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Lisa Frankenstein (Blu-Ray/Digital) Review

April 9, 2024 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
LISA FRANKENSTEIN Image Credit: Michele K. Short/Focus Features
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Lisa Frankenstein (Blu-Ray/Digital) Review  

Directed by: Zelda Williams
Written by: Diablo Cody

Kathryn Newton – Lisa
Cole Sprouse – The Creature
Liza Soberano – Taffy
Henry Eikenberry – Michael
Joe Chrest – Dale
Carla Gugino – Janet
Jenna Davis – Lori
Bryce Romero – Doug

Domestic Gross: $9.8 million
Worldwide Gross: $9.9 million

DVD Release Date: April 9th, 2024
Running Time: 101 minutes

Image Credit: Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Rated PG-13 for violent content, bloody images, sexual material, language, sexual assault, teen drinking and drug content.

1980s-infused horror isn’t exactly a rarity these days. Far from it, the horror genre is replete with callbacks to that holy decade for Gen Xers from Stranger Things to Summer Of ‘84, Totally Killer and more. While the genre threatens to be overloaded with neon and shoulder pads, there’s always room for a film that wants to try and give that nostalgic vibe.

Enter Lisa Frankenstein. The Diablo Cody-penned zombie romcom hit public consciousness with a brilliant title and a trailer that promised a fun mix of murder and love. While it ended up opening quietly, this was always a film that was going to play better at home at slumber parties or on date night. And now it has its chance with its Blu-Ray & Digital release that will hopefully allow more people to discover its underrated charms.

The Movie

Set in a neon-infused 1980s, Lisa Frankenstein centers on Lisa Swallows (Newton), a teenage outsider in a suburban town. Lisa is the survivor of a brutal attack from a serial killer that left her mother dead, and now lives with her father Dale (Chrest), stepmother Janet (Gugino) and stepsister Taffy (Soberano). Janet looks at her new stepdaughter with distrust and disdain, while Taffy is the popular girl who drags her new sister to social events when Lisa would be much happier hanging out in the local cemetery, reading poetry and taking rubbings of the headstones – including one in particular that carries the bust of a young man.

Following a high school party where Lisa gets drugged and has a near-miss with a sexual assault, a lightning storm strikes the cemetery. The next night, Lisa finds herself at home when an undead creature (Sprouse) busts in. It doesn’t take long for Lisa to take the Creature under her wing, striking up a friendship that threatens to blossom into romance.

As Lisa tries to keep The Creature under wraps, things quickly spiral out of control. She figures out that with the right body parts she can restore missing parts of him. As the bodies start to pile up and the police close in on them, Lisa and The Creature must find a way to get their gothic romance-style ending.

If you know Diablo Cody’s works, you have a decent idea of what you’re getting with Lisa Frankenstein. Cody’s tastes are very much on display in this film, which hearkens back to her work on the once-maligned Jennifer’s Body particularly in the dialogue and love of horror classics. Cody plays with several tropes to tweak the zomcom format; obviously Frankenstein is a big inspiration, but Tim Burton’s ‘80s hits also come strongly into play.

The key here is that the romcom is coming first and the horror takes second fiddle, more so than in Jennifer’s Body. That’s not to say there are no horror elements; far from it. But the thrust of the story is the relationship between Lisa and the Creature, as well as Lisa’s journey to carve out a space for herself as someone outside of the conformative world.

As such, it falls upon Newton and Sprouse to sell the relationship, and they do. Newton is certainly a more glamourized, Hollywood version of the doomed romantic teenage girl of the ’80s. But it fits the colorful world of the film, and she establishes a great connection with Sprouse. Sprouse is relegated to a silent role here as the Frankenstein’s monster of the story, and he is game for the physical humor. He’s able to get us inside the Creature’s head with expressions and grunts, making him a perfect match for Newton’s Lisa.

It certainly helps that the supporting fully understands the assignment. Carla Gugino chews scenery as the evil stepmother, and Joe Chrest makes for a chuckle-worthy take on the blithely oblivious dad. But it’s Liza Soberano who steals the show as Lisa’s sister Taffy, giving full sincerity to the intentionally ridiculous lines and playing the humor exactly as it should be.

There are moments the movie loses its way, generally in the final act when things get frantic for Lisa and her zombie boytoy. It’s clear what Cody and Williams are going for, but it doesn’t fully come together in every part. There’s also a weirdly dropped plot point in the first act with Lisa’s backstory, which sets up expectations that never deliver. Red herrings are one thing, but this is a point that it simply and sadly never revisits.

Williams is also perhaps a bit too reverent to her influences; one would not be faulted for thinking this is an actual Tim Burton film early on. But the charm of her lead star carries it through the rough moments to make a film that, while it won’t satisfy fans looking for a bit more horror with their comedy, will make for a sweet and fun zom-romcom for date night.

Film Rating: 7.5

The Video/Audio

With a film as specifically stylized as Lisa Frankenstein, it’s important to get the home video presentation right. This is a movie where the visuals and sound are particularly important, more so than your typical romcom, and fortunately Universal put in the work. The 1080p video transfer looks clean without any color bleed-through or digital flaws that are noticeable, while the audio is similarly very clear and well-spaced. The dialogue is leveled against the score so that it’s very clear, and when the needle drops happen, they kick in nicely. All in all, a very good technical presentation.

Video/Audio Rating: 8.0

Special Features

* Feature Commentary: Director Zelda Williams is the sole voice on commentary for this track. Single-person commentaries are always challenging, and while she is an engaging presence the track does suffer from a lack of conversati8on. She is candid about the elements of production and notes a few things of the bumps in the road during the process. All in all, it’s not a bad listen, even if a second person could have added a little extra energy to it.

* Gag Reel (2:25): This is a short little bit of the usual gag reel kind of stuff: the cast goofing around, some breaking during takes and the like.

* An Electric Connection (4:43): This EPK-style featurette looks at the relationship between Lisa and the Creature in the film and has Kathryn Newton and Diablo Cody talking about the dynamic between the two and Cody talking about the theme of women being corrupted by their power. Zelda Williams discusses Newton’s casting and Sprouse shares some talks about working with Newton, while Williams also talks about casting Sprouse. Sprouse discusses the character’s motivations and embodying the character’s physicality. It’s a solid little behind the scenes video that provides a little insight into the characters’ relationship.

* Resurrecting the ‘80s (4:35): This featurette looks at the process of giving the film its 1980s vibes with interviews of Cody, Williams and more. The video looks at the costumes, set design, the music and make-up/hair, and why they all enhance the film’s aesthetic and storyline. There’s also discussion of Gugino’s character and how it relates to the house, and the use of the tanning bed as the resurrection machine.

* A Dark Comedy Duo (4:02): This looks at Zelda Williams and Cody Diablo as the writer and director of the film. They talk about working together and Cody’s writing of the script, with Cody noting she didn’t intend to write a comedy but that’s how it came out. Williams talks about appreciating the character and how she related to her. There are soundbites from the cast praising the script and Williams’ work as a director. This was very much a promotional type piece; it’s not bad by any stretch but it is superfluous.

Special Features Rating: 6.5

The final score: review Good
The 411
It may not be for everyone, but Lisa Frankenstein delivers as a nice bit of gateway comedy horror. Kathryn Newton and Cole Sprouse make a charming couple and Zelda Williams acquits herself well as a first-time feature director. Not all the jokes land and it is a little too reverent of the Tim Burton aesthetic but there's enough here to serve as a fun date movie and put teen audiences in particular under its spell. The technical merits of the Blu-Ray release are strong, balancing out a decent but run of the mill set of special features to make this a film worth picking up on the whole.

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Lisa Frankenstein, Jeremy Thomas