Monday, February 12, 2024

Review: Lisa Frankenstein

Journey back to the 80s with a black horror comedy "coming of rage" story featuring a script by Diablo Cody and an impressive retro vibe and soundtrack.

Diablo Cody, writer of Jennifer's Body, and Zelda Williams, director and daughter of Robin Williams, made a movie that I've been waiting 30 years for — a black comedy with a gothy female lead that's got a killer soundtrack and is an ode to 80s (and earlier) horror movies. 

Lisa Frankenstein — a stellar pun of a title that sets the scene and mood, all bright colors and crimped hair and pastel wallpaper — follows the adventures of the unfortuitously named Lisa Swallows, a high school senior in 1989 who's just... a bit odd.  A few years prior, Lisa's mother died in a freak slasher/home invasion attack, and her dad remarried soon after, blending families with another mother and daughter. Carla Gugino is perfectly cast as an aerobics-attired-clad, conservative 80s evil stepmom. 

Like her cinematic forebears Lydia Deetz and Veronica Sawyer, Lisa is herself strange and unusual. She loves The Cure, Universal horror movies, and spending time in the graveyard with a beautiful sculpture of a young man who died 200 years ago. 

The plot sparks into motion when a lightning bolt brings the dead young man back to life somehow (we're not really told how or why, but honestly, does it matter? Even Victor Frankenstein just used lightning and an old body, so check). He shows up at Lisa's house and their relationship begins in earnest. 

The Creature (played almost entirely silently by the wonderful Cole Sprouse of Riverdale fame) is missing a few parts — an ear, a hand, some genitalia. Together, he and Lisa start harvesting body parts from local town denizens to help get patched up. He's giving Billy Butcher vibes from Hocus Pocus, if we're being honest, and it works. 

Each time he gets a fresh new body part, a quick trip to Lisa's backyard tanning bed makes him just a bit more human and life-like. This neon-red 80s take on the doctor's slab from old Frankenstein movies made me laugh every time I saw it — this film has absolutely delightful visual gags and retro throwbacks that just work. There's a pun concerning Pabst beer and Pabst the director that is absolutely chef's kiss. 

There's not a terrible amount of plot, as this is a fairly short comedic romp that's somehow light-hearted but also simultaneously violent and funny.  It's a movie that I look forward to rewatching, and if I were still in high school, it would definitely become my personality for a few months.

If you liked similar movies in the 80s and 90s like Jawbreaker, Weird Science, Heathers, My Boyfriend's Back, But I'm a Cheerleader, or Beetlejuice, you'll probably get a kick out of Lisa Frankenstein.


The Math

Baseline Score: 8/10

Bonuses: Incredible needle drops(including a Pixies' song that's worth the price of admission), superb set design, and an authentic and successful 80s vibe.

POSTED BY: Haley Zapal, new NoaF contributor and lawyer-turned-copywriter living in Atlanta, Georgia. A co-host of Hugo Award-winning podcast Hugo, Girl!, she posts on Instagram as @cestlahaley. She loves nautical fiction, growing corn and giving them pun names like Timothee Chalamaize, and thinking about fried chicken.