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Lisa Frankenstein

Monstrous Love: Lisa Frankenstein & Frankenhooker

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As a disciple of Mary Shelley, I’m always fascinated by Frankenstein adaptations and the ways that filmmakers can bring a new twist to the classic tale. So, when I saw trailers for Lisa Frankenstein, I was instantly curious, and the moment I sat down in the theater and the titles rolled, I was hooked. Cheers to Zelda Williams and Diablo Cody, though I expected no less from such creative minds, especially since Cody was behind the masterpiece that is Jennifer’s Body. The film was downright jolly – what a delight it was to sit in a theater where people were really laughing – with a sweeping style that married Heathers and Edward Scissorhands. I loved how it leaned into the camp aspects, right down to the kitschy ’80s furniture, but it was also able to pull back so effortlessly. The cartoony-ness of the characters didn’t bother me, but I was pleasantly surprised by the way the film was able to humanize them. I could feel Cody guiding them with the same nuance she used in Jennifer’s Body. I admit it’s not for everyone, but if the film was more universal, it wouldn’t have been as good. I liked that it knew its audience and stuck with it, and I highly endorse it as a Valentine’s Day flick.

As the title suggests, Lisa Frankenstein flips the script by having the story be from a woman’s perspective, which is something I’ve been waiting to see for many years. There are so many themes of gender in the Mary Shelley novel that have been woefully underrepresented, so I was excited to see what the movie would bring, and I was really intrigued by the way it engaged with the ever-elusive female gaze. I wanted to compare the film with another high camp Frankenstein retelling, Frank Hennenlotter’s Frankenhooker, and examine the themes of gender and objectification, specifically how they deal with the male and female gaze.

FrankenhookerI suppose that the fact that Frankenhooker contains the word “hooker” in the title is sort of glaringly sexist, although I don’t subscribe to the notion that all sex workers are inherently self-hating women, but the movie does let you know from the beginning that the body is what matters. That doesn’t let up for a second as it follows Jeffrey Franken as he tries to revive his dead fiancée, Elizabeth, by building her a new body from local prostitutes. In Frankenhooker, Jeffrey isn’t satisfied with Elizabeth being herself; he wants her to be the perfect woman. By stitching his head onto a woman’s body at the end of the film, it subverts that. Elizabeth gets her revenge. In a similar way, Lisa isn’t satisfied with The Creature being her perfect mate, even though he clearly is; she wants Michael, the dreamy guy from her school. It was really an exploration of the female fantasy, because of course we want the man that will kill and die for us, but we also want to be spoiled for choice. In true ’80s fashion, it seemed to scream, “Girls just want to have fun!” It was so refreshing to see a movie where the female character didn’t settle, because there are so many flicks where the most average guy gets the hottest girl for no reason.

In Frankenhooker, we spend most of the film with only Jeffrey’s insight; we only get Elizabeth’s at the last minute. In the same way, The Creature is silent in Lisa Frankenstein, but the roles are reversed because Lisa is the creator, she is the talker. This is especially interesting because of the mention that after her mother’s death, Lisa had selective mutism, but she comes out of her shell throughout the film, partially due to The Creature giving her confidence. I was really impressed with Cole Sprouse’s performance; maybe I just had low expectations from my exposure to him in Riverdale, but he was able to say so much without saying anything.

I’m very interested in love stories where communication and understanding aren’t traditional, like in The Shape of Water, where Eliza and the Amphibian Man are the only two people who understand each other without needing to say anything. I saw shades of that in Lisa Frankenstein. Because The Creature can’t speak, he is a listener, and it made me wonder what that means for the female gaze. In Frankenhooker, Jeffrey wants a body, a sex doll, and in Lisa Frankenstein, Lisa wants that too, at first. She doesn’t want a person, she wants this image of Michael that she’s built up in her head, and The Creature ultimately has to earn her love. He is not desirable because of his body, rather because he is spiritual, artistic, and sensitive. The Creature loves Lisa for who she is. One might think that him being an undead killer would be a drawback, but actually, by him and Lisa enabling each other’s twisted urges, they become the perfect couple.

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