The tradition of horror comedy traces back to classics like “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein,” released in 1948, with its roots stretching further to “The Bride of Frankenstein.” The hallmark of a great horror comedy lies in its blend of contrasting flavors – fear and laughter, violence and slapstick – creating a bold and refreshing concoction that jolts the senses awake.
However, “Lisa Frankenstein” serves up a horror-com smoothie crafted from stale ingredients. The genre, saturated with decades of monster mayhem in mundane settings, now carries the weight of its age. The iconic sitcoms like “The Munsters” and “The Addams Family” have aged over 60 years, while “Young Frankenstein” clocks in at 50. Even beloved monster cereals like Count Chocula and Franken Berry are over half a century old. Despite this, “Lisa Frankenstein” attempts a bold front of edgy rebellion, set against a nostalgic backdrop of 1989.
Written by Diablo Cody, known for her hipster sensibilities showcased in hits like “Juno” and “Jennifer’s Body,” the film latches onto the tropes of horror comedy. Yet, Cody’s previous works, such as the realistic “Young Adult” and the empathetic “Tully,” suggest a departure from this genre. Directed by Zelda Williams, the film wades into a murky zone, feeling more like an overly complex SNL sketch than a cohesive narrative.
The protagonist, Lisa Swallows, played by Kathryn Newton, embodies the archetype of the misunderstood outsider. Her tragic past, including witnessing her mother’s murder, sets her on a collision course with her evil stepmother and stepsister. Newton infuses Lisa with a range of emotions, reminiscent of classic rebel heroines from ’80s cinema. However, despite her likability, Lisa’s actions fail to engage or entertain.
Following a humiliating high school event, Lisa seeks solace in Bachelor’s Grove cemetery, where her romantic fantasies intertwine with the supernatural. She encounters her dream beau – a resurrected 19th-century gentleman with a dark allure, portrayed by Cole Sprouse. Their unconventional relationship leads to macabre events, including gruesome acts of retribution and a makeshift laboratory in the garage.
The film’s title exaggerates its Frankenstein theme, focusing more on Lisa’s transformation empowered by her undead companion. As Lisa gains confidence, her appearance evolves from demure to daring, mirroring her desire for acceptance. Yet, beneath her rebellious facade lies a yearning for belonging, expressed through earnest renditions of ’80s ballads.
In essence, “Lisa Frankenstein” attempts to inject new life into the horror comedy genre but falls short of its mark. Despite its nostalgic charm and macabre twists, the film struggles to find its footing amidst its disparate elements, leaving viewers more puzzled than amused.