Zelda Williams, and Diablo Cody’s Horror Comedy, Lisa Frankenstein is a fun homage to campy 80s teen horror. Williams, daughter of the late great Robin Williams, makes her directorial debut, with the help of writer, Cody, best known in the horror world for Jennifer’s Body. Starring Kathryn Newton, Cole Sprouse, and Liza Soberano, Lisa Frankenstein is described as a “coming of RAGE love story about a teenager and her crush, who happens to be a corpse.”
On Monday, the AMC Screen Unseen advanced screening of a soon-to-be released movie that’s only unveiled once the showtime starts, and is referred to as AMC Scream Unseen when the pick is a horror movie. Tickets to an AMC Screen Unseen showing cost only $5.00, or if you’re an AMC A-List member, you can use one of your weekly tickets for the showing. Online sleuths predicted that this week’s showing would be Lisa Frankenstein, so I decided to test my luck and attend, and thankfully they were right!
Right away, I was entranced by Lisa Frankenstein’s colorful 80s aesthetic. I know there’s been a lot of discourse about how the media set in the 80s makes things too colorful when really shades of brown also dominated the decade, but I get tired of seeing every horror movie use the same muted color palette, so I’m grateful this didn’t. Every time Lisa changed outfits I thought of how I could cosplay as her in the future.
Kathryn Newton’s titular character, Lisa, whose real last name in Swallows, is an outcast, in part due to her PTSD from witnessing the murder of her mother, but also just because she just has different interests than your average teen anyway. Her step-sister, Taffy, played by newcomer Liza Soberano, seems to be the average teen-flick popular girl, who usually is also a bully, but she embraces Lisa as if she was a sister by blood that she’s known all of her life, and tries to help her overcome her trauma and become more outgoing. Lisa, however, would prefer to spend her free time doing wax rubbings of graves in a small abandoned cemetery in the middle of the woods, that her peers are afraid of going near. At this cemetery is where she first “meets” Cole Sprouse’s character, “The Creature”, and where an accident will soon cause him to rise from his grave. Newton, who is slowly creeping her way up to Scream Queen status, really sells her performance as a kooky loner, with all of Lisa’s little quirks like the way she plays with her hair, and the way she walks. For many viewers, Liza Soberano was the standout of the cast, thanks to her charismatic performance of Taffy, that showed she wasn’t the stereotypical mean popular girl that she may seem like on the surface, but actually has a heart of gold. In a clip from NextShark’s “A Lunch Date with Liza Soberano and Zelda Williams” shared to the Lisa Frankenstein Instagram, Williams even mentions that she struggled with the character of Taffy coming off as said mean popular girl on the page, but upon meeting Soberano, had a feeling that she would see her vision of the character being more than that. Carla Gugino, who plays Lisa’s wicked step-mom, unsurprisingly knocks it out of the park as the movie’s most compelling villain.
While watching Lisa Frankenstein, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Heathers, Hocus Pocus, and Beetlejuice, but the more spot on Tim Burton comparison would be to Edward Scissorhands, which I realized after seeing someone mention this, when reading reactions after my showing. While I thoroughly enjoyed Lisa Frankenstein, I do think that it should have been a bit more rageful, like it’s big sister, Jennifer’s Body. I also saw someone say that Lisa did have Jennifer Check energy, but personally I thought she was more similar to Needy. I found myself wishing that it would have gone full slasher, but admittedly should have realized that it wouldn’t be, since it’s PG-13. Lisa Frankenstein was a solid directorial debut for Williams, and another hit for Cody. While I personally think Jennifer’s Body is the better of the two films, upon it’s release, it was bombarded with negative reviews by critics and audience members alike, which has been largely credited to the bad marketing for the film, but since then, it has become a cult classic within the horror genre. So far, Lisa Frankenstein’s reviews from critics have given it only a slightly higher score than Jennifer’s Body on Rotten Tomatoes‘ Tomatometer, but reception from audiences has been overwhelmingly positive thus far, with an audience score of 76%, compared to Jennifer’s 35%. Since social media is much more prevalent today than it was in 2009, and AMC and Cinemark both had early screenings of the film this week, there are plenty of social media posts and Letterboxd reviews from non-critics already making the rounds and persuading others to see it this opening weekend. Initially, Lisa Frankenstein’s was initially poised to earn between $9 million to $14 million at the box office in its opening weekend, but projections have since dropped to $4 million to $6 million, which is what Jennifer’s Body made its opening weekend. I believe the buzz from audiences, along with its PG-13 rating, which will allow more people to see the film than Jennifer’s Body’s R rating did, which Cody herself has even said, give it the potential to live up to it’s initial expectations and surpass it’s predecessor’s overall box office earnings.
At the premiere of Lisa Frankenstein, Cody told Deadline that the film takes place in the same universe as Jennifer’s Body, and she’s also recently talked about her interest in rebooting Jennifer’s Body. I, for one, am rooting for Lisa Frankenstein’s success, and a Jennifer’s Body reboot, and maybe even a crossover of the two!
Overall, I ended up giving Lisa Frankenstein 3.5 out of 5 stars on Letterboxd, as it kept me laughing, rooting for the main characters, and wanting more in both a positive, and not so positive way. Lisa Frankenstein is now showing in theaters.