As the old adage goes, "I can fix him" — but what if "him" is a reanimated Victorian corpse?
In the new horror rom-com "Lisa Frankenstein," Kathryn Newton plays a 1980s teenager named Lisa who befriends an undead man, Creature (Cole Sprouse), that's magically resurrected when lightning strikes his grave. Aside from the fact that he's dead, from 1837 and missing a few limbs, Creature's not a bad catch — he's cultured, musically inclined and dapperly dressed. To help him acclimate to the modern world, Lisa gives him a makeover via her stepsister's tanning bed, and steals other people's body parts to stitch him up (hence the Frankenstein of it all).
The film, which is out Feb. 9, is Zelda Williams' directorial debut, and is written by Diablo Cody, whose last horror-comedy was 2009's cult classic "Jennifer's Body". Cody and Williams call it a "love letter to the 1980s," which is something that costume designer Meagan McLaughlin related to.
"1989 is burned in my brain," she tells Fashionista over Zoom. "I used a lot of my own pictures from that time as reference photos, and used those outfits on Kathryn and other people."
McLaughlin felt destined to design "Lisa Frankenstein": Not only does the film take place in her "favorite time period," but she already had a lot of the clothing needed to dress the characters, thanks to a storage unit she shared with assistant costume designer Jen Wasson, filled mostly with stock from the '80s. One of Lisa's earlier looks — a button-down shirt, brooch and shorts — came from McLaughlin's personal collection, as did a pair of cowboy-print pajamas she wears in another scene.
Another thing McLaughlin felt was an act of fate is that, in the script, Sprouse's character is likened to Buster Keaton, since he doesn't talk throughout the movie. "I have a very fond love of Buster Keaton," she says. "My daughter's name is Keaton, after him."
Aside from an image of the silent-film actor, McLaughlin had Victorian outfit references and a photo of Johnny Depp from "Benny and Joon" on Creature's mood board. When Lisa gives him a literal closet makeover, he experiments with various styles, from western to athleisure, but they settle on an outfit inspired by John Cusack and other assorted "cool '80s guys," according to McLaughlin: a Violent Femmes T-shirt and a boxy, forest-green blazer that helped convey that Creature was missing a hand.
Despite the film title's clever pun on the colorful 1980s school-supply brand, you won't find Lisa in any neon animal print or unicorn-themed attire. She's quite bookish and a bit nerdy when we first meet her. McLaughlin took inspiration from the era's hit fashion brands like Esprit, Benetton, Banana Republic and The Limited's Outback Red line. But Lisa is a goth on the inside — a low-key Lydia Deetz, drawn to the morbid and the macabre. She'd rather hang out in the cemetery than at the mall with her stepsister. It's no surprise why: Her mother was killed by an ax murderer, and she managed to escape, making her a Final Girl with a lot of baggage. Once she meets Creature, she embraces her dark side in myriad ways, including her fashion.
For goth Lisa, McLaughlin had Winona Ryder, "dark runway fashion" from Jean Paul Gaultier and Alexander McQueen, as well as Madonna, on the mood board. "I know she was a little earlier, but girlies know that if you had a love for Madonna, you still had a love for Madonna," she says.
If McLaughlin didn't have something in her stash, she and her team would look for authentic vintage pieces on Etsy, eBay and Depop. Lisa's goth clothes weren't vintage, though: McLaughlin sourced from Dolls Kill and Amazon to get the pieces quickly and in multiples — a necessity for horror movies. Amazon was also where McLaughlin found the glamorous pink satin robe that Creature tries on during his makeover montage. Meanwhile, the "Blossom" hat Lisa wears when she debuts her new look at school was built by McLaughlin’s team.
While the script had mentions of the Blossom hat and Creature's band tees, there were a few personal touches that McLaughlin made sure to put in the costume design, such as the Cathy comic shirt that Lisa wears to sleep in one scene. "I think we had found it, and the producer, Mason Novick, who's worked with Diablo for years, told us that Diablo had a love for Cathy," she says. "So we were really determined to get that in the movie." Another sweet costume Easter egg is the rainbow suspenders Creature wears at the film's end — a nod to Williams' father, Robin Williams, who wore them in the late-'70s/early-'80s sitcom "Mork and Mindy".
It might be a funny "zom-com," as Newton has described the film in interviews, but "Lisa Frankenstein" is the love letter that Williams and Cody wanted it to be, not just to the 1980s, but to any misunderstood "weirdos" out there trying to find their true selves.
"Lisa had been hiding it, and I think the more she felt a kindred spirit with Creature, the more she felt confident in the way she dressed and how she felt," says McLaughlin. "He helped give her the power of self-assurance."