Sunday, December 20, 2015

Movie Review: Lisa, Bright and Dark

Lisa, Bright and Dark
Directed by Jeannot Szwarc, Starring Kay Lenz (1973).

Movie review by Greg Goodsell

This “Kindertrauma” favorite had all my fellow classmates in junior high talking about it the day it was telecast on November 28, 1973. Lisa, Bright and Dark had some strong shocking content for its day and innumerable links to the horror genre as well. We will get to this in a moment …

When we first meet Lisa (Kay Lenz), she appears to be just yet another spoiled rich kid whiling away her senior year before embarking on to her college years. Her mom (Anne Baxter) and dad (John Forsythe) are terribly conservative and wealthy, although they seem a bit old to have a 17-year-old daughter. Straight away, things begin to go awry. Subject to mood swings, she tells off her steady boyfriend Brian at a party in front of a bunch of her fellow students, only to re-emerge minutes later smiling and friendly. Something is drastically wrong however. After a shopping spree collecting the latest “Marcia Brady” drag, she forces her way into the car of a complete stranger. Lisa then decides her clothes are too young for her and sets them alight in the car! Imagine all that melted polyester meeting that ugly plaid interior!

YICCHH I shudder at those bad 70's fashions

Things are spiraling wildly out of control for our deluded female student, and a trio of her friends (TV standbys Anne Lockhart, Debralee Scott and Jamie Smith-Jackson) decide to form their own “group therapy” session. Poring over a few “self-help” books from the library, along with some practical experience – “I was in analysis for three years!” one of her friends declares, Lisa’s “hen group” tries to bring her back to a semblance of normalcy, but things only go from bad to worse.

Lisa, Bright and Dark
is at its heart a low-to-no budget telefilm with ghastly fashions, but remains highly relevant today. Mental illness remains highly stigmatized in the United States today, and many young women may find themselves in a home situation where the parents and guardians refuse to acknowledge it as it reflects negatively on them. There is also an anti-psychiatrist bias as well. High school guidance counselors, unable to deal with the complexity of teenagers, often reach for the mantra of “Your child needs professional help …” whether it be for nail biting or multiple personality disorder. Not helping the situation are contemporary mental health professional themselves, who glibly prescribe “happy pills” for patients in lieu of addressing their root problems.

Did you get that audition for the Brian Depalma Catsup commercial?

Lisa, Bright and Dark has many connections with the horror genre, with scenes calling to mind films of that era. The scene where Lisa douses herself with red paint in art class prefigures Sissy Spacek in Carrie (1976), as well as a scene where she throws herself through a plate-glass window in the manner of Marilyn Burns in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). (A scene where Lisa carves her name in her arm with a straight pin calls to mind the excesses of recent “torture porn” films as well.)

WRONG! It's spelled SLAYER!

Director Jeannot Szwarc is no stranger to horror film fans, directing William Castle’s Bug (1975) as well as the most horrifying Night Gallery TV episode, “The Caterpillar.” He is also the man responsible for such fan favorites as Jaws 2 (1978) and Somewhere in Time (1980), and remains active in television in the present day.

Hey can you drive me over to the set of Match Game, I'm pretty stoned

As for Lisa, she does “get help” at the end of the film, but we are left with the definite impression that she’s currently pushing a shopping cart and picking through Dumpsters. Overall, Lisa, Bright and Dark still packs a punch and raises many questions that have yet to be addressed in current society.   



  1. Hmm, never saw this, Lenz was always sexy, the beauty daughter Lockhart was topless in 1977's Joyride, a road film I liked & my fave Night Gallery was a 10-minute tale with John Carradine called "Big Surprise," which scared the shit outta me as a teen ;-)

  2. I gotta see that Night Gallery too Kris, I just watched the earwig one. I didn't see Joyride from 77, keep those recommendations coming.


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