The Movie Waffler New to VOD - LISA FRANKENSTEIN | The Movie Waffler


A teenage outsider falls in love with a reanimated corpse.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Zelda Williams

Starring: Kathryn Newton, Cole Sprouse, Liza Soberano, Henry Eikenberry, Joe Chrest, Carla Gugino

Lisa Frankenstein poster

Directed by Zelda Williams (daughter of the late Robin) in her feature debut from a script by the divisive Diablo Cody (Juno; Jennifer's Body), the 1989 set horror-comedy Lisa Frankenstein is a love letter in gothic font to the weirdo suburbia movies of the 1980s and early '90s. It's something of a Frankenstein's monster itself, as it only comes to life through assembling parts from other movies. Williams and Cody stitch together limbs and organs from Weird Science, Edward Scissorhands, Heathers and most explicitly, Bob Balaban's 1993 flop My Boyfriend's Back.

Lisa Frankenstein review

Despite the title, the "monster" here isn't resurrected through the work of a mad scientist, but rather emerges from the grave as a lovelorn zombie, ala the Balaban film. The title refers to Lisa (Kathryn Newton), an awkward teen who retreated into her shell when she witnessed her mother killed by an axe murderer. She now lives with her doting but dozy dad Dale (Joe Chrest), her wicked stepmother Janet (Carla Gugino) and her warmhearted but dumb stepsister Taffy (Liza Soberano). Lisa likes to spend time alone in a local derelict cemetery, where she obsesses over the grave of a young man who passed away in 1837.

During a storm, said corpse (Cole Sprouse) is resurrected when his grave is struck by lightning, and makes his way to Lisa's home, where she's alone, having declined to join her family on a trip to the cinema. Initially terrified, Lisa realises who this corpse really is, and decides to befriend the zombie, reviving him to a greater degree by sticking him in her family's faulty tanning bed. The reanimated romantic is missing a few key body parts, so in classic mad doctor fashion, Lisa and the creature start offing their enemies and stealing the bits they need.

Lisa Frankenstein review

It's in this killing spree subplot that Lisa Frankenstein flounders. The anti-heroine's transition from shy schoolgirl to cold-blooded killer is entirely unconvincing. While there's fun to be had seeing some terrible people get their comeuppance, some of Lisa's victims are guilty of nothing more than rejecting her romantic interest. You would think if she's willing to commit homicide Lisa would go after her greatest enemy, the killer who butchered her mother, but such an idea isn't even mentioned. In fact, the murder of Lisa's mother never really factors into the narrative in any substantial manner. Much of the film plays like it's working from a rough early script draft that hasn't worked out what it wants to do with some of its plot points.

Were it not for the charismatic and engaging presence of Newton, Lisa Frankenstein would be dead on arrival, but she gives this stiff of a script a jolt of electricity, bringing to life a movie that would be near unwatchable with a less talented star in the lead role. With Freaky, we've seen just how great Newton can be in a horror-comedy that knows what it's doing, so it's a shame Lisa Frankenstein's script never lives up to her comic talents. The film is equally enlivened by some fun supporting performances, though Sprouse struggles to make anything of his thinly sketched character. Gugino is deliciously awful as the wicked stepmother, Chrest loveable as the sort of classic '80s movie dad who just wants to read his newspaper in peace, and Soberano is thoroughly charming as the surprisingly supportive stepsister. It's a rare case of the actors understanding the film better than the writer and director. The relationship between Lisa and Taffy is another example of the script's inconsistencies however. Late on Lisa apologises for treating her stepsister so badly, but we never saw any evidence of this.

Lisa Frankenstein review

With the current vogue among young people for '80s and '90s fashion (a revival that makes those of us who were kids in the era cringe with recollections of our terrible taste) and music, Lisa Frankenstein's superficial nostalgia will likely play well with a sleepover audience. The glossy production design certainly captures the spirit of the era, and serves as a reminder of how drained of colour our modern world has become. In what feels like a reversal of that awful treatment of Ally Sheedy's character in The Breakfast Club, Newton's Lisa finds empowerment when she begins dressing like a goth, and I imagine any teenage girls who watch her strutting through her high school corridors looking like Cyndi Lauper by way of a Scottish Widow will be instantly enamoured.

Lisa Frankenstein
 is on UK/ROI VOD now.

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