After winning Best Original Screenplay for Juno (2007) at both the Academy Awards and the BAFTA Awards, Diablo Cody was given carte blanche on her next full-length picture. What the general audience might not have expected at the time was that Cody wasand still isa huge fan of horror films, so she took this opportunity to write the now cult classic horror comedy Jennifer’s Body (2009); a love letter to the campy 80’s horror movies that she grew up with. One of her main influences from that era was The Lost Boys (1987), and she wanted to honor that film while speaking to female empowerment and exploring the complex relationship between best friends.

Why Jennifer’s Body was not better received upon its release remains a mystery to mealthough the bad marketing which focused on Megan Fox’s sex appeal instead of the film’s feminist themes might have something to do with itbut I’m glad that it eventually found its audience. The news that Diablo Cody was going to sink her teeth into the horror genre yet again, fifteen years after the release of Jennifer’s Body, delighted me to no end. As it turns out, this new film would not only dig further into the retro horror vibes that were alluded to in Jennifer’s Body, but it would exist in the same cinematic universe.

Lisa Frankenstein, a title which is undoubtedly a ghoulish play on words for Lisa Frank, the namesake for the beloved colorful designs featured on a variety of media through the 80’s and 90’s, follows the character of Lisa Swallows; an unfortunate name, I know. Lisa is a lonely teenage girl who is struggling to come to terms with the death of her mother and adjusting to living with two new members of her family: her egocentric stepmother and popular cheerleader stepsister. Lisa spends a lot of her time at the local Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery, finding more comfort in spending time with the dead than she does with the living.

Her favorite tombstone is that of a young man who passed away in the Victorian era. She tends to his grave, brings him flowers, and even talks to him on occasion. After an upsetting incident occurs at a party that her sister Taffy drags her to, Lisa flees to Bachelor’s Grove during a storm and declares her desire to be with him; that is, with him six feet under. A bolt of lightning strikes his grave after she leaves and reanimates him as a zombie. He successfully finds his way to her, and once she realizes who he is, the two of them embark on a murderous journey to find love, happiness, and a few missing body parts.

Sometimes the intended retro aspects in modern films can come off as a bit overstated but director Zelda Williams succeeds in creating an 80’s time capsule in Lisa Frankenstein without going overboard. The crimped hair, vibrant and eclectic fashion, and appropriately placed new wave needle drops are expertly stitched together to create the perfect palette for Diablo Cody’s narrative. Lisa’s outfits in particular are an absolute marvel to behold—we see her get progressively playful with her style before ascending to peak goth girl couture. Cody’s dialogue is equally congruent with the era, which won’t come as a surprise to anyone familiar with her work.

And while the dialogue does fall very much in line with what we’ve come to expect from Diablo Cody, there is a bit of a John Waters flavor to the humor this time around, which is something that hasn’t really been prevalent in her previous work. This absurdist type of humor is a dying breed, but I can understand that watching the lead characters react so nonchalantly to some of the film’s more twisted moments might not rub everyone the right way. To put it bluntly, the humor is most definitely not for everyone, but it is incredibly self aware and will undeniably cater to the appropriate target audience, which I am a part of.

With that said, it is important to point out that the film is rated PG-13. Audience members looking for gore or some of the more raunchy humor from the aforementioned John Waters will have to look elsewhere. They did manage to get away with a lot for PG-13 thoughone scene in particular involves the silhouette of a human body part that I was not expecting to see! There have been many occasions where I’ve felt that an R rating could have amplified a film, but that was not the case here. The film never feels restricted by its rating and instead manages to highlight the campiness in a way that it otherwise might not have been able to.


The campiness is made effective not only by the vivacious screenplay and the inspired direction (I would have never guessed that this was Zelda Williams’ directorial debut), but also by the endearing performances from the entire cast. Liza Soberano’s performance as Taffy, Lisa’s bubbly stepsister, was a standout for me personally; she plays the type of character that is often meant to be disliked, but she brings so much charisma to the role that I ended up rooting for her. Kathryn Newton’s take on the lonely goth girl archetype was both refreshing and nostalgic, and Cole Sprouse delivers a slapstick performance reliant on physical phrasing and sensitivity to rhythm; he apparently trained with a mime in preparation for this role, which is pretty neat! Carla Gugino is incredible in every film she does, period.

Although it’s not the most commercial film to come out this year, Lisa Frankenstein is immensely aware of exactly who its audience is and it proudly wears its influences on its sleeves. Fans of fantastical dark comedies from the 80s and 90s (such as Death Becomes Her and Girlfriend from Hell) will appreciate its charm, and hopefully, those who are unfamiliar with the sub-genre will end up discovering some new titles because of it! If Mary Shelley had written Weird Science while listening to The Cure, it might have looked something like Lisa Frankenstein. I have yet to decipher exactly how it connects to Jennifer’s Bodymaybe there aren’t any concrete Easter Eggs to look for—but I know it will earn its cult classic status just the same.

Lisa Frankenstein (2024) is available to purchase digitally and physically on Blu-ray from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment’s website.


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