© Universal Pictures International Germany GmbH

Lisa Frankenstein
U.S.A. 2024

Opening 22 Feb 2024

Directed by: Zelda Williams
Writing credits: Diablo Cody
Principal actors: Kathryn Newton, Cole Sprouse, Liza Soberano, Jenna Davis, Trina LaFargue

Everything eighties is new again. And again. What is it about that era that showbiz loves so much? I could hazard some guesses: many of the entertainment powers-that-be came of age then; the fashions are cartoonishly outsized and garish (including the music); there were, critically, no cellphones. Imagine how many zany cinematic situations would have ended in a moment if there were cellphones. Imagine Heathers (1988) if anyone’s whereabouts could have been tracked.

Heathers springs to mind for a reason, because Lisa Frankenstein is channeling it hard. Or trying to. The look is very similar, as is the murderous rampage. Here’s the story: Teenage Lisa’s mom was recently axe-murdered, so Lisa (Kathryn Newton) has earned her angst; she’s living with her amiable dope of a dad (Joe Chrest), her nasty stepmother (Carla Gugino), and her cheerleader stepsister (Liza Soberano). Kids at school think she’s weird. She hangs out in a cemetery and pines particularly over the grave of an eighteenth-century gentleman who died young, heartbroken, and pretty (Cole Sprouse). She makes a wish at his gravesite, lightning strikes (literally), and there he is, although in rather degraded condition. But with love and an electrical short in a tanning bed, she can rebuild him. Some of his parts need replacing and that’s where the murders come in, but, as with Heathers, the victims were sort of asking for it.

It's a gross-out comedy (worms, blood, rot, squelching sounds) rather than a horror film. And it’s…fine. It isn’t Heathers (the dialog isn’t that good, despite Diablo Cody) or Frankenstein (the creator rather than the monster is the traumatized one here). It doesn’t really look like the eighties—it looks like an eighties-themed party. All in all, it feels cobbled together in ways that made me occasionally feel like a few scenes were cut for time—scenes not critical to advance the story but necessary to advance a character. That looks like an editing problem, but it could be the script. Or maybe the characters are just mannequins for the silly clothes and plot, which is…fine. It would be a great movie for a fun tween sleepover if it weren’t for the sexual pining: “I don’t want to die a virgin,” says our heroine, and then sets out to remedy that. Is it just me or does this make her a “bad girl” in the most traditional, moralistic sense of the word, badder even than being a murderer? And you know what happens to bad girls. (Mason Jane Milam)

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