‘Lisa Frankenstein’ Director Zelda Williams Breaks Down Film’s ‘Loving’ Easter Eggs — Including One for Her Dad

The filmmaker tells TheWrap why she was thrilled to make her feature directorial debut on the zom-rom-com

lisa-frankenstein-cole-sprouse-kathryn-newton
Focus Features

There are a whole lot of easter eggs in “Lisa Frankenstein” and, according to director Zelda Williams, a whole lot of people haven’t spotted them. But that’s totally fine with her — in fact, she “quite liked” it.

The new film, now in theaters, marks Williams’ feature film directorial debut and follows Lisa Swallows (Kathryn Newton), a quirky, grief-stricken teen who lost her mother to a brutal murder years earlier. Lisa often hangs out at a cemetery, drawn to the grave of a young bachelor (Cole Sprouse). When lightning brings said bachelor back from the dead, she crafts him into her perfect man — literally borrowing body parts — and together, they have a wonderfully chaotic, very 1989 love story.

Naturally, this twist on the classic “Frankenstein” story has plenty of nods to the original, as well as other films. And yes, they were all quite deliberate.

“We had a lot of fun throwing really loving little easter eggs in the movie,” Williams told TheWrap. “And it’s been interesting to see, most of them have been spotted by at least one person. But I actually quite liked that they’re subtle enough that a lot of them weren’t spotted by anyone.”

Among the easter eggs is a reference to Lisa’s “Aunt Shelley” — a nod to Mary Shelley, the author of the original “Frankenstein” novel. And, keeping with the time period, there’s a moment where one character utters the words “Dammit Janet,” referring to “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” (one of many classic films that influenced what “Lisa Frankenstein” became).

But there’s one easter egg that Williams thought fans would clock immediately and, at least at the time of speaking with TheWrap, many had not. And it’s perhaps the most emotionally charged one of all.

In case you missed it, keep an eye on Creature’s (Sprouse) suit in the final scene of the film.

“He’s wearing rainbow suspenders,” Williams pointed out with a grin. “I just wanted a moment, in a world where death isn’t permanent, to honor pops. So it was funny because I’m like ‘Wow, no one’s seen it,’ but I love that too. It’s so subtle.”

For those unfamiliar, rainbow suspenders were the staple of Robin Williams’ — Zelda Williams’ father — costume in “Mork & Mindy,” the show which launched him to fame. Zelda adds that “it makes me kind of happy” that she and her team were able to keep things subtle, but decidedly present.

Of course, Robin Williams isn’t the only legendary actor that was honored in “Lisa Frankenstein.” In reality, Zelda Williams’ whole basis for what she wanted this film to be actually came from the stars of “Young Frankenstein.”

“What if Gene Wilder and Madeline Kahn made a movie right now about this?” she said. “Like what would that look like for me? Or sound like for me?”

But as it turns out, “Lisa Frankenstein” wasn’t actually supposed to be Williams’ feature debut. It only worked out that way because of COVID.

“This was probably third in line. And what ended up happening is the pandemic kind of tanked any film that was below a certain budget,” she explained. “They, as every indie filmmaker I know, struggled with the PPE [personal protective equipment]. Keeping your crew safe, it just really wasn’t possible. We were in an unprecedented time.”

That said, Williams is actually thankful that the other projects she had lined up didn’t end up working out. It taught her important lessons heading into “Lisa Frankestein.”

“In having felt ready [to direct a film], and then having them fall apart, I’m actually very grateful,” she continued. “I also had to learn that lesson too, before this one happened. If this had fallen in my lap as the first one, and then it came to fruition, I don’t think I’d have that clarity that things here are so fragile, and always will be. I know incredible filmmakers who have Oscars who still have movies fall apart.”

Williams notes she felt “very calm and qualified” to direct her first film, having shadowed other directors, and directing in different mediums for nearly a decade (Williams directed multiple shorts and several music videos for pop superstar Jojo).

“It felt right. [‘Lisa Frankenstein’] was also the little train that could. This was the movie that survived despite everything and then after the pandemic, they were like, ‘OK, go make the zombie love movie.’”

That sentence in and of itself was almost a rarity, considering the fact that “Lisa Frankenstein,” though a “Frankenstein” story, is technically an original IP. And as any director or writer will tell you — Williams included, despite her fame — it’s hard to get anything made right now, let alone an original concept.

“I’m so certain that an enormous amount of it has to do with how beloved Diablo [Cody] is,” Williams conceded, crediting the film’s writer. “I was certainly kind of the tagalong in this situation. But to even approach something that, the title alone is a pun on two things: one of them being like an incredibly fun, camp, Trapper Keeper, and the other one being a now public domain science fiction novel about abortion. And yet it has very little to do with either, and I kind of love that.”

She continued, “I mean, the title is a pun. The movie itself is an earnest homage to the ’80s, and some movies I loved and love still. I’m the one who feels, at times, like I kind of got dragged along on a wonderful dream roller coaster. Everyone else I think, by most people’s opinions would seem much more qualified than me. But I’m so grateful to be a part of this, whatever anyone else might think. This was such a joyful, strange, wonderful ride.”

“Lisa Frankenstein” is now in theaters everywhere.

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