “Muffin” (Melissa Newman) shows up. Looking like a dainty perfect wife in a ribbon choker and sundress, Muffin is just adorable in her wide-eyed innocence. She talks like a little girl – as all Stepford Wives should-speaking in soft, lilting tones:

The Stepford Wives Organization‘s favorite quote:

“Roy works so hard. What with inflation and the economy the way it is. Well there’s just so far you can stretch a paycheck. And then Roy just insists on having a new workshop for his woodworking and all. He works so hard, he deserves whatever he wants. But the cost of renovation is so high these days, so with the kids in school now, well I can do the housework in half a day anyway. So when I saw your ad in the local paper, I asked Roy and he said, “Why not?” But of course I would have to leave right at five everyday so I can get home to fix Roy a nice warm meal and then of course meet Roy at the station. (Well there may be some night work) Oh Roy wants me home when he’s home. You understand that.”

After the interview is over, Foster goes out to the hotel parking lot and runs into the new police office (a young Don Johnson of Miami Vice / Nash Bridges) in town. He, along with his wife Megan (Julie Kavner, voice of Marge Simpson in The Simpsons) recently moved to Stepford, and he’s working through a probationary period with the Stepford police department. Megan and Kaye make friends and have coffee together in her messy motel room. Kaye enjoys her newfound friend’s disorganization.

An order from the powers that be is given to a Stepford Wife (Audra Lindley of Three’s Company / The Ropers) to maim, possibly kill Foster. The reporter narrowly escapes a car barreling into her, but begins suspecting there is a story to Stepford, when she’s been informed the accident victim is brought not to the hospital, but the Stepford Men’s Association.

From this point onwards, the sequel – suffering from a syndrome so many sequels fall victim to – basically reiterates the formula of the original Stepford Wife movie. Megan takes the role of the freewheeling liberated Bobbi, to Kaye’s Joanna. This time, it’s Megan’s husband who is conflicted about sending her off to be “reprogrammed.” However, once the procedure has been completed, the repetition of the original scenes commences. There is “the kitchen scene” where “Stepfordized” Megan short-circuits and starts malfunctioning into endless loops of housework. Finally there is the attempted escape. The twist here is that the wives experience an overload of the siren calls – masterminded by Foster, and proceeds to attack the Stepford patriarch, ganging up and surrounding him, before a mad stomp of heels does him in. This must be every man’s deep-seated fear of feminists gone wild

Sharon Gless beams as the main character. Most of those who have seen some Simpsons will find it difficult to watch this film without thinking of her sidekick Kavner as Marge Simpson (yes, that is her natural voice). One of the noteworthy features of this film is the timbre of the actors’ voices. Both Gless’s and Kavner’s delivery squeak and grate in the imperfection of the real “liberated” woman. It was as if on a frequency spectrum, their voices form disheveled waves of nervousness and discontent (compared with the soothing waves of the in the Stepford conversion lab. When they shout during moments of excitement, it has the brusque coarseness of a man’s voice.

The other darling feature are the outfits. If you, like most of us here, have been old enough to remember the 1980’s, this was the beginning of the Reagan era, when many girls reverted to pure white ruffle, flouncy blouses, satin ribbons tied in bows around the neck, with a general conservative cut in dress. Revenge of the Stepford Wives is a good representation of the style at the time. While the Bryan Forbes victorian flower-print halter dress makes a reappearance, the Laura Ashley floral theme is omniscient.

Diz, the Stepford patriach, gives a particularly poignant speech to Don Johnson when he reassures him that converting his wife is the right decision:

You remember how good that first year of marriage was? How loving? Whatever you wanted was yours just for the asking…It’s much for their good as for yours. You know what happens to women as they get older. They get bored and restless. They become discontented with their lot in life. It could ruin marriages, careers, it can ruin lives. And to what purpose? Are they better off? Give me the wisdom to accept those things I cannot change. All we do is instill values that will enrich and sustain them. A perfect mother, always there for the kids. A perfect wife, always there for you. Any way you want her to be.

What we like to call “the yoke” of the original 1975 Stepford Wives movie enjoys a new variation here:

You know what your problem is? This place is too nice for you. You spend your life grubbing around looking for dirt for your tv show.

Then you come here, to some place that is decent, clean, law-abiding…and it makes you anxious.

(Foster: “Maybe I just don’t believe it”)

Or you might just be too cynical.

return to The Complete Guide to The Stepford Wives Movies

continue to the review of The Stepford Children