Lisa Frankenstein, Jennifer’s Body and Diablo Cody’s love of murderous teenage girls

jennifer's body tongue
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With Lisa Frankenstein in cinemas, we look back to Jennifer’s Body and writer Diablo Cody’s love of killer teenagers. 

NB: The following contains spoilers for Jennifer’s Body and Lisa Frankenstein.

“Hell is a teenage girl.”

These are the first words spoken by Anita ‘Needy’ Lesnicky in 2009’s Jennifer’s Body. Written by Diablo Cody and directed by Karyn Kusama, Jennifer’s Body was met with reviews that ranged from lukewarm to downright negative, and the film underperformed at the box office.

It’s only 15 years later that Jennifer’s Body has started to earn the respect it deserves. The MeToo movement might have had something to do with the film’s re-evaluation as a feminist classic, or maybe the film has just aged like a fine wine. Regardless, it’s finally getting attention and recognition. 

Jennifer’s Body follows Megan Fox’s Jennifer and her best friend Needy (Amanda Seyfried) who barely make it out of a devastating fire that destroys a local bar where a very early-2000s emo-ish band, Low Shoulder, are playing. In fact, Jennifer goes missing, and when she reappears in Needy’s kitchen in the middle of the night, her bloodied appearance suggests she’s sustained a little more damage than just smoke inhalation. 

jennifer's body megan fox
Credit: 20th Century Studios

Turns out, the band members tried to perform a ritual sacrifice with Jennifer in exchange for fame and glory. It kind of works; Low Shoulder become an overnight success, but as Jennifer wasn’t a virgin, the ritual leads to her becoming a succubus who begins to feed on the teenage boys of the town. 

Diablo Cody also has a new film in cinemas this year, and it’s pleasingly similar to Jennifer’s Body in some ways. In Lisa Frankenstein, Kathryn Newton’s Lisa accidentally resurrects her very dead dream man with the help of some lightning and a tanning bed. Almost by accident, Lisa ends up going on a bit of murder spree, partly to harvest body parts for her new beau and partly to take revenge on the people who’ve wronged her. 

It’s hard not to see the similarities between Lisa Frankenstein and Jennifer’s Body. Both feature teenage girls as protagonists, but more importantly, both Lisa and Jennifer are victims as well as the perpetrators in their respective films. It’s a role that women are rarely awarded; we’re often confined to being damsels in distress or impossibly strong superwomen.

Back in 2009, Cody had hoped that Jennifer’s Body would find a female audience. The film’s marketing focused heavily on the film’s one lesbian love scene between Fox and Seyfried, but ultimately, Jennifer’s Body should make men shake in their boots, if anything. The men in the film, whether it’s Kyle Gallner’s sensitive emo boy or Joshua Emerson’s football captain, appear as helpless victims. They’re powerless against Jennifer and her fury. It’s a clever way to flip the roles and even though horror has always been female-led, it’s a welcome variation to the final girl trope. 

Cody has always been interested in adolescence. Her breakout script was for Juno, in which Elliott Page played a pregnant teenager. Even the films that don’t focus on teenagers per se, such as Tully and Young Adult, both starring Charlize Theron, deal with a certain coming of age. While Tully isn’t a straightforward horror film, there’s also a certain terror to Theron’s experiences as a new, exhausted mother. 

According to Cody, Lisa Frankenstein takes place in the same universe as Jennifer’s Body and the Oscar-nominated writer has recently been chatting about her desire to make a sequel to the film, which is now considered a bit of a cult classic. Both Lisa and Jennifer grow from innocent girls into predatory women. 

This isn’t to say that their actions are justifiable. Lisa probably shouldn’t have killed her step-mother, although she was insufferable, but I’m willing to bet most audience members watched with glee as Lisa takes her revenge. 

Both Lisa and Jennifer have gone through major trauma. They find empowerment in violence, something that is usually reserved for male action stars. We should fear both Jennifer and Lisa, but we’re also invited to empathise with both of them and root for them. 

lisa frankenstein kathryn newton
Credit: Universal Pictures

Lisa cuts off Janet’s ear, because she never listened to Lisa. She takes Doug’s hand, the one he assaulted Lisa with. And finally, she takes Michael’s penis after she discovers Michael in bed with her step sister Taffy. Now that’s what we call taking justice in your own hands. 

Are Lisa and Jennifer monsters? Probably, but both films also highlight the sheer impossibility of being a teenage girl. Both women are underestimated, thanks to their gender, but both also use it to their murderous advantage. Both are also tired of keeping up certain appearances as we see from the forlorn look on Jennifer’s face as she smears foundation on her face to hide the imperfections, or when Lisa smashes her own image in the mirror in rage. 

Perhaps murder is just the last resort for Jennifer and Lisa. Their respective films end on a sad note. Jennifer dies in the hands of Needy, who gets some of Jennifer’s powers after the latter bites her. Needy then seeks out Low Shoulder in order to exact revenge on them. Although Jennifer ultimately lost herself to the monster within, Needy is still compelled to seek revenge on behalf of her best friend. 

Lisa dies too. Her crimes have gotten slightly out of hand and the long arm of the law is about to get her. She opts to seal herself into the tanning bed and instructs the Creature to set it to maximum power, incinerating herself. 

Lisa Frankenstein tanning bed
Credit: Universal Pictures

But the final scene reveals Lisa and the Creature – now verbal! – together on a park bench as the undead Lisa is healing. In a way, both Lisa and Jennifer have found freedom at the end of their respective journeys. 

Hell truly is a teenage girl. 

Lisa Frankenstein is in cinemas now. Jennifer’s Body is streaming on Disney+. 

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