With “Lisa Frankenstein,” acclaimed writer Diablo Cody (“Jennifer’s Body,” “Juno”) returns to the comedy horror genre in partnership with Zelda Williams. Williams, making her feature-length directorial debut, helps bring life to this somewhat familiar story with an updated take, making this a “Coming of rage” flick. The movie opens this Friday, February 9, and is a rollicking tale featuring the budding confidence of a goth girl turned violent femme. 

Lisa Swallows, played expertly by Kathryn Newton (“Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania,” “Big Little Lies”), begins the story as a wallflower recovering from traumatic mutism after witnessing her mother’s brutal killing by an axe murderer. By the end of the film she has dabbled in her own destruction and that of others as well. 

Opposite Newton is Cole Sprouse (“The Suite Life,” “Riverdale”) as The Creature, playing her makeshift, undead partner in crime. As a walking corpse, Sprouse remains silent throughout most of the film, showcasing his prowess as a physical actor. Other notable cast members include Liza Soberano (“Forevermore,” “Make It with You”) as Lisa’s encouraging stepsister Taffy, Carla Gugino (“Watchmen,” “The Fall of the House of Usher”) as her wicked stepmother Janet, and Joe Chrest as her hapless and helpless father Dale. 

Following a freak accident involving a mysterious thunderstorm, a potentially lucky cursed rosary, depending on how one views it, and an overgrown bachelor’s graveyard, The Creature comes to life and seeks out Lisa in search of true love and finds an unwilling companion. Lisa, a socially inept transfer student, is reluctant to help The Creature until he helps her come out of her shell. Together, they devise a plot to help reanimate The Creature and ultimately share their own morbid happy ending.

The movie is chock full of pop culture references, some of them more obvious than others, some of them with larger payoffs than others. If you blink, you might miss the smaller ones. A great example of this would be when Lisa’s stepmother, Janet, unexpectedly barges into her room, with Lisa exclaiming “Damn it, Janet,” a distinct nod to “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”

The film’s crew is rounded out by a collection of notable professionals including Mark Worthington (“American Horror Story,” “WandaVision”) as production designer, Meagan McLaughlin (“Now You See Me,” “Roots”) as costume designer, and Paula Huidobro (“Barry,” “CODA”) as cinematographer. The production design is just as gaudy and colorful as one would expect from a comedy horror piece set in the 1980s but also strikes the right dark tones with certain characters, such as Lisa and The Creature. McLaughlin brings similar expertise to the table, with garish costumes as well as a great goth girl aesthetic for Lisa. 

Lastly, Huidobro gives the whole piece the sense of existential dread one would expect from this creepy coming-of-age story. Further, the score, led by Isabella Summers, gives off plenty of pathetic fallacy while also providing moments of comedy, such as when Lisa and The Creature perform the rock ballad “Can’t Fight This Feeling,” by REO Speedwagon at a pivotal point in the movie. 

The film’s story is quick and punchy, never leaving audiences feeling as morose as the main character. With plenty of great lines, angry outbursts, and awkward interactions, this is a truly great example of a teenage comedy piece caught somewhere between “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and “Halloween,” ultimately leaving audiences with a feeling of having just watched something more akin to “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” or “The Lost Boys.” It’s quirky and campy but a raucous and rollicking ride throughout. 

The piece is a potential cult classic, if not quite an elevated horror film, but is sure to entertain. Newton is certainly becoming one of the 21st century’s premiere scream queens and Sprouse’s nonverbal physical performance is something to be commended, but the story itself lags a bit in the beginning with Lisa lacking a clear goal until approximately halfway through the film. 

Writer Diablo Cody has announced that “Lisa Frankenstein” takes place in the same universe as “Jennifer’s Body,” which does fit the bill of bizarre and devilish teenage antics. Additionally, it has been noted the film’s title is a parody amalgamation of the graphic design company “Lisa Frank” and Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein.” It is also worth noting that Williams’ first turn as a feature-length director provides a wonderful take on the classic Frankenstein mythos with 1980s artistic choices and 21st-century comedy sensibilities. 

“Lisa Frankenstein” is rated PG-13 for “Violent content, bloody images, sexual material, language, sexual assault, teen drinking, and drug content.” A notable content marker that would have been glossed over in a real 1980s rom-com is the sexual assault warning, a pleasant if sometimes overused change from that era of filmmaking. The film runs for one hour and forty-one minutes. Rotten Tomatoes has not released an audience score yet as audiences will not get the chance to see the film until February 9th. Meanwhile, Metacritic, which uses a weighted average, gave the film a “Mixed or average” score of 49 out of 100 based on 24 critics’ reviews.

Photo from IMDB

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