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Lisa Frankenstein stitches together '80s nostalgia & the female gaze for a dream creature feature

'Lisa Frankenstein' stitches together '80s nostalgia & the female gaze for a dream creature feature

Kathryn Newton and Cole Sprouse Lisa Frankenstein
Courtesy of Focus Features

Out director Zelda Williams and writer Diablo Cody have created a monstrous new modern classic.

rachiepants

Frankenstein’s monster is having quite a moment. From last year’s brilliant gut punch Birth/Rebirth, to the rageful The Angry Girl and Her Monster, to the sexual awakening opus Poor Things, there’s something in the creative ether that’s drawing filmmakers to explore ideas through creator Mary Shelley’s original female gaze.

Lisa Frankenstein is the latest to dip into the Shelley well and is certainly the most joyous of the bunch. For first-time feature director Zelda Williams and screenwriter Diablo Cody, it was also an opportunity to harken back to the nostalgic pleasures of 1980s films. Before Williams even had a script in hand, she had been wanting to make a movie like the ones she grew up loving, something in the vein of Beetlejuice or Heathers — and she wasn’t alone. Separately, Cody had long been thinking about reconnecting with the films of yore, specifically the John Hughes ‘80s movies like Weird Science, but exploring those films through a modern feminist lens. This is how, together, they managed to achieve just that with Lisa Frankenstein: A true ’80s throwback complete with the aesthetics, shot selection, and cozy familiar formula that perfectly strums that wistful note.

Kathryn Newton in Lisa Frankenstein

Courtesy of Focus Features

Too often, the problem with revisiting the beloved classics they wished to recapture comes at a psychic cost. Few of these “classic films” have aged well — most have aged horribly. Homophobia, casual racism, and rape culture loom large, and their presence, while a symptom of the time, sour the experience of a rewatch. What Lisa Frankenstein does so brilliantly is capture the magic of those films while effortlessly infusing them with modern gender and sexual politics. The result is an experience that feels warm, inviting, sweet, and familiar — but without the bitter aftertaste.

Cole Sprouse and Kathryn Newton in Lisa Frankenstein

Courtesy of Focus Features

The film follows the titular Lisa Frankenstein (Kathryn Newton), whose traumatic (and very horror-film-appropriate) past has left her with the kind of trauma that makes her feel more at home in a cemetery than at a house party. She’s lonely and strange, in the vein of a Lydia Deetz (Beetlejuice) or Sarah Bailey (The Craft), and she has a crush on a corpse in the local bachelor cemetery — you know, as you do. At home, things are somehow even worse for Lisa. While her stepsister Taffy, the school’s It-girl, does her best to be kind, Lisa’s stepmother, played by a divinely camp and oh-so-very arch Carla Guguino, vacillates between suspicious and outright hostile to her stepdaughter.

Carla Gugino in Lisa Frankenstein

Courtesy of Focus Features

Everything changes when one night, an electrical storm and a tanning bed — this is the ‘80s after all — causes the young man in the grave to rise and come looking for Lisa. He’s played by the always charming Cole Sprouse in a mostly mute role who delivers a Buster Keaton-esque comedic turn as The Creature. While he may prove to be the perfect man for Lisa — gentlemanly, musical... silent — some assembly is required, and parts are not easy to come by without spilling a little blood.

Cole Sprouse and Kathryn Newton in Lisa Frankenstein

Courtesy of Focus Features

As you can imagine, there’s a deliciously dark sense of humor running throughout the film that sees Lisa learning to take what she wants, whether that be her sexual agency or someone’s limbs. But that’s not all, for as funny and light as the film’s tone is, there’s also a satisfying sense of justified rage and catharsis throughout. Lisa and The Creature begin quite literally reclaiming and healing by taking parts from the people who’ve hurt her. Is it also silly and absurd? Of course, that’s exactly what those ’80s films were like, and Williams and Cody understood the assignment.

Zelda Williams and Diablo Cody on the set of Lisa Frankenstein

Courtesy of Focus Features

It’s rare to capture those feelings you once had in adolescence when you see a new film. To feel that spark of longing and possibility. To fall a little bit in love with the characters — and yet that’s exactly what this film manages to do. Perhaps it was Williams’ desire to lean into creating an authentic '80s film or Cody’s deft hand at writing charmingly biting feminist dialogue that made this film hit just right. Most likely, it was the marriage of both of those choices. In Lisa Frankenstein, Williams and Cody have unearthed a modern classic, and we can only hope that it’s just the first of many collaborations

Rating: 4 stars

Lisa Frankenstein opens in theaters February 9. Watch the trailer below.

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Rachel Shatto

EIC of PRIDE.com

Rachel Shatto, Editor in Chief of PRIDE.com, is an SF Bay Area-based writer, podcaster, and former editor of Curve magazine, where she honed her passion for writing about social justice and sex (and their frequent intersection). Her work has appeared on Elite Daily, Tecca, and Joystiq, and she podcasts regularly about horror on the Zombie Grrlz Horror Podcast Network. She can’t live without cats, vintage style, video games, drag queens, or the Oxford comma.

Rachel Shatto, Editor in Chief of PRIDE.com, is an SF Bay Area-based writer, podcaster, and former editor of Curve magazine, where she honed her passion for writing about social justice and sex (and their frequent intersection). Her work has appeared on Elite Daily, Tecca, and Joystiq, and she podcasts regularly about horror on the Zombie Grrlz Horror Podcast Network. She can’t live without cats, vintage style, video games, drag queens, or the Oxford comma.