The Haunting of Hill House star's hilarious performance in horror-comedy Lisa Frankenstein proves she's so much more than a scream queen

Carla Gugino as Janet in Lisa Frankenstein
(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

Warning! This article contains mild spoilers for Lisa Frankenstein. If you don't want to know anything about the movie, turn back now.

Bring up Carla Gugino in front of any horror fan, and you'd better swiftly brace yourself for them to start breathlessly waxing lyrical. The actor, who shot to relative fame in the Spy Kids franchise, Sin City, and Watchmen, blew up and became one of genre filmmaker Mike Flanagan's most valuable collaborators in 2017, when they teamed up for Stephen King adaptation Gerald's Game.

Since then, the pair has worked together on The Haunting of Hill House, The Haunting of Bly Manor, and The Fall of the House of Usher, with Gugino having a very minor off-camera role in Midnight Mass, too. In each, she anchored the show's scares with steeliness, intensity, and heart-rending pathos, whether she was playing a doe-eyed, ill-fated matriarch, a grieving, grateful lover, or the human embodiment of Death itself.

Gugino's latest, Lisa Frankenstein, though, showcases her incredible, somewhat unexpected comedy chops, proving she's so much more than a tear-jerking scream queen…

Dead funny

Lisa Frankenstein

(Image credit: Focus)

Written by Jennifer's Body scribe Diablo Cody, and directed by Zelda Williams, the recently released flick sees Kathryn Newton's titular teen accidentally resurrect a young man who died over a century ago, and finds herself teaching him the ways of the modern world. (Well,  as modern as things can seem in 1989, anyway).

Comically quickly, the kindred spirits realize that the best way to replace The Creature's missing hand, ear, and… more is to kill those rubbing Lisa up the wrong way and lop off whichever body part they require. Lisa, using the skills she's learned at her part-time job as a seamstress, then sews the appendages onto The Creature and throws him in her stepsister's malfunctioning tanning bed to kickstart the latest addition's blood flow. Naturally. 

Unfortunately for Gugino's character, Lisa's stepmother Janet, she winds up being the dastardly duo's first victim. But despite being on screen for less than half the movie's runtime, she certainly makes an impact. Dressed in either full aerobics gear or her amusingly retro, psychiatric nurse's uniform, Janet is a serious thorn in the sullen Lisa's side, constantly berating her for not being more like her chipper cheerleader daughter Taffy (Liza Soberano). You see, Janet swooped in and married her father just a few months after Lisa's mother was gruesomely slain by an axe murderer one night – an amusingly over-the-top plot detail that doesn't really have any major relevance to the wider story, which is chuckle-worthy in itself – pulling Lisa out of her previous school and moving them into her pristine home.


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For someone who proudly describes themselves as an 'IP' (an "intuitive person"), Janet couldn't read a room if it was a 20-foot neon-lit sign, which allows Gugino to ramp up the camp, and give us an unabashed, toe-curlingly cringeworthy character for the ages – the kind of old-school villain who's just a bit of a pain in the arse rather than a full-blown baddie. It's an assured performance comparable to Catherine O'Hara's Delia Deetz in Tim Burton's Beetlejuice, which is perfect, really, given that that film caters heavily to the kooky, spooky girls much in the same way Lisa Frankenstein does.

What Gugino is serving up here is a meticulously measured mix of understated, perfectly timed gags and zany, over-the-top line-readings – when Janet and the family return home from an evening out to find the carnage left behind by The Creature's chaotic first break-in, I couldn't stop cracking up at how distraught she was that her beloved ornament "Lil' Chubby!" had been decapitated. It reminded me of movies like Napoleon Dynamite, where the joke is not so much in the dialogue, but in the way certain moments are delivered.

Ha, ha, harrrrghhhhh

Carla Gugino as Janet in Lisa Frankenstein

(Image credit: Focus Features)

"They offered me this role," Gugino previously told Focus Features, proving what a perfect fit she was for the project. "I'm a big fan of Diablo Cody, so I was really intrigued by the prospect. I don't often get to play a straight-up comedic role. When I read the screenplay, it made me laugh out loud. I loved how it connected to films like Weird Science, movies that really had an impact on me at a certain time in my life. When I met Zelda, right away, I felt that she was a natural director. I knew that I wanted to be part of this. There is not anything out there like it."

Turns out, she played a large part in working out Janet's look, too, which was initially much more casual, and consisted of baggy jumpers, sweatpants, and a scruffy ponytail. "She sees herself as a sort of movie star with everything perfectly in place," Gugino added. "It's precisely because Janet is so hilariously not self-aware that she is so meticulous in the way she dresses. We wanted her to look very put together so that when she comes apart, we really start to see her disassemble."

In short, Janet couldn't exist without Gugino. You'd have to look back to the '90s to see Gugino in a similarly silly part, and I just hope that it doesn't take her 25 years to do another. Janet may falsely identify herself as an 'IP', but it's glaringly obvious Gugino is, unquestionably, Lisa Frankenstein's V…IP.

Lisa Frankenstein is in UK theaters now. To ensure you don't miss anything else you should be watching at the cinema, be sure to check out the rest of our Big Screen Spotlight series.

Amy West

I am an Entertainment Writer here at GamesRadar+, covering all things TV and film across our Total Film and SFX sections. Elsewhere, my words have been published by the likes of Digital Spy, SciFiNow, PinkNews, FANDOM, Radio Times, and Total Film magazine.