EZMM 2024 Day 9: Lisa Frankenstein (2024)

It’s that time of year again! Time to celebrate the Resurrection with a weeklong plunge into all things zombie! Here’s the history: In 2008, Dr. Girlfriend and I decided to spend a week or so each year marathoning through zombie films that we’d never seen before, and I would blog short reviews. And simple as that, the Easter Zombie Movie Marathon was born.

For the curious, here are links to 20082009 (a bad year), 201020112012 (when we left the blog behind), 201320142015201620172018201920202021,  2022, and 2023.

Lisa Frankenstein was released on February 9, 2024, and may be the most recently released film we’ve ever reviewed during an Easter Zombie Movie Marathon (but I’ll have to check that). It is the feature film directorial debut of Robin Williams’ daughter, Zelda Williams and was written by Diablo Cody (who has stated that this film is set in the same cinematic universe as 2009’s Jennifer’s Body, for some reason). We opted to end this year’s marathon with something light, to serve as a bit of a palate cleanser as we ease our way back to normal society, and I wasn’t disappointed.

Set in 1989 (twenty years prior to Jennifer’s Body, for those keeping track), Lisa Frankenstein is about a teen goth girl and the zombie who loves her. Lisa Swallows (Kathryn Newton) is new in town thanks to his father recently remarrying – two years after the horrifying axe-murder of her mother. Her stepmom (Carla Gugino) is terrible, her dad (Joe Chrest) is clueless, and her new stepsister Taffy (Liza Soberano) is a surprisingly positive and supportive person – until she isn’t, that is. Still working through her grief, Lisa’s favorite pastime is hanging out in the local abandoned cemetery, nursing a bizarre semi-romantic fixation on a Victorian-era man buried there. At the same time, her real crush is the editor of the school magazine, Michael (Henry Eikenberry).

All in all, it’s a standard setup with no real extravagances despite the romantic graveyard element and the strange backstory about the axe murder (which barely registers any effects on any character, Lisa included). Then, Taffy convinces Lisa to come to a party, reluctantly, where she is almost immediately drugged and nearly sexually assaulted by the unthreatening Doug (Bryce Romero), Lisa’s lab partner. Forcing herself away, Lisa wonders in a hallucinogenic stupor, ending up in the graveyard, where she wishes that she and the mysterious dead man were together (as in, she wished she was dead), before wandering home just a serious storm moves in and a strange green lightning bolt strikes the young man’s grave.

And you know what that means! The Creature (Cole Sprouse) lives!

The opening credits for the film (a highlight of the film, to be honest) were shot in a shadow-puppet style and tell the life (and death) story of the Victorian young man. He had been a musician, had fallen in love with a woman who left him for another man, and then shortly thereafter in 1837 had been killed by a lightning strike and buried in the long since abandoned bachelor’s cemetery. Now he’s returned, missing a hand, an ear, and apparently, though we don’t know it yet, his penis. He bursts into Lisa’s home, while her family are out at the movies, covered from head to foot in mud, bugs, and debris, in a scene that probably should have caused a much more violently emotional reaction from her, given her family history. Instead, after a comical chase through the house, out onto the lawn – where her neighbors ignore her screams – and then back into the house, Lisa realizes that the Creature is no real threat, gets him into the shower, and then hides him in her closet when her horrified family returns.

Tonally, Lisa Frankenstein is along the lines of the zombie version of Romeo and Juliet, Warm Bodies (2013), but despite both films being PG-13, Warm Bodies had a bit more bite. Here the violence is generally played for laughs or has very little emotional payoff. After discovering that The Creature can replace body parts by having fresh bits sewn on and then getting a hearty dose of electricity (thanks to a foreshadowed malfunctioning tanning bed in the garage), the only two terrible people we’ve been introduced to are promptly murdered and dumped in a freshly dug grave in the bachelor’s cemetery.

These murders are not necessarily played for laughs, though. They just sort of happen and Lisa goes on as though nothing is wrong – although she does feel a little guilt about the death of her stepmother, but that’s just because of how much pain it causes Taffy. That’s the biggest problem with the film. Things just happen and they’re not really played for laughs, but they’re not really played as horror, or even melodrama. It’s really not until Lisa decides she’s going to offer her virginity to Michael and discovers that he’s sleeping with Taffy – literally, right at the moment she arrives – that there is a real emotional moment.

And I don’t mean Lisa’s outburst or Taffy’s guilty admission, but once The Creature bursts into the room with an axe and chops Michael’s man parts off in one fell swoop – accompanied by the funniest moment in the film as we watch the shadow of said member as it flies through the air and lands in a trashcan. Blood sprays and Taffy screams and is in shock as Lisa leads her away. Taffy’s concern for her missing mother and the shock of her boyfriend’s dismemberment are probably the best acting in the film. Bravo, Ms. Soberano.

Of course, knowing that the end is near, Lisa and the Creature sew on Michael’s junk, hop into the tanning bed and consummate their relationship, as Lisa now sees that the Creature loves her. Before the police can arrive, Lisa then commits suicide by electrocuting herself in the tanning bed and setting the entire garage on fire.

The end. Sort of.

The ending of the film is just as lacking in emotional resonance as the rest of the film and isn’t even very clever. Lisa’s dad and Taffy visit her grave at some unspecified point later, and Taffy wonders who wrote “beloved wife” on her tombstone. Then we cut to the Creature, fully human now, reading Percy Shelley’s poem “To Mary” to a resurrected Lisa, who lies on the park bench, resting her head in his lap, wrapped completely in bandages, smiling.

And I guess it’s happily ever after for them. I guess.

Ultimately, Lisa Frankenstein is pleasant enough. I can almost guarantee that I will forget everything about the film by next week. Until then, I’ll spend a few moments wondering why it was set in 1989, why Cody is inventing a Jennifer’s Body universe, and what happened between the writing and the release that just sapped the film of any real Jennifer’s Body-style energy. The whole film feels like an afterthought, but it’s an easy, unchallenging way to spend 101 minutes.

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