Lisa | Blu-Ray Review
Director Gary Sherman is perhaps best remembered for his cult titles Raw Meat (1972) and Dead & Buried (1981), or maybe for his franchise contribution, Poltergeist III (1988). But one of his last theatrical features, Lisa (1990) gets a Blu-ray release this month, which features surprisingly adept performances in what remains a pseudo-YA thriller. Television stars Cheryl Ladd (“Charlie’s Angels”) and Staci Keanan (“Step By Step,” here in her feature debut) play a Los Angeles mother and daughter who get caught up in a serial killer’s web of murder and sex in a film that curiously exchanges thrills for logical character development. Co-written by Karen Clark (who would solely work on television features following this film), the script presents in sobering fashion a female teenager’s yearning to break out into adulthood via dating and sex despite the lack of maturity that only age can bring. Unfortunately, the rather hokey genre elements this is married to eventually sullies these finer points, reducing the film to a rather generically inclined thriller, albeit one with actual consideration for its female characters.
Lisa (Keanan) is fourteen years old and excited about boys. Both she and bestie Wendy (Tanya Fenmore) engage in prank calling all kinds of male specimens as a way to get their kicks, but when a boy asks Wendy out on a date, their private world is compromised because Lisa’s mother Katherine (Cheryl Ladd) won’t allow her daughter to date until she’s sixteen. At the same time, a man known in the media as the Candlelight Killer has been murdering women all over Los Angeles, and he just so happens to be the handsome stranger (D.W. Moffett) that Lisa has been stalking and secretly calling. Unfortunately, he’s taken quite a shine to Lisa’s sultry, soothing promises, and attempts to make contact in person.
There’s nothing too terribly complicated about Lisa, although it rather deftly examines the ridiculousness of teen rebellion against the most logical and progressive of parenting. Cheryl Ladd’s matter-of-fact mom actually seems quite reasonable, and the tug-and-pull between these characters is rather believable. The film’s problem lies instead with the presentation of Moffett’s serial killer, your general rapey misogynist, and Lisa’s lack of perception when she purposefully puts her mother in his path. In the limited supporting cast, fans will note the presence of Jeffrey Tambor, here portraying Wendy’s lax father.
Presented in dual layered high definition widescreen 1.85:1, Lisa captures late 80’s residential Venice in Los Angeles thanks to Sherman’s returning DoP Alex Nepomniaschy (after working on Poltergeist III). The picture quality is decent, which assists in distancing the title from a run-of-the-mill television title. Optional audio commentary from director Gary Sherman is available, as well as several bonus features.
A recent interview with actor D.W. Moffett finds the performer discussing how he was approached to be a killer.
Sherman and Albert Interview:
Gary Sherman and editor Ross Albert discuss making Lisa after having worked together on 1981’s Dead & Buried. Due to the tragic death of Heather O’Rourke on Poltergeist III, Sherman discusses how finishing that project allowed him to choose whatever script he wanted for his next film, which ended up being Lisa.
With significantly changed technology and landscape, the film’s superficial aspects feel dated, yet Lisa captures a flavor for its characters often absent from these genre exercises.
Film Review: ★★½/☆☆☆☆☆
Disc Review: ★★★/☆☆☆☆☆