“Lisa Frankenstein” Production Designer Mark Worthington on Reimagining 1980s Horror Comedy

In a send-up of 1980s slasher flicks, Lisa (Kathryn Newton), the anti-heroine of writer Diablo Cody’s and director Zelda Williams’s Lisa Frankenstein, spends too much time in an abandoned cemetery and accidentally calls up a deceased 18th-century hottie (Cole Sprouse) from the dead. Since Lisa is already in love with a living boy, Michael Trent (Henry Eikenberry), and her undead admirer is missing a hand and can’t speak, the high schooler finds herself at the center of a love triangle she’s ill-equipped to handle. But Lisa’s romantic complications are secondary, anyway, to two more pressure issues: finding and reanimating her undead pal’s missing body parts at any cost and warding off her new stepmother, Janet (Carla Gugino), a malevolent psych ward nurse.

The secret to helping the Creature become whole again lies in Lisa’s stepsister Taffy’s  (Liza Soberano) tanning bed, an electrically faulty device housed in a backyard shed that doubles as a shrine to Taffy’s many accomplishments, like being a cheerleader. Taffy is a kind and bubbly foil to Lisa’s embrace of the macabre, offset by her popular stepsister and the bright and pastel surroundings concocted by production designer Mark Worthington (WandaVision, American Horror Story). Worthington rewatched original scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis’s early movies before going into Lisa Frankenstein to create a visual pastiche of 1980s horror comedy. We spoke with the production designer about recalling the era’s design tropes, building an abandoned cemetery, and working with his “creative crush,” Diablo Cody.


How did you decide what direction to take in terms of making Lisa’s home environment contrast her personal style?

Because it’s stylized horror, you can really lean into some of the cliches or tropes of the 1980s. Pink and sea-foam green are classic colors. Interestingly enough, there was simple, realistic research from the period that was not far off from what we ended up with. That house is Janet. The pastels and round forms of the 80s played really well, especially in contrast to Lisa’s character and where she ends up. She just really stands out in that environment as a foreigner and unwelcome. And it’s fun — it plays into the comedy.

Director Zelda Williams and screenwriter Diablo Cody on the set of their film LISA FRANKENSTEIN, a Focus Features release. Credit: Mason Novick / ©Mason Novick

The houses we see are so architecturally reminiscent of the 1980s. Were those all locations?

Janets house interior we built on stage, just because there are a lot of scenes. The exterior house was a gift. We did a little painting, but that house exists pretty much as you see it, which is amazing. The party house was a location. The boyfriend’s house, that’s a location. We spent a lot of time carefully curating those choices to ensure they fit within the period idea, and we also made some alterations to them.


How did you approach Bachelor’s Grove cemetery? Was any of that real?

That was really fun. It’s based on a real cemetery outside of Chicago, which actually doesn’t look anything like what we ended up doing. It’s abandoned, Bachelor’s Grove. We took a lot of license because we’re in Louisiana and found a park on the West Bank that has all those tall skinny trees you see in that scene. The ground was completely covered in vines, as you see it. We just thought it was so beautiful, with shafts of light and the graphic quality of those trees and those beautiful vines. The gravestones, the gate, all of that we made and brought in. His stone, of course, was custom.

Did you primarily work with Louisiana businesses while shooting on location?

It’s going to be tough to call up all the names. We worked with a ton of local businesses. We were buying everything down there. I don’t think we really went out of state or out of the New Orleans area for anything. We pretty much-sourced everything in town. And obviously, we had a local crew, which was great. I had experience with that; I did two seasons of American Horror Story in New Orleans.

Cole Sprouse stars as The Creature and Kathryn Newton as Lisa Swallows in LISA FRANKENSTEIN, a Focus Features release.
Credit: Michele K. Short / © 2024 FOCUS FEATURES LLC

Taffy’s backyard home tanning salon/cheerleading trophy showcase, commandeered by Lisa for her own dark ends, is too funny. Was that on the page as such?

That was originally written for a garage. Then, looking at that location, there was a little shed in the back already there. And we just felt that there was something about the focus of that, how tiny it was, and how it was a separate space for Taffy, that really felt better and more graphic for those scenes. That was also a gift. We could have done it in a garage, but how do we make it private without the neighbors seeing? Putting it back there was really useful for us because they could be in their own world. That tanning bed barely fit in there, which was kind of perfect.

Cole Sprouse stars as The Creature and Kathryn Newton as Lisa Swallows in LISA FRANKENSTEIN, a Focus Features release. Credit: Michele K. Short / © 2024 FOCUS FEATURES LLC

Was Diablo Cody involved on set?

She was there. She’s great. You never know, when you have a creative crush on people, how they’re going to be. There’s always that fear — are they going to be terrible and a nightmare? And she’s incredibly funny, sardonic, the way you’d expect given her writing, and really insightful and just lovely. It’s funny; my agent sent me the script and said, I’ve got this Diablo Cody thing, and some people have their own opinions about it. I said, are you kidding? I love her. And it’s the best thing I’ve read in a very long time. I love genre anyway, so I was all in.



For more on Universal Pictures, Peacock, and Focus Features projects, check out these stories:

First “Wicked” Trailer Finds Ariana Grande and Cynthia Erivo Getting Witchy With It

Official “Twisters” Trailer Finds Glen Powell & Daisy Edgar-Jones in Harm’s Way

“Lisa Frankenstein” Costume Designer Meagan McLaughlin Luster on Dressing a Muse and a Monster

Featured image: Cole Sprouse stars as The Creature and Kathryn Newton as Lisa Swallows in LISA FRANKENSTEIN, a Focus Features release.
Credit: Michele K. Short / © 2024 FOCUS FEATURES LLC



Susannah Edelbaum

Susannah Edelbaum's work has appeared on NPR Berlin, Fast Company, Motherboard, and the Cut, among others. She lives in Berlin, Germany.

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