Lisa Frankenstein: A Fun Film with a Marketing Problem

by: 
hello world!
Iain McParland
| March 16, 2024
hello world!

Have you ever seen Weird Science? How about that episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer where some nerds try to build the perfect girlfriend for a dude they brought back from the dead? Yes, we all wanted Cordy as a girlfriend back then, but murder wasn’t a way to go about it! Well, Lisa Frankenstein is sort of like both of them. It’s a comedy horror that involves bringing someone back to life. 

But then again, it’s also totally different. And I’m conflicted about how I feel about it.

On the one hand, it’s light-hearted fun. There’s nothing about it that is offensive in any way, and in fact, I enjoyed it. However, I think the seeds of expectation after seeing the trailer kinda brought my expectations to a different level than the film delivered. 

That’s the story of Lisa Frankenstein. Failed by marketing.

Story

Okay, you’ve seen the trailer. What do you think the movie is about? It’s about a girl (Kathryn Newton) who decides to resurrect a dead man (Cole Sprouse) she’s infatuated with, then moving onto their love story as they set about murdering the student body, replacing parts as they go. Right? Riiiiiiight? RIIIIIIIIIIIGHT?

Wrong.

Lisa Frankenstein (Frankenstein is not her actual name) is about a girl overcoming childhood trauma and settling into a new school and family after her father remarries. She’s a weird kid in 1989 who doesn’t have any friends aside from her sweet, yet flawed, stepsister. Lisa likes hanging in the graveyard and has a fascination with death as a result of her trauma. Weird but harmless.

Then she goes to a party where she gets drugged and sexually assaulted before wishing that the hot guy pictured on the gravestone was alive. Wishes sometimes come true, but it’s not like they fall for each other immediately. They‘re bros. He is a psychiatric device to help her feel better. Romance and murder are barely thoughts for most of this movie.

Why the heck do you put a trailer like that together?

The Good

Erm… what?

Lisa Frankenstein is fun. No doubt about it. There are some rib-tickling moments and one that left me looking like a shock face emoji for a good couple of minutes. As entertainment, this thoroughly did its job. 

Lisa is a weird-ass girl. But, so she should be. She’s gone through a lot of sh*t in her life, and it would be stranger if she was completely normal. There are legit reasons why she, with the help of her undead friend, embarks on a tiny murder spree (emphasis on the tiny). Her stepsister, Taffy (Liza Soberano), seems to be that stereotypical bubble-headed popular girl, but she’s actually sweet and welcoming. The characters are the right kind of mix of archetype and nuance. 

Something also has to be said for the style of the movie. It’s set in the ‘80s, and with that comes an excellent soundtrack from the likes of Pixies, REO Speedwagon (covered by Jojo), and The Jesus & Mary Chain. It’s freaking sweet. 

Director Zelda Williams uses cool animated interludes throughout the film. They’re awesome and aren’t overused. They tell stories from the zombie’s timeline or are used in place of scenes that work better as off-screen, alluded-to actions. The animations add to the quirky vibe of the movie.

The Not So Good

Ignore the mess, I wasn’t expecting company.

This concept isn’t something new or novel. I’ve already mentioned Weird Science and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but this is more like Warm Bodies. A zombie gradually becomes increasingly human before the girl starts to realize there could be some feelings there. And with the undead dude unable to communicate properly for more of the film, too! Warm Bodies did this better for one reason: R’s ability to talk throughout the film improves as he becomes less zombified.

In Lisa Frankenstein, Lisa speaks to The Creature (yep, that’s his credited name), just like she has been talking to his grave in the past. It’s like it’s barely registering as out of the ordinary. The Creature does its best with non-verbal communication and grunts, but only his body language improves. I was hoping for more meaningful conversations than what we received. Lisa basically just treats him as a bad psychiatrist: one-way conversations with little insight.

After seeing the movie, I’m still struggling to determine the audience it’s aiming for. It’s not scary or bloody enough for horror, even though the marketing seemed to position it that way. The body count barely gets into single digits, never mind double digits! Maybe I would have a better opinion of it if the marketing had positioned it more as a high school comedy than a dark comedy with horror elements.

Expectations didn’t match reality.

Summary

When you say something stupid in class and you get this reaction, wyd?

I went to see Lisa Frankenstein thinking, “I love comedy-horrors. This is totally in my wheelhouse.” What I found was more comedy with a dash of horror, like it was an afterthought. I was expecting Ready of Not or Scream levels of murder and mayhem but it just didn’t deliver. 

But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just not what I expected. 

I can honestly say that I enjoyed this film for what it was. It’s a funny high school comedy with a kooky undertone and a dash of zombie-ism. It was well-acted and had nuanced characters. The style was cool, boasting flashy cinematography and a banging soundtrack. 

It’s fun.

Why not just market it that way?!

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