‘Lisa Frankenstein’ a tribute to the classic tale, inspired by Shelley’s life

2 mins read

By Angeliki Ktoridi

Enter a world where the vibrant hues of Lisa Frank’s iconic designs clash against the shadows of a twisted imagination. Welcome to the enchanting realm of ‘Lisa Frankenstein’.

‘Lisa Frankenstein’, which premiered on February 9, emerges as a dazzling tribute to the ’80s, offering a fresh take on the classic Frankenstein tale. Penned by Diablo Cody, the mastermind behind cult classics such as ‘Juno’ and ‘Jennifer’s Body’, this ’80s pastiche ventures beyond mere homage to the book, drawing inspiration from the life of Mary Shelley herself.

The movie’s title is a play on Frank, and foreshadows this quirky horror-comedy film. It tells the story of Lisa (Kathryn Newton) and The Creature (Cole Sprouse) as they fall in love and go on a murderous rampage, cutting off various people’s body parts in order to reconstruct The Creature.

Lisa Frankenstein is a shy girl turned confident babe, except this time she has a half-dead boyfriend and murderous intentions.

The film’s playful but graphic marketing made it hard to know what to expect. It turned out to be less a tale about Frankenstein’s wife Lisa, and more about Shelley, the author of the original novel.

Similar to Shelley, Lisa’s mom dies and she is forced to move in with her popular, but sweet, stepsister Taffy (Liza Soberano), and cruel and evil stepmother, Janet (Carla Gugino). Unlike Lisa, however, Shelley didn’t kill her stepmother.

The tale kicks off with Lisa and Taffy preparing for a party. In the opening scenes, songs such as “The Promise” by When in Rome and other ’80s pop hits play in the background as viewers are led through a mesmerising blend of neon-gothic aesthetics and whimsical nostalgia. From the start, the production feels like a Petra Collins photoshoot.

The retro ambiance was partially curated by Newton’s total dedication to the role, giving the energy of a gothic Nancy Wheeler from Stranger Things and whose hair color is reminiscent of ’80s icon Molly Ringwald.

As the girls get ready, Lisa’s heartthrob crush, Michael Trent (Henry Eikenberry), is introduced. Manager of her high school’s literary magazine, Eikenberry plays the role of a brooding, alternative literary genius.

While Taffy leads Lisa through her first high school party, the night promptly goes south. As Lisa begins talking to Michael, her drink is immediately laced with PCP and she spends the night fighting off an unsettling creep with bad intentions.

Drawn to energy

As the movie progresses, it becomes clear how audiences weren’t drawn to the film for its acting, but for the film’s overall energy. The plot grew predictable and some storylines were left underdeveloped, leaving questions unanswered. Audiences were left wondering why Lisa seemed not to care enough to find out who killed her mother.

Despite plot weaknesses, the film was never boring and had enchanting visual effects. The film also included fun callbacks, with similarities to classic ’80s movies like ‘Edward Scissorhands’ and ‘Pretty in Pink’.

The film presented a variety of horror cliches, making it familiar with a playful twist. Although the audience knew what was going to happen, it was fun to watch nonetheless.

In one scene, The Creature creeps through Janet’s house, adding comic relief to an otherwise typical horror scene. He plays the piano and even adds a live worm to her morning meal, keeping the audience on their toes wondering if he will get caught. It felt like an A24 rendition of one of the ‘Scary Movie’ films.

In the end, as we root for Lisa and The Creature, it’s Taffy’s character that adds a human touch to the story, questioning the boundaries of humanity and monstrousness. Reminiscent of Winona Ryder and Christian Slater in ‘Heathers’, ‘Lisa Frankenstein’ offers a compelling exploration of comedy, love, and the darker facets of human nature, wrapped in a neon-lit package of nostalgia and charm.

Lisa Frankenstein (2024) PG13, 101 mins.


Angeliki Ktoridi is an International Studies candidate at the Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences, Boston College