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“Lisa Frankenstein”: Eclectic, striking and camp

Mi Nguyen
“Lisa Frankenstein” adds a new twist onto the classic tale “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley, bringing a modernized take on the story for teens. It’s a fun horror, comedy and romance mash-up, reminiscent of old ’80s and ’90s movies as it follows a young goth girl Lisa and her developing relationship with a reanimated Victorian corpse. Follow writer Layla Solomon as she reviews the film.

Released in theaters on Feb. 9, 2024 and directed by Zelda Williams and written by Diablo Cody (known for “Jennifer’s Body“), “Lisa Frankenstein” is an eccentric, dark romantic-comedy about an outcast girl and her undead partner in crime. Set in the late ‘80s in a suburbia, the two embark on a murder spree whilst tangled in a friendship and eventually, a romance. 

Lisa Swallows (Kathryn Newton) is a timid, misfit girl who moves to an unfamiliar town with her father’s new unpleasant wife, Janet (Carla Gugino), and her friendly step-sister, Taffy (Liza Soberano) after her mother was attacked and killed by an axe-murderer in her own living room. As a senior in the new high school she joins after moving, Swallows is shy, doubtful and has barely spoken in months. She prefers to spend her time writing macabre poetry, sewing or tending the gravestone of a Victorian bachelor (Cole Sprouse) in a nearby abandoned graveyard. 

On a stormy night, lightning strikes the gravestone and the corpse is re-animated (similar to the original “Frankenstein” story) and quickly befriends Swallows, who lets him live in her closet. She is able to find comfort with him and talks to him about her experiences, allowing Swallows to open up for the first time in months. 

Then, Janet appears, accusing Swallows of being psychotic and threatening to admit her to a psychiatric ward. The creature promptly hits Janet over the head with a sewing machine, securing her as the first kill. For a brief moment, Swallows appears appalled as the creature cuts off Janet’s ear to replace his dead one, before embracing him and suggesting they bury the body. 

A newly empowered Swallows regains confidence as she goes on to harvest more parts in the name of revenge with the creature, replacing his hand and eventually his … privates. Before long, the police catch on and Swallows panics. She confesses to the creature she doesn’t want to die a virgin, and as a result, they spontaneously marry each other with peach rings, make love to each other and Swallows says goodbye to the creature before electrocuting to death.

Is the film technically skilled, thorough and well-made? No. Is it wildly entertaining to watch? Absolutely.

While the movie is a loose retelling of Mary Shelley’s classic novel, Swallows is no Victor Frankenstein, and opts for hand-sewing body parts and using a supercharged tanning bed for zapping life into the dead. The film is more of a thinly Frankenstein-inspired camp romantic-comedy than a modern retelling, but the unique combination of themes works really well in its favor. 

The movie doesn’t shy away from vulgarity, either, which works to its advantage to create both a charming comedy and an enjoyable theater experience. Despite the PG-13 rating, the dialogue includes a decent amount of swearing, but it doesn’t feel excessive. The film also touches on aspects of sexuality, and aside from the raunchy jokes, it adds authenticity to the young adult nature of the characters.

Campiness is categorized by being striking, exaggerated and eccentric; a feeling emanated within the movie’s design choices. Costume design is a highlight of the film, bringing both camp and nostalgia. ‘80s forward fashion is everywhere in the costumes, with penny loafer shoes, big hoop earrings, acid-washed jeans and loud hair. Swallows especially sports an inspired makeup look with bright blush, lipstick and a pop of blue mascara. 

Throughout the movie, Swallow’s outfits become progressively more bold as her character begins to embrace her actions freely. From wearing casual patterned shirts in the first scenes, full of insecurity, to confidently flaunting gothic dresses, lace and plaid. Her silhouette is sharp, colorful and expressive, contrasted by the preppiness of the suburban environments surrounding her. The creature’s design also serves as a fun contrast to the bright fashion of Swallows. He brings a Victorian flair to his clothing, opting for high collars, suspenders and ties. Overall, the colors, patterns and design excel at creating a visually pleasing atmosphere.

The soundtrack includes ‘80s hits and a beautifully orchestrated score by Isabella Summers. The tracks mix the synth-wave pop sound of the decade with dramatic Victorian concerto elements (reflecting the two main characters) to create a captivating and engaging soundtrack fitting of such an eclectic movie.

“Lisa Frankenstein” doesn’t take itself too seriously, including a mediocre singing number from Swallows, a dramatic slow-mo sequence of chopping a “male appendage” with an axe to “On The Wings Of Love” by Jeffery Osborne and over-the-top main characters that have an amazing chemistry together. Filled with lots of personality, aesthetics and humor, making up for the inconsistent pacing and somewhat shallow romance plot, it’s an amusing and bold theater experience. The film caters to a very specific audience. Those going in seeking a flushed out romantic-comedy or “Frankenstein” retelling will leave disappointed, but those looking for a stupid, campy and slightly bad movie will have fun.

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About the Contributors
Layla Solomon
Layla Solomon, Writer
Women love me, fish fear me.
Mi Nguyen
Mi Nguyen, Illustrator
First-year illustrator. Self proclaimed connoisseur of late night reading.

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