Smooth Operator – Rediscovering ‘Lisa’ (US 1990 – 95 mins)

Posted in Rediscover by - August 28, 2015
Smooth Operator – Rediscovering ‘Lisa’ (US 1990 – 95 mins)

I’ve always thought that telephone based thrillers were an engaging sub-genre, although not all have lived up to their potential. One of the best of course is the classic Barbara Stanwyck suspenser ‘Sorry, Wrong Number’ (’48). Other famous examples are the uneven 1979 chiller ‘When a Stranger Calls’, and William Castle’s fun but frightless ‘I Saw What You Did’ (’65). A lesser-known title but one that has a similar premise to Castle’s movie is Gary Sherman’s 1990 offering ‘Lisa’, a very engaging potboiler with above average performances.

Spirited 14 year old Lisa (Staci Keanan) and her best friend Wendy (Tanya Fenmore) have a game where they follow handsome men and, noting their licence plates, manage to find out who they are and their phone numbers. One night on her way home, Lisa (literally) bumps into the handsome Richard (D.W Moffett), unaware that he is the serial killer who’s been dubbed “The Candlelight Killer”. Keen to impress Wendy, Lisa writes down his licence plate and soon begins calling him, posing as an older woman. Unfortunately for Lisa though, Richard has a deadly telephone game of his own, and soon Lisa unwittingly becomes his next target.

Although there’s hardly any on-screen violence, and it does have a TV movie feel to it, ‘Lisa’ is still a thoroughly engaging thriller which benefits from a good cast and a terrific performance from its young star. In her movie debut, 15 year old Staci Keanan was a minor revelation as Lisa, wise beyond her years but still with her teenage naivety, which ultimately puts her mother’s life in great danger. Keanan had just come off the popular sitcom ‘My Two Dads’ and would go on to play Patrick Duffy’s stepdaughter in the long-running family show ‘Step by Step’ (’91-98). Taking a break from TV movies, Cheryl Ladd does well as Lisa’s tough-love single mum, while talented stage actor D.W Moffett was ideal as the handsome lady-killer.

Although his output has been rather sporadic, director Gary Sherman has made some very good films. I’ve always loved his London underground horror ‘Death Line’ (’73) and later his atmospheric chiller ‘Dead and Buried’ (’81). ‘Lisa’ moves along at a brisk pace and although there are no standout set pieces and only a couple of scary moments, this doesn’t detract from the fact that the story itself is enough to keep you glued. There is a minor unbelievable coincidence involving a car alarm, but it doesn’t amount to anything, and the inevitable struggle during the climax is excitingly staged.

A well-paced genre picture, I think ‘Lisa’ is one of the better movies of its type. It’s both stylish and expertly made, and if you can forgive a few convenient plot devices, it makes for a suspenseful night in.

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