Digging up a good time, Lisa Frankenstein is a fun, campy, classic horror romp packed with 80s nostalgia that never takes itself too seriously. Now this is my idea of a Valentine's movie.
Lisa Frankenstein Review
In 1989, Lisa Swallows (Kathryn Newton) is just trying to move on with her life. Her mother was tragically murdered by a masked killer while she was at home. In an attempt to move on, her father Dale (Joe Chrest) has remarried and his new wife Janet (Carla Gugino) is a god awful woman that puts the evil in evil stepmother. Lisa also has a new stepsister, Taffy (Liza Soberano), who fortunately is nothing like her mother. Despite Taffy's love and encouragement, Lisa just can't seem to break out of her anxiety-induced shell, making life at a new high school and the general angst of adolescence feel even more awful than usual. The only place Lisa feels comfortable is in an old cemetery populated with bachelors who died unwed. One particular tombstone belonging to a Victorian pianist (Cole Sprouse), happens to be her favorite. After an attempt to impress her living crush, Michael (Henry Eikenberry), at a party goes horribly wrong, Lisa wishes she could just be with the dead young man. One strange lightning strike later and The Creature is alive seeking out Lisa so that they can be together. As their attraction grows, Lisa helps The Creature find more parts to make himself whole–if that involves offing a few people eh it's fine.
Lisa Frankenstein digs up the perfect anti-sappy offering just in time for Valentine's Day. With its visual homages to classic horror films, wholly 80s aesthetic, camp, and killer performances by its leads, this film delivers a good time. Screenwriter Diablo Cody and first-time-feature director Zelda Williams are clearly drawing on inspiration from classic monster flicks like Young Frankenstein, the Bride of Frankenstein, and Tim Burton creations like Edward Scissorhands to create their own cult classic in Lisa. The consequences for their actions might never seem all that high but what this movie lacks in tension it makes up for in bloodshed, mayhem, and chaotic fun.
Is Lisa Frankenstein a horror or a comedy? The answer is yes. It's a gleeful mix of the two that utilizes the styles and flair of both Burton and Sam Raimi with some sprinklings of rom-com formulas for spice. All of this is set firmly in a decade of big hair, spandex, neons, rock -n- roll, and no parent supervision– the 80s. Lisa lives in a home of pastel pinks and precious moments figurines that increasingly clash with her personality (and wardrobe) as the story progresses. And what could be more 80s than using a malfunctioning tanning bed to help The Creature become reanimated? Which makes it all morbidly hysterical when the blood and gore begins.
However it's never terrifying. The more atrocious killings are told in creative ways, which also cleverly work to keep the film in the PG-13 zone. The death of Lisa's mother is told via a flashback that you can't help but laugh at even if you feel kinda bad about doing it. Then there is the death of The Creature, whose tragic demise plays out in black-and-white animation during the opening credits. Cody's script balances comedy with the more shocking moments, leading to plenty of morbid laughs. Finally, there are the leads whose perfect chemistry endears them, and their sadistic goals, to the audience. Sure they are on a killing spree but look how sweet they are together.
Newton and Sprouse go all in on their performances, whether it is fully embracing the campy vibes or leaning into the physical humor, these two are clearly having a blast. Newton has already proved she can toe the line between victim and killer thanks to Freaky. As Lisa, she effortlessly balances between socially awkward, anxiety-riddled teen and tenacious assassin. She is likable from the start, keeping viewers on her side despite her amoral actions. Sprouse, a veteran of wild and weird thanks to his years on the Disney Channel and Riverdale, steals scenes as The Creature, despite only being able to communicate via grunts, sighs, and perfectly executed eye rolls. Whether he is moving disjointedly about the screen or very fluidly throwing an ax, Sprouse imbues the monster with an impressive amount of emotions, making him a grotesque but alluring romantic leading man.
Soberano delivers Taffy's lines with sincerity and underlining humor as Lisa's doting stepsister. It is also important to note that instead of making her the quintessential mean girl of the story– she is popular, pretty, and a cheerleader, all the makings of the typical antagonist of high school dramas–Cody opted to make her a friend to Lisa. There are other high-school dramedy clichés at play – the never going to get him hottie, his snarky best female friend, and the traditional mean girls. Like with Taffy, Cody also gives Lisa something more to do than a traditional lead in these types of films. She's a “cool girl” in her own right, she is smart, unique, and cultured. This coming-of-rage journey she goes on simply helps her to acknowledge all these facts about herself. The world and the living be damned.
There are some weak points, such as the aforementioned lack of stakes for the main characters' actions. Despite all the havoc they are wrecking throughout the town, there never seems to be any danger. There is a moment or two where it seems they are going to have to face what they've done but it quickly dissipates. It builds up a clash between Lisa's growing desire to go against the town's conservative nature and her father's lackadaisical parenting, but nothing really comes of it. It fizzles out in favor of humor, needle drops, and blood. None of this hurts the overall enjoyment of the film, it just proves there could have been a bit more meat to the story.
Ultimately, Lisa Frankenstein is my kind of Valentine’s movie. It’s fun, a bit campy, has classic horror vibes, 80s nostalgia, and never takes itself too seriously. There is a genuine connection between Lisa and The Creature, who morphs from a dirt covered goo-spewing monster into an ideal boyfriend, that never treads into sappy territory. Newton and Sprouse kill it together (pun totally intended) in this 80s fever dream of a film. It's a dark comedy, an unconventional love story bolstered by weird dream sequences, 30s monster effects, and great performances. Lisa Frankenstein has all the makings of a new cult classic.
Lisa Frankenstein is now playing in theaters. It is rated PG-13 for violent content, bloody images, sexual material, language, sexual assault, teen drinking and drug content. with a runtime of 101 minutes.