Director: Zelda Williams Screenwriter: Diablo Cody Cast: Kathryn Newton, Cole Sprouse, Liza Soberano, Henry Eikenberry, Joe Chrest, Carla Gugino Distributor: Focus Features Running Time: 101 min. MPAA: PG-13

A lot of wild stuff happens in Lisa Frankenstein more for the sake of being bizarre than building up its darkly comedic narrative. This will be a hindrance for some, but a freewheeling retro horror comedy like this can only work if it embraces its own weirdness with earnestness and heart. This film feels like that cult 1980s horror that was too strange upon its release and will be revered better in time. It’s a safe bet, considering the same thing happened with Diablo Cody’s other script, Jennifer’s Body.

Consider how the film frames Lisa Swallows (Kathryn Newton) as a tragic yet quirky character. Having endured the loss of her mother to a murderer and his father (Joe Chrest) marrying a control freak (Carla Gugino), she’s trying to find a way to be bold but keeps faltering. She joins her high-energy step-sister Taffy (Liza Soberano) for a party but ends up accidentally getting drugged and nearly raped. This is not her scene. She’d much rather read poetry in the local graveyard, fawning over the tombstone of a forgotten soul. She’d love to associate with those who died long ago if she had her way, and through movie magic, that can happen.

Into Lisa’s life comes the revived corpse of an unknown man (Cole Sprouse). Though he cannot speak, Lisa instantly gravitates towards this 18th-century dude as she introduces him to the modern ways of the 1980s, like a warped version of E.T. Soon, Lisa discovers that she can make this monster more whole by swiping body parts, which magically make him more human via a malfunctioning tanning bed. Don’t question it too much. As Lisa improves the monster, she improves herself by becoming more open about her dark nature and dominating conversations like a goth punk who makes her own rules. But given that her improvements of her make-shift boyfriend involve murders of her family and students, it won’t be long before her secret rebellion against society catches up with her.

There’s a stylish absurdity to how exaggerated the film becomes. The concept itself is silly enough, but it goes the extra mile in Lisa’s quests for body parts, including one laughably wild moment of finding a penis. Lisa’s obsession with old movies is brilliantly woven into the tale, sometimes more overtly as with her fantasy dream of A Trip to The Moon and sometimes subtle with her accidental quotation of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Some appreciation should be paid to how the film embraces the 1980s setting more through vibe than its citations of pop hits and movies of the era. The exaggeration is more for the characters than the setting, as with Carla Gugino perfectly playing up the egotistical mom who is itching to throw Lisa into a mental hospital.

The spirit of Lisa Frankenstein is what ultimately triumphs in this film. I didn’t mind so much that the murder of Lisa’s mother is used for little more than a few punchlines or that Chrest mostly stays in his lane as the timid dad who means well. But it works for a film that seems to zoom as quickly as possible to the funniest bits. I love how Lisa is never established as a perfect character, considering her musical sequence with her monster is ridiculously off-key in the most adorable way possible. Her increased frustrations while still in charge of her dark clothes and body harvesting make her a fascinating character for proceeding down the creature feature route.

As a teen horror comedy with romance, Lisa Frankenstein has some inspiring guts. It has the look and feel of a Tim Burton film with the type of teeth to go the extra mile of strange and be so damn funny in its scattershot approach. The whole experience plays like Lisa’s mission of chopping up body parts and shoving them together to create a new, interesting person. Such an experiment shouldn’t work, and yet it does. I don’t care how a tanning bed can revive the dead. It has to be funny at that point, and Lisa Frankenstein is a lot of fun in that regard. I can’t speak for today’s teens, but I know I’d love to have this film when I was in high school.

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