Color, 1990, 95m.
Directed by Gary Sherman
Starring Staci Keanan, Cheryl Ladd, D.W. Moffett, Tanya Fenmore, Jeffrey Tambor Kino Lorber (Blu-ray) (US RA HD) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
An enjoyable mix of elements from the beloved William Castle chiller I Saw What You Did and the slasher classic The Stepfather, this teen-friendly thriller was the final feature film to date for director Gary Sherman, who started his horror career in 1972 with the cult favorite Death Line (aka Raw Meat) and turned out such films as Dead & Buried, Vice Squad, and Wanted: Dead or Alive. Unfortunately he hit a speed bump with the very troubled Poltergeist III, whose young star died before it could be completed. However, the studio asked him to stay on and find a way to salvage the project (as much as it could be), in exchange for which he could do another modest film of his own choosing. Sherman's teenaged daughter had lamented the fact that she couldn't see any of his films (which were all R-rated), so he opted to co-write and direct a psycho thriller that young girls could enjoy.
Raised by her protective single mom Katherine (Ladd), young Lisa (Keanan, the same year she was wrapping up the sitcom My Two Dads) is frustrated by an edict that she can't date anyone until she's sixteen. She and her best friend, Wendy (Fenmore), decide to get around that rule by calling up handsome older men via some chicanery with their license plates and phone record access, but they pick the wrong target when they call up Richard (Moffett)... who turns out to be the Candlelight Killer, a psycho who leaves sinister answering machine messages before murdering young single women. The game of verbal courtship between Lisa and Richard soon turns into cat and mouse as she gets closer to him unaware of the mortal danger she's in, while he may realize any minute that he's being deceived. Of course, it does not all end happily.
Had it been given a decent theatrical release, Lisa would've probably been regarded as one of the more memorable entries in the domestic psycho suspense wave that exploded in the '90s with films like The Hand That Rocks the Cradle and Pacific Heights. Unfortunately MGM/UA went into a financial tailspin before this could open, which led to a hasty video deal that led to the film being dumped into a drastically reduced number of movie theaters for two weeks before going to VHS from CBS/Fox. It still managed to find its audience on the small screen, however, and it played for years on various movie channels where it found a couple of generations of young fans. Sherman's simple but effective, noir-inspired aesthetic choices translate well to TV, for one thing, and the sincere performances still hold up with Keanan holding her own as the title character and Ladd and Moffett doing very effective work in their supporting roles. Regular Sherman composer Joe Renzetti also does a fine job with his moody electronic score, which he cranked out back to back the same year as Frankenhooker and Basket Case 2!
Unfortunately Lisa wasn't treated very well in the DVD era, with MGM unceremoniously dumping it out as an MOD title through Amazon in 2012 with a middling presentation from the HD master struck for airings on MGM HD. Released three years later, the Kino Lorber Blu-ray does a far better job of handling the film with a solid encoding of that HD master presenting its dark, powdery 1990 film stock look about as well as you could expect. More importantly, it gives some much-needed context for the film via some very fine extras. Sherman appears for both a solo audio commentary (which features some sparse patches but offers some good info about the production of the film including his friendship with Cheryl Ladd and the Louma crane snafu that caused him to be dissatisfied with the final shot) and a 33-minute on-camera featurette alongside editor Ross Albert, which briefly touches on this film (including the absurd battle to get it down to a PG-13 rating) but mainly hops through their entire careers with titles including the story behind getting Wings Hauser to sing for Vice Squad, the amusing story behind hiring Gene Simmons for Wanted: Dead or Alive, and the subterfuge necessary to wrap up the unlucky TV show Sable. Moffett also gets his own chance to shine with an 18-minute interview in which the personable actor recalls getting into character for his role, getting hired by Sherman (who was "extremely focused and specific" about his murdering modus operandi), and his other acting gigs up through his current stint on TV's Switched at Birth.