Zelda Williams did extensive 'academic study' of '80s films before helming 'Lisa Frankenstein'

Zelda Williams made her feature film directorial debut with "Lisa Frankenstein," which will be released on DVD on Tuesday. File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI
1 of 5 | Zelda Williams made her feature film directorial debut with "Lisa Frankenstein," which will be released on DVD on Tuesday. File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo

NEW YORK, April 9 (UPI) -- Zelda Williams, the daughter of the late Oscar-winning actor Robin Williams, says she wanted the horror-comedy, Lisa Frankenstein, to be her feature-film directorial debut because she knew it would be "a wild experience."

The reality did not disappoint.


Starring Kathryn Newton as the titular heroine, the movie is set in 1989 and based on a screenplay penned by Jennifer's Body and Juno scribe Diablo Cody.

"Who wouldn't want to tell this story? Genuinely, I remember getting the email in my inbox when she sent the script and being like, 'What on Earth?' I wasn't expecting it and was absolutely floored by it," Williams, 34, told UPI in a recent Zoom interview.

"And, then, to get to actually make it and bring it to fruition is -- we talk about -- its own delivery," she added.


"You read a script that has a flying penis in it and then you get to create that scene. It's exactly how I wanted it to be ... and in a PG-13 movie -- the most surprising part for me."

Kathryn Newton plays the title character, an ordinary, melancholy teen in love with the idea of the mysterious man (played by Cole Sprouse) buried since 1837 behind her family's home.

Lisa's life is turned upside down, however, when a series of unlikely events reanimate the guy's corpse and he shows up on her doorstep.

It's not long before Lisa forsakes her good-girl image to help her new beau replace his missing body parts -- including a hand, ear and the aforementioned penis -- by chopping them off of assorted bullies and villains and reattaching them to Sprouse's Creature.

Carla Gugino, Liza Soberano, Joe Chrest and Henry Eikenberry co-star in the film, which will be released on DVD and Blu-ray on Tuesday.

"I have been wanting to write another horror comedy for a long time," said Cody, 45.

"I haven't done it for 20 years, since Jennifer's Body. I just love blending those two genres. For me, it's just such a fun place to play in," she added. "I also just wanted to tell a love story, an unconventional love story, an offbeat one with two unexpected protagonists."


Feeling more confident and dressing like Madonna, Cody looked for inspiration in the 1980s movies she grew up loving that had a fun tone that is missing from much of today's cinematic landscape.

"The influence of Weird Science and [filmmaker] John Hughes and Beetlejuice cannot be overstated," she said, acknowledging there is also some of Heathers' pitch-black humor sprinkled in.

Williams said she had a blast taking a deep dive into 1980s and '90s pop culture for this job.

"I was born in, technically, the year that this movie is supposed to take place, so I don't have memories of my own at the time," she said with a laugh.

"Immersing myself in the movies from this time -- that I already loved, but really embarking on the academic study of was wonderful," she said.

The 1992 Bruce Willis-Meryl Streep-Goldie Hawn reanimated corpse-comedy, Death Becomes Her, was one to which Williams paid close attention.

"There is that moment of the late 1980s into the early 1990s that had this incredible camp beat of vibrancy and color and silliness, and it was a joy to watch every single moment I put one on," she said.

Although Sprouse's Creature is basically non-verbal, the actor still portrays him as a layered, fascinating character, according to Lisa Frankenstein's writer and director.


"Writing a character like the Creature, for instance, where there is no dialogue on the page and then to have Cole come along and create this character from pretty much nothing -- with Zelda's amazing direction, as well -- was so cool," Cody said.

"Lisa is a character that is really near and dear to my heart," she added. "I really relate to her. I was a fan of Kathryn's and I was excited to see what she would do with it. It went so above and beyond my expectations. She made Lisa come alive."

Williams praised her scene-stealing supporting players, who play Lisa's stepmother and stepsister, too.

"I'd love to shout-out that we have Carla in this movie, as well," she added.

"The pairing of the light and the dark of Carla and Liza is playing the sweetest girl you've ever met and Carla is this wicked bitch of the west? I love it so much.

"We only had Carla for a few days and it was this whirlwind of wonder and talent I cannot speak more highly of her. She's just deliciously evil."

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