Welcome to Back to the ’80s. This recurring feature aims to take a look at the good, the bad, and the ugly from horror’s most beloved decade. Regardless of which category a particular film falls under, this segment will spotlight films that horror fans can appreciate for one reason or another. We will look at how some of these flicks have stood the test of time and others have not aged quite so well. Regardless of what they look like today, these efforts from the 1980s laid the groundwork for the horror genre as we know it today.
14-year-old Lisa (Staci Keanan) has a tricky relationship with her mother, Katherine (Cheryl Ladd). They act like best friends. They share clothes, use dirty words, and tell each other everything. Almost everything. The one problem in their relationship is that Lisa’s mother is overprotective when it comes to the opposite sex. Katherine had her daughter at a young age and is afraid the same thing might happen to Lisa. Her mother’s close watch is starting to cause resentment in Lisa. She has developed a seemingly harmless game of spotting attractive men and tracking them down through their license plate numbers. Unfortunately, for both mother and daughter, Lisa reaches out to the wrong man. A man who likes to create a romantic, candlelight scene for the women that interest him. Right before he kills them.
Directed by Gary Sherman, this thriller is an intriguing look at the nature of stalking. Leaning more on suspense than gore, this flick inverts the idea of what it means to be a stalker and the consequences for each side. A commentary is also made on the utilization of technology at the time. Richard, the Candlelight Killer, stalks his target. He then leaves a message on her answering machine declaring that he is in the apartment and going to kill her. Lisa uses her phone to gain information about and to tease Richard. While Lisa’s intention is clearly more innocent, she is still guilty of stalking Richard. Lisa and her friend, Wendy (Tanya Fenmore), target a guy and seek to find more information about him. Richard targets a woman with the intention to kill.
Lisa generates mild suspense and tense scenarios. The film does not deliver high-level scares. However, the setup is intriguing enough to keep the viewer interested. There are two stories being told. The feature opens with Richard and his latest victim. We then switch over to the story of Lisa and her mother. After Lisa meets Richard, she takes on her mother’s persona to disguise her young age. Despite the viewer being smart enough to foresee an inevitable confrontation, there is enough material to wonder what will happen. One suspenseful scene that sticks out is when Lisa hides in the back of Richard’s car. There is not only the question as to whether she will be caught but also to what Richard might reveal of himself in Lisa’s unknown presence.
The main cast deliver excellent performances. Staci Keanan (of My Two Dads fame) anchors the cast in her performance of Lisa. The audience believes they are watching a typical teenager struggling with oncoming adulthood. Cheryl Ladd does a fine job at playing against Keanan’s character. She seems as if she could be Keanan’s warm and loving mother. At the same time, she presents Katherine as independent and coldly aloof from the advances of other men. D.W. Moffett is a solid choice as Richard. He demonstrates a slick physicality and seductiveness that would creepily draw a vulnerable young girl in.
There are moments of violence, however the film shies away from the intensely graphic. The focus is on scenes of tension surrounding a teenager making mistakes. These are serious mistakes that have dangerous consequences. Lisa is well-suited towards younger audiences becoming familiar with the horror genre. A Christopher Pike or R.L. Stine young adult novel on film with a slightly more mature tone. The killer’s identity revealed early on adds tension for the audience. The viewer knows that Lisa is headed for trouble, and she is inadvertently bringing her mother along for the ride.
Fans of horror will enjoy the 1980’s fashion, suspense, and George Michael references. Lisa is not for those seeking a gory flick. This feature is not going to go down in history as a classic. However, it deviates in a clever way from audience expectations when it comes to phone calls from a stalker. The film uses this idea to explore a mother/daughter relationship as a killer closes in. While at times bordering on becoming a Lifetime Movie-of-the-Week, Lisa is a great choice for the horror fan looking for a flick to watch on a lazy Sunday afternoon.
Note: The copyright at the end of the film credits and the back of my battered old VHS copy list the release of Lisa as 1989. The back of the VHS copy lists the distribution of the video as 1990. Internet research has shown different listings (1989 versus 1990) for when this feature was released. This article is based on the copyrighted listing of 1989.