Lisa Frankenstein has the brain of John Hughes, the visual eye of Tim Burton, and the bad taste of John Waters. Stitch them together, throw in a short-circuiting tanning bed, and you’ve got the best horror rom-com since Warm Bodies. While the film calls various cult classics to mind, writer Diablo Cody’s signature voice comes alive with every one-liner and demented turn. Director Zelda Williams, the late Robin Williams’ daughter, also establishes a unique style that captures a distinct moment in time. Many modern movies set themselves in the 80s, but Lisa Frankenstein truly feels like it could’ve come out during the decade.
Kathryn Newton goes from putting a slasher twist on Freaky Friday to giving Frankenstein a funny bone. She plays the titular Lisa, whose name is more than likely a reference to Weird Science. Instead of making the perfect woman, Lisa molds the perfect man. Well, maybe not perfect, although Cole Sprouse is hunkier than Boris Karloff, Peter Boyle, and most of the other actors who have portrayed the Creature. Like Daniel Radcliffe in Swiss Army Man, Sprouse shakes his heartthrob image by accepting the weirdest role imaginable.
Hidden behind zombie makeup and barely getting any lines, this might not seem like the most complex role for Sprouse. His performance is more layered than you’d expect, requiring an actor who can be humorous, intimidating, and romantic all at once. Yes, Lisa Frankenstein is a teen love story with both leads being surprisingly believable. Newton is given an equally difficult task of working off a screen partner who doesn’t have much to work with on paper. Yet, we buy into the relationship primarily because neither Lisa nor the Creature are exactly good people. They belong together, be it above ground or below.
Lisa and the Creature share the most in common with Veronica and J.D. from Heathers, although those two were somehow even more toxic. While Lisa Frankenstein possesses a similar edge, it has a sweet side that wins you over. The film also subverts some teen movie stereotypes with Lisa’s popular stepsister Taffy (Liza Soberano) not having a mean bone in her body. She’s actually the most likable person in the picture. Of course, Lisa’s stepmother (Carla Gugino) is only slightly less heinous than Carrie White’s mom. The side characters feel like they could’ve wandered out of the neighborhood from Edward Scissorhands. In the vein of that film, Zelda Williams crafts a slice of suburbia that’s ordinary yet oddly whimsical.
Cody turns in one of her wittiest scripts to date, even if there are a few elements that could’ve been elaborated on. We learn early on that Lisa had a traumatic experience with an axe-wielding maniac, but their identity is never revealed. While the ending is satisfying enough, it’s missing a couple of beats that could’ve pushed the film to another star. Still, for a film called Lisa Frankenstein, it’s funnier and more atmospheric than the average viewer would anticipate. As far as Frankenstein satires go, Lisa Frankenstein was never going to surpass Young Frankenstein. When that’s your competition, though, being second isn’t half bad.