Modern adaptations of classic horror stories are becoming the norm for Hollywood as filmmakers create a unique take on these literary characters that everyone knows or has heard of. The latest one is Lisa Frankenstein, a horror comedy that takes inspiration from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, a popular story that has been adapted on screen countless times. However, this new version from Zelda Williams making her directorial debut is framed as a coming-of-age romantic comedy where our protagonist ends up with a re-animated corpse and falls in love with him. It is a blend of 80s-era films focused on high school with a mix of horror. What audiences end up getting is a really funny and entertaining film that pulls all the heartstrings and maybe gives some fright.
Lisa Frankenstein follows a young teen named Lisa (Kathryn Newton) who is searching for love despite being misunderstood by her family and high school peers because of her dark personality. After a family tragedy, Lisa ends up moving into a new town with her father and stepmother (Carla Gugino) along with her popular stepsister Taffy (Liza Soberano). She spends a lot of her time at a cemetery where she confesses her true thoughts to a grave belonging to a Victorian-era corpse. After a series of horrific events, the corpse (Cole Sprouse) ends up coming to life, much to the surprise of Lisa. What transpires in the film is a journey between Lisa and her new companion as they discover love while also finding some body parts along the way.
Aesthetically, the film takes some inspiration from John Hughes’ films, especially since Lisa Frankenstein takes place in the 80s. It also takes some cues from Tim Burton with the gothic style and horror fantasy elements that Zelda uses in her film. The film perfectly reflects the period with the costume design using the neon colors and the leotards as well as the goth look that was popularized back then. We see Lisa and her undead lover getting a complete makeover as she transforms into an extroverted version of herself while the creature goes from a Victorian to a freaky 80s icon. The creature becomes more of a fish out of water as he adjusts to this time period while Lisa gets to explore herself sexually and physically which gives her the confidence to come out of her shell.
The film goes all over the place as it jumps from being a coming-of-age horror comedy to a revenge tale. The tone isn’t always balanced, and it doesn’t always lean into the campiness and humor of its premise that is what the film succeeds at when it does tackle that. We get a lot of hilarious moments between Lisa and the creature, but the surprisingly good relationship is between Lisa and Taffy. The movie doesn’t go the typical route with a step-sibling relationship as it makes them more like a friendship than a rivalry. It is all thanks to Soberano’s acting as she has the typical personality of a cheerleader but also a helpful stepsister helping Lisa be a teenager. She has great comedic timing being her first Hollywood role, becoming a standout in this film and a true star-in-the-making.
Sprouse has the tough task of not having any dialogue, relying solely on body movements and facial expressions, which make for some cool comedic scenes with Newton. His character tries to gain more body parts with the help of Lisa as he slowly becomes more human and develops an attachment to her as the film progresses. The makeup done on him is incredible, something that films have relied less on without the use of practical effects. We see the undead corpse getting attached to his new life partner as he protects her from harm and does everything he can to make her happy and fulfilled. Newton compliments Sprouse with her personality as Lisa shifts from being a shy teen to an outgoing and social young woman who finally realizes what she wants in life.
Diablo Cody returns to the horror-comedy genre after the success of Jennifer’s Body with a new twist on a classic story by perfectly blending the style of 80s films with some dark humor. The dialogue is witty and hilarious when the story goes off the wall with full-on murder as the body count rises for both Lisa and her new friend. The script is often clever with great comedic troupes that are often good-natured with some fun references to Hughes’ films. It tackles grief not as subtle with Lisa as she tries to move on when she finds love with Sprouse’s character. However, when it comes to emotional depth, that’s where Cody’s screenplay lacks in certain parts. Newton does some solid acting, but the script often makes it difficult to express how she overcomes her loneliness and grief when the film shifts from being serious to more of a comedy.
In the end, Lisa Frankenstein is at its best when it comes to the relationship between the main character and her monster-turned-lover. When Lisa ends up depressed after losing her mother with her father already moving on, she shares that pain with this creature that truly understands her. It is thanks to Newton and Sprouse that help convey that relationship, which is one of the film’s strengths that audiences can get behind. It is a coming-of-age tale that everyone can relate to and Cody’s hilarious script along with Williams’ direction makes it entertaining to watch as we see this relationship bloom into something more.
Lisa Frankenstein is set to release in theaters on February 9th, 2024.