These are the Inspirations Behind The Looks in 80s-set horror comedy Lisa Frankenstein

Behind The Looks Of Horror Comedy Film Lisa Frankenstein

Taffy and Lisa. Liza Soberano’s plays quintessential girl-next-door “Taffy”, the complete opposite of Kathryn Newton’s troubled goth “Lisa” as the two share a scene as stepsisters in Lisa Frankenstein. Courtesy of Universal Pictures International

Horror comedy film Lisa Frankenstein, starring Cole Sprouse, Kathryn Newton, and Liza Soberano, revives the spirit of 1989 with supersized hair, cherry-red lips, and a wealth of references to 80s films.

In a comedic fusion of horror and romance, director Zelda Williams makes her feature-length directorial debut in the eccentric world of Lisa Frankenstein. Penned by Diablo Cody, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of “Jennifer’s Body,” this coming-of-age film follows the escapades of misunderstood teenage girl Lisa Swallows (Kathryn Newton) and her chivalrous corpse-turned-companion (Cole Sprouse) as they embark on a quest for love and, quite literally, a few missing body parts. 

From the moment Taffy Swallows’ (Liza Soberano) bouncy blowout steps into frame alongside Lisa’s bright blue under eye shadow and teased hair, audiences are transported back to the nostalgia of the big and bold 1980s. Costume designer Meagan McLaughlin Luster collaborated closely with head make-up artist Reni Savva and hair department head Donna Spahn-Jones, all of them eager to resurrect the iconic styles of 1989. The film’s production notes reveal a wealth of inspirations behind each character design: from Winona Ryder’s edgy ensembles in “Heathers” to Cindy Crawford’s all-natural beauty, and even nods to Tim Burton’s gothic male leads, the looks paid an homage to the eclectic influences of the era. 

Lisa Swallows: Bright and Bold Meets 80s Goth

Lisa’s Bed and Breakfast (and Bodies). Kathryn Newton plays “Lisa”, a deeply troubled teenager who develops an unlikely bond with a reanimated corpse played by Cole Sprouse. Courtesy of Universal Pictures International

Lisa’s signature look boasts supersized hair, spiky lashes, and dark tightlined eyes, all of which escalate in drama as her character’s moral descent unfolds. Earlier adorned with bright pink cheeks and braided pigtails secured by pink scrunchies to match, her transformation culminates in a dramatically teased wig, smokey winged liner, and vibrant cherry-red lips. 

Kathryn Newton’s Lisa Frankenstein is the epitome of the big, bold aesthetics of the 80s. Donned in a theatrical bouffant in one scene and vivid purple under eyes in another, Savva says she looked to the 1935 horror classic Bride of Frankenstein star Elsa Lanchester for gothic inspiration. “Kathryn is a gorgeous girl, and it’s not easy to make gorgeous look plain or make her look fatigued without making it look ugly or fake,” shares Savva. “We just did little things to draw her eye down, make her a little sallow underneath, or hollow her cheeks a bit when she’s not so happy.”

Savva also turned to the paintings of artist Margaret Keane, renowned for her portraits of subjects with hauntingly big, rounded eyes. “Part of Lisa’s character is a very full-of-woe young lady, full of sorrow and a lot of pain, and I wanted that to show that through the eyes,” says Savva. “It’s just very subtle nuances of shadows and shape because I wanted her eyes to look very big and round and sad.”

In addition, McLaughlin Luster sought movies that were released in 1989 for sartorial influence. Among the films that were pivotal to her and her team’s costume creation process were Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and Say Anything. But it was the 1989 film Heathers that became a heavy inspiration for Lisa’s ensembles. “They wanted her to go kind of Goth and dark, but I had to keep it still in the late eighties, so I would take framed pictures of Winona Ryder in the off-the-shoulder shirt with the suspender kind of dress [she wears in Heathers for a scene in which her character is attending a college frat party], and Lisa ended up in a look like that. It’s a buffalo check red-and-black [dress] with the suspenders, but we kept the suspenders down.”

Taffy Swallows: The All-Natural It-Girl of 1989

Not your typical cheerleader. Liza Soberano’s “Taffy” puts a twist on the typical mean girl trope. Taffy is a popular cheerleader, who, instead of being cutthroat and mean, just tries her best to be nice. Courtesy of Universal Pictures International

In her Hollywood debut, Filipino actress Liza Soberano stars as popular cheerleader and charmingly naive sweetheart, Taffy Swallows. Screenwriter Diablo Cody describes Soberano’s character as the “antithesis of a stereotypical mean girl”—she may be condescending or tone deaf at times, but her intentions are always kind. 

Soberano’s sharp features and sweet smile were a match for her character’s effortless looks. Drawing inspiration from the natural beauty of 1980s icon and supermodel Cindy Crawford, Savva approached Taffy’s look with similar finesse. For the majority of the film, Taffy donned a bouncy blowout and a dramatic side part paired with fresh skin, a faint flush of color on the cheeks, and glossed lips.

As opposed to Lisa’s over-the-top theatrics, Taffy epitomizes a simple, innate beauty: “You know my hair’s too healthy, too silky to hold a crimp. It’s, like, my only flaw!” Always fashionably on trend, Taffy embodies the quintessential It-Girl of 1989. Outfitted in top brands of the era—Esprit, Benetton, Outback Red, and The Limited—the film’s costume designers reportedly scoured thrift stores, Etsy, and eBay for real vintage pieces.

The Creature: A Nod to Tim Burton

Nothing says “This is the 80s”more than neon. Kathryn Newton’s “Lisa” and Cole Sprouse as “The Creature” share a scene together on a neon-lit tanning bed. Courtesy of Universal Pictures International

The Creature is a dead man walking. Hollow eyes and translucent skin, Cole Sprouse shares in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter that the hair-and-makeup process could take up to 5-7 hours long.

Savva cites the films of gothic horror and fantasy director Tim Burton on her approach to the Creature’s character design. Pale gray skin juxtaposed with expressive eyes, the Burton-esque theatrics of the Creature’s makeup was a huge throwback to late 80s to early 90s goth, such as seen in films like Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands. 

“We’re really pulling in an homage to Tim Burton on this,” says Savva, who applied Sprouse’s non-prosthetic makeup. “He’s basically a culmination of all Tim Burton’s male characters. He is part monster and part human. His eyes are so human, and that’s how you feel him. He brings sadness, woe, and longing, and it’s all through eyes.”

See all of the characters’ looks come to life in Lisa Frankenstein, out in Philippine cinemas on February 7, 2024. 

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