LISA dials a deadly number on Scorpion Releasing's superlative Blu-ray of Gary Sherman's neglected thriller.
Forbidden from dating until she is sixteen by her overprotective mother Catherine (Cheryl Ladd, POISON IVY), fourteen year old Catholic schoolgirl Lisa (Staci Keanan, TV's MY TWO DADS) and her best friend Wendy (Tanya Fenmore, TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE) have come up with a game in which they stalk attractive men, track them down through the DMV with their license plates, and tease them over the phone. When Lisa literally runs into "the most beautiful man" in yuppie restaurateur Richard (D.W. Moffett, STEALING BEAUTY), she decides to make him the next addition to her scrapbook; however, she is unaware that he has his own odd collection as the "Candlelight Killer" terrorizing the city's single women with ritualized (and romanticized) sex killings. Frustrated by her mother – who she believes is making her pay for her own youthful mistakes – and Wendy's newfound popularity in dating, Lisa starts calling and flirting with Richard for her own amusement but starts fantasizing about the possibility of a real relationship. Although she gets a rush from a few close calls with Richard, she has no idea of the real danger she is placing herself and her mother in when sets up and then breaks a meeting with him.
Bearing a superficial resemblance to William Castle's I SAW WHAT YOU DID (already remade for TV in 1988 by WHEN A STRANGER CALLS' Fred Walton with THE BLOB's Shawnee Smith, WISHMASTER's Tammy Lauren, FULL HOUSE's Candice Cameron, and both Robert and David Carradine), LISA at best seems like a glossy studio take on the dying slasher genre and at worst a Lifetime movie (more on that later); but it is actually a well-mounted and all too easily overlooked thriller boasting tense set-pieces, much implied nastiness that almost skirts the PG-13 rating, and fine performances by the three leads. Since we know from the start that Richard is a killer, the inappropriateness of Lisa's crush and even Richard's "You look at least sixteen" come on is never a source of tension so much as when and how she will discover his true nature (with Sherman having laid the groundwork and then overturning audience expectation when these elements recur). Lisa's complex relationship with her mother is thematically important and is appropriately foregrounded, and both characters are privy to partial clues to the mystery but not enough to make the same connections as the audience; as such, they both quite literally have to be battered over the head with the revelation that Richard is the serial killer. Most of the violence is implied, making the climax shockingly brutal with no one getting out unscathed. Jeffrey Tambor (THREE O'CLOCK HIGH) and Julie Cobb (SALEM'S LOT), daughter of Lee J. Cobb, play Wendy's parents. The film was produced by former Paramount executive Frank Yablans (MOMMIE DEAREST), brother of Irwin Yablans who was more prolific in the independent horror genre.
Given a scant theatrical release by United Artists, LISA found most of its life on the Lifetime network and on video from MGM. MGM released a "Limited Edition" series manufactured-on-demand DVD-R edition in 2012 utilizing the HD master that had been making the rounds on television, and it is more sumptuously presented here on Scorpion Releasing's dual-layer 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen Blu-ray that beautifully contrasts the cool look of Richard's scenes, the warmer look of the Lisa's, and the candlelit killings. The Dolby Stereo mix is also effectively rendered in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0, benefiting Joe Renzetti's score of sultry sax, synthesized pan flute, and shrieking guitars as well as a number of directional effects.
Extras start off with an audio commentary by director Sherman who one could say is a better visual than oral storyteller if he had not also written the script. Although there is some interesting detail about the film's conception and production, there is quite a bit of unnecessary explanation of the plot points that are capably conveyed by the film itself. He conceived the film as a horror film for teenage girls after his fourteen year old daughter complained that she could not see any of his films because they were all R-rated. The film was originally supposed to be set in Chicago where lofts were more common than in a pre-gentrified downtown Los Angeles, so Sherman stitched together an imaginary geography combining downtown Los Angeles with Venice beach (he also points out that he deliberately jumbled the geography of Mendocino when shooting DEAD & BURIED). Sherman points out his audio cameo on an answering machine as well as a brief appearance by David Niven Jr. who had been working at Paramount with Yablans when Sherman had been working on DEATH LINE (a film they wanted to distribute but it had already been pre-sold to AIP). In terms of the film's look, cinematographer Alex Nepomniaschy (POLTERGEIST III) used normal focal length lenses to make the perspective as naturalistic as possible and dollies were used instead of Steadicam or handheld because Sherman storyboarded the framing to be precise even with camera movement. They rented a Louma crane for the final shot but no one knew how to use it, and Sherman reluctantly used a crossfade to stitch together the beginning and ending of the tracking shot.
Actor Moffett (18:13) discusses how he had his own theater company in Chicago and had been contacted by Sherman who had seen videotape of his work. He recalls the intensity with which Sherman had described his character and how he choreographed the murders as if they were love scenes. He speaks well of his cast-mates and the late Yablans who could be rather salty when regaling him with anecdotes of his bygone studio days but only exploded on set when it came to the aforementioned Louma crane shot. He briefly describes his work on the earlier WHEELS OF TERROR, shooting in the former Yugoslavia and the rarity of Americans playing Nazis in the war films (it's a welcome addition since he is not featured in the extras for Scorpion's release of the film). Given the long silences in the second half of the commentary, the included interview with Sherman and editor Ross Albert (33:30) provides a more concise account of LISA's conception, production, and reception with room to spare to briefly discuss other works by Sherman and Albert (Moffett's interview also covers some aspects that Sherman mentions on the commentary but does not reiterate in the interview). Sherman does mention in the interview that Alan Ladd Jr. (half-brother of David Ladd who had starred in DEATHLINE) initially did not want to finish POLTERGEIST III after the death of Heather O'Rourke and extended an invitation to him to produce another script which turned out to be LISA. MGM then went bankrupt and Yablans (who had been a CEO at MGM from 1981-1986) came on to produce it. Sherman mentions that Yablans was supposed to participate in the extras before his death (suggesting they were produced last year). The film's theatrical trailer (2:50) closes out the package. (Eric Cotenas)
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