Film Review: Lisa Frankenstein


Lisa Frankenstein

Director: Zelda Williams

Universal Studios and Focus Features 

Released: 02.09

The shockingly wacky charm of the 1980’s horror genre opened the playing field for filmmaking. No amount of poor production budget, middle-schooler-esque screenwriting or cocaine-fueled plots could shake down the campy possibilities. Most scary movies from the ‘80s plummet into the void of cult classics. Others find success, only to become a living corpse of itself through remakes and sequels for years to come. Whatever fate is decided, box-office bomb or Blockbuster shelf, nothing can recreate the charismatic campiness of before. However, through some stitched-up inspiration from yesteryear films and a Universal budget to boot, does the monster of Lisa Frankenstein spark new life into the horror comedy genre?

Our titular Lisa (Kathryn Newton, Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania) is an gothic adolescent outcast who’s still processing the murder of her mother (Jennifer Pierce Mathus, Freaky). Although her father (Joe Chrest, Stranger Things) has officially moved on with Lisa’s wicked stepmother (Carla Gugino, The Fall of The House of Usher) and her goody-two-shoes cheerleader of a stepsister Taffy (Liza Soberano, Dolce Amore) is her only friend, Lisa ditches the “fitting in” drive to find some sense in the world…even if it means hanging out in an overgrown Victorian-Era cemetery charmingly called Bachelor’s Grove. Under grave circumstances, however, Lisa is sought out by a reanimated corpse (Cole Sprouse, The Suite Life of Zach and Cody) as the two form the most unlikely relationship through love and the severed body parts of her fellow classmates. 

I’ll be honest, Lisa Frankenstein almost lost me on the first watch. Lisa’s whole character arc takes a complete 180 and overshoots its desired Heathers territory. From the beginning, her awkward demeanor was a plain- jane routine with nothing inoffensive, but nothing that screams wallflower. By the end of the first quarter, however, she’s less Veronica Sawyer and more teetering between Regina George and Mrs. Lovett. She’s completely invested in her new murderous lifestyle by her first kill, making the playout not wholeheartedly supported by the anti-hero leitmotif. Where some avid viewers might channel her experience as a “good for her” takeaway, the film lands in the misaimed fandom of  “literally me” where the velocity of vigilante justice is too toxic for Lisa’s own devices.

As for the rest of the bystanding cast, as well as this middle American cinematic universe of an idealist 1980’s society, they’re just…there. Characters come and go (or are killed off). The jocks are dicks, the teachers are middle-age stiffs, the nerds are pervy—all fixed in the overburdened tropes that we’ve seen plenty of times before. Even the town vaguely fits in its time period. I’m not saying to platter the background in heavy neon blacklights and blare Duran Duran until the entire theater shacks into a timewarp, but give it the extra boost! The film promised an experience and went half-assed like the Glasglow Willy Wonka experience.

Now, don’t pull out the pitchforks and torches just yet. Lisa Frankenstein is an entertaining slasher with hilarious kills and pretty artsy dialogue to pry out a chuckle. Newton’s acting was decent for the direction she was given and Sprouse can churn the hideous factor by delivering a misunderstood monster (anything to shake off his tarpit role in Riverdale). Director Zelda Williams also digs up an excellent job with blending humor and dread in her first theatrical release, with only a short film and several music videos as reference. However, if we want to be campy, go big or go home! There have been many attempts before, like Quentin Taratino’s Death Proof and Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror turning up the grimey contour and ridiculous storylines to honor the Grindhouse exploitation films of the 1970’s. The way I see it, campy flicks are a product of their environment. You can do your damnedest to emulate that charm, but just like Death Proof and Planet Terror, they lay another brick in the pile-on of cult classics—a fate that Lisa Frankenstein will surely undergo. –Alton Barnhart

Read more film reviews by Alton here:

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Film Review: Courtney Gets Possessed