Lisa Frankenstein Review

Lisa Frankenstein Review

Lisa Frankenstein Review

When the ’80s-set horror-comedy Lisa Frankenstein begins, Lisa Swallows (Kathryn Newton) has already survived a slasher movie: Her mother was murdered by a masked psychopath, which Jennifer’s Body screenwriter Diablo Cody and first-time-feature director Zelda Williams depict in riotous flashback. But the grieving Lisa has greater terrors to contend with, like the uptight narcissist (Carla Gugino) her insipid, head-in-a-newspaper father (Joe Chrest) married after being widowed, the hell of a new high school in a new town, and the messy sexual politics of adolescence. The frizzy-haired loner prefers the company of the dead to that of her living peers, and in a derelict cemetery she takes a fancy to one tombstone in particular. It belongs to a Victorian pianist (Cole Sprouse) whose tragic death is attractively animated in black-and-white over the opening credits – setting up both his eventual rise from the grave and deliciously vengeful connection with Lisa.

A quirky and campy affair, Lisa Frankenstin lacks the bark or bite of Cody’s previous mix of chills and laughs, which could be due to its PG-13 leash. Her R-rated dialogue was sharply wielded by Megan Fox’s titular teen succubus in Jennifer’s Body, but there’s a kookier voice coming out of Newton’s mouth in this film. The leads form a tornado of slapstick, with Williams’ direction reinforcing the visual humor in ways that the dialogue doesn’t always make good on. When Lisa’s drink is spiked at a party, it’s an early chance for Newton to show off her physical-comedy and line-delivery chops, fending off a predatory lab partner while confusing the creep with an expertly murmured “Pabst.” (She’s talking about her favorite director; he thinks she’s mentioning the beer in his hand.) The jokes may be a bit pedestrian, but Newton’s wide-eyed and droll performance ensures most of hers earn a guffaw.

This is very much The Kathryn Newton Show, but Sprouse throws himself flamboyantly into his gruesome role. He’s playing a mostly mute character – save for a few grunts and groans – but proves a gross yet endearing romantic lead, and the subject of a nostalgic makeover sequence that’s sure to please Clueless fans. Lisa Frankenstein is screaming with references to ’80s and ’90s cinema: Newton is pulling double Winona-Ryder-homage duty, engaged in a toxic, murderous romance like Veronica in Heathers while channeling the macabre fixations and awkward demeanor of Beetlejuice’s Lydia Deetz. (Though, unlike Veronica, Lisa lives for the danger, and even at her most homicidal, she’s an adorable character to root for.) The vintage Tim Burton extend through the Edward Scissorhands-esque juxtaposition between Lisa’s princess-of-darkness fashions and the various pinks and pastels of her family home, as well as Sprouse’s portrayal of a misunderstood “monster.”

The film piles on the high-school comedy clichés – the unavailable heartthrob, his bitchy gal pal – but Cody also gives herself the opportunity to flip those tropes on their heads. Lisa’s perfectly coiffed stepsister Taffy (Liza Soberano) could be the poster child for callous cinematic cheerleaders, but in a refreshing twist, she’s written more like a friend than a foe. Cody further skewers nerd and cool-guy archetypes by offering a female protagonist who’s smart and cultured, and whose coming-of-age journey catapults her into becoming even more unapologetically herself. Unfortunately, a late-stage speech about “cool guys not wanting cool girls” lacks the weight to warrant such sincerity in a film overflowing with silliness.

Lisa Frankenstein might not prove as timeless as the movies it references, but it’s fun and frothy enough to pass the time for now. A period-appropriate namecheck of The Cure earns one of Newton’s biggest laughs, and the pioneering British goths provide one of the many ’80s bangers soundtracking the whimsical antics of this antiheroine and her undead beau. Plus there’s a few horny black-and-white live-action and animated sequences, with nods to The Bride of Frankenstein and Georges Méliès’ Le voyage dans la lune to further tickle classic film fans’ fancies.

About Post Author