• Her Name Was Lisa

    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome
    Released on: May 29h, 2018.
    Director: Roger Watkins (as Richard Mahler)
    Cast: Vanessa del Rio, Samantha Fox, Bobby Astyr, Robin Byrd, Barbara Daniels, Ron Hudd, Randy West, Rick Iverson
    Year: 1980
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    The Movie:

    When Roger Watkin’s 1980 adult feature Her Name Was Lisa opens, we meet the titular character (played remarkably well by a strangely alluring Samantha Fox) as a corpse lying in a coffin. It’s a striking image to open any motion picture with, let alone one that was presumably made to titillate the raincoat crowd – but it definitely gets your attention.

    From there, through a series of flashbacks, we learn how Lisa wound up this way. Working in a massage parlor, Lisa is approached by a photographer named Paul (Rick Iverson) who has clearly come into the establishment looking not so much for a quick rubdown but specifically to hire her to model for him. She agrees, but quite predictably their relationship soon becomes as physical as it is financial. When Paul’s pushy publisher, Stephen Sweet (David Pierce), decides he’d like to be left alone with Paul’s new find for a while, Paul gets jealous. Lisa, on the other hand, finds that Mr. Sweet’s friendship is one worth having. To compensate her for essentially being available to him at his beck and call he puts her up in a swank Manhattan apartment and makes sure that she’s well taken care of.

    Eventually, Sweet wants more out of Lisa than she’s necessarily comfortable with. She learns this the hard way when he arranges to have two of his friends Dopey (Randy West) and Doc (a cast against type Bobby Astyr) come over to sample the goods. After things get rough, she, by chance, meets a comforting lesbian named Carmen (Vanessa del Rio) and, in what is essentially an act of retaliation against Sweet’s abhorrent actions, takes up with her. Clearly damaged goods at this point, Lisa finds solace in heroin and essentially shuts down as she becomes more and more exploited by those around her.

    A cheery film this is not! Directed by Watkins under his Richard Mahler alias, his first foray into hardcore territory is an interesting and well-made film but pretty far off from typical stroke movie material. There’s clearly a focus on character development here and actress Samantha Fox makes the most out of the opportunity to play a well-written lead. She excels in the sex scenes to be sure but as her mental state starts to deteriorate her performance shifts accordingly. Fox makes this work, and del Rio is every bit her equal playing Carmen as a sapphic temptress very effectively. Anytime these two are on screen together the movie is mesmerizing, no matter how dark it eventually gets. The supporting players all do fine work here (Astyr, who typically plays comedic roles, is surprisingly effective as a character who is essentially a creepy rapist) but Fox and del Rio are really make the strongest impression once the film finishes.

    Visually, the picture is also quite strong. Watkins clearly put some care into the look of the film, at times it feels like an arthouse picture. The sex scenes, which do seem to have been shot with legitimate erotic intent, tend to focus on the ‘freakier’ side of bumping and grinding (some of the closeup shots are a little too closeup) but those involved in the copious copulations scenes do manage to generate some legitimate heat. This contrasts in strange, even unsettling ways with the film’s doom and gloom outlook – but it’s a very good picture, an atypical adult film well worth seeing thanks to solid acting and great production values.


    Her Name Was Lisa looks fantastic on Vinegar Syndrome’s Blu-ray release. Presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed at 1.85.1 widescreen in a transfer taken from a new 2k scan of the original 35mm negative, the picture quality here is gorgeous. There’s a bit of damage around the reel changes but other than that the picture quality here is pretty much pristine. Detail is strong throughout, especially in those closeup shots, and there’s excellent depth and texture to the image from start to finish. Black levels are spot on and color reproduction looks perfect. There are no noticeable issues with compression artifacts, the feature is given a strong bit rate, and the image is free of noise reduction or edge enhancement. No complaints here – you can safely toss previous DVD editions from VCX and Alpha Blue Archives in the trash!

    The English language DTS-HD Mono track, which includes optional English subtitles available by selecting them from your remote (not off of the menu), is also quite good. Note that there haven’t been any changes made to the music that was used in the film, so some of the audio is going to sound plenty familiar to some people, but the clarity is just fine. The levels are balanced well, the dialogue is clean and crisp and the track is free of any hiss or distortion.

    Aside from a still gallery and a theatrical trailer, Vinegar Syndrome includes a half-hour long featurette with Ultra Violent Magazine’s Art Ettinger, who came to be quite friendly with Watkins before he passed away. Here Ettinger speaks quite candidly about how he first came to know the director’s work after a viewing of Last House On Dead End Street which led to his digging around to find out more about the filmmaker. This in turn got him more deeply familiarized with Watkins work, most done under pseudonyms, and then ultimately found him interviewing the man for Ultra Violent (though the interview was initially done for a fanzine project that never quite made it). Ettinger then goes on to talk about his interactions with Watkins before then discussing the man’s adult work in a fair bit of detail. It’s interesting stuff and a nice addition to the disc.

    The disc includes menus and chapter selection and comes packaged with some nice reversible cover sleeve art. As it is a combo pack release, we also get a DVD edition of the restored version of the movie that contains the same extras as are found on the Blu-ray disc.

    The Final Word:

    Her Name Was Lisa is an odd mix of effective erotica and grim, downbeat arthouse pretense – the kind of thing that Watkins did well when working in the adult film industry. Ms. Fox and Ms. Del Rio are both fantastic here, and the supporting players all do fine work as well. Vinegar Syndrome’s uncut Blu-ray release is a real treat for fans of this unorthodox golden ager – it looks and sounds great and the interview with Ettinger a genuinely interesting supplement.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 2 Comments
    1. CrumpsBrother's Avatar
      CrumpsBrother -
      Nice review, Ian!

      I’m not really into hardcore, but I’m very curious about Watkins adult output and the extras sound pretty tempting.
    1. cmeffa's Avatar
      cmeffa -
      This film is an artsy, depraved masterpiece. I highly recommend it.