Producers: Mason Novick and Diablo Cody   Director: Zelda Williams   Screenplay: Diablo Cody   Cast: Kathryn Newton, Cole Sprouse, Liza Soberano, Henry Eikenberry, Joe Chrest, Carla Gugino, Bryce Romero and Joey Bree Harris   Distributor: Focus Features

Grade: C-

This latest effort from talented but erratic screenwriter Diablo Cody has the misfortune of following closely on the heels of “Poor Things,” a near-brilliant comedy inspired by Mary Shelley’s 1818 classic.  But even if it arrived without that encumbrance, “Lisa Frankenstein” would be a dud, a failed attempt to revitalize the genre of garishly outlandish horror farces that proliferated in the 1980s.

It’s set, in fact, in 1989, when high-schooler Lisa (Kathryn Newton) is trying to accommodate herself to a dreadful new home situation after witnessing the brutal murder of her mother by a masked home invader, who’s never been caught.  Her milquetoast dad Dale (Joe Chrest) has remarried, and Lisa’s new stepmother Janet (Carla Gugino) is a screeching monster out of old fairy tales.  And while her stepsister Taffy (Liza Soberano) exudes support, that might just be an act.

Taffy insists, for instance, that timid Lisa accompany her to a drinking party where she swoons over her campus crush, newspaper editor Michael Trent (Henry Eikenberry).  But she swoons in another way when she gulps down a spiked drink and rushes away in a daze, winding up in what’s become her refuge—an old, shuttered cemetery where she swoons yet again, this time over a handsome young nineteenth-century fellow depicted in stone on a monument.

The next night a terrible storm hits, and a lightning bolt strikes that monument, reanimating the corpse beneath it.  The hulking, mud-incrusted figure (Cole Sprouse) finds its way to Lisa’s house; she’s initially terrified, but quickly acclimates herself to his presence and hides the creature away from her family.  Over time she’ll remedy his mottled appearance through the use of a pink tanning bed that, for some reason, is kept in the garage; apparently some faulty wiring endows it with the power to “improve” the corpse.

But Lisa’s new friend needs help in another way.  He’s missing some body parts, and Lisa not only helps him acquire replacements but, being an expert seamstress who works part-time at a tailor shop, can sew them onto him.  That involves killing people, which becomes a joint pastime.  The first victim is Janet, not because she can provide any necessary male appendages but because she threatens what’s growing into an awkward romance.  (Fortunately, she was just about to go off to a conference, so her absence won’t be a matter of concern.)  But to supply one of the items the corpse is lacking, Lisa seduces the class dork Doug (Bryce Romero), who’s been rude enough to make some advances to her; when he’s lured to the cemetery, they cut off his hand and bury the rest.

Then things really spin out of control.  Lisa, transformed into a haughty goth presence on campus, falls afoul of the mean girl clique and grows more assertive toward Trent.  Unfortunately, when she decides to confront him at home, she finds him in bed with someone else, and the creature intrudes with an axe—the very instrument Lisa’s mother was killed with—to secure another body part he needs (though why he hadn’t taken it from Doug as a twofer isn’t explained).  He completes the task in one of those gruesomely gross-out bits of business that are supposed to be simultaneously horrifying and hilarious.  Unlike the item he acquires, the scene doesn’t come off.

That leaves Cody with the task of tying up her so called “coming of rage” picture with an ending in which the romantic partners have exchanged roles in a way. 

It’s not hard to see what Cody is aiming at here—the same sort of combination of teen comedy and horror she attempted in her second feature, “Jennifer’s Body.”  But it’s no more successful the second time around.  The script substitutes cornball gags for wit, and any chance it might have had is undermined by the clunky direction of Zelda Williams, who stages the individual scenes like bad sitcom sketches. 

It’s not surprising that the performances suffer as a result.  Newton tries hard, but delivers what’s more a series of comic-book poses than a coherent portrait of teen longing; the fault isn’t hers, but Cody’s.  Gugino suffers as well, since Janet is written as a single-note banshee she can only present as an insufferable screaming shrew; nor are Soberano, Chrest and Eikenberry given the chance to do much beyond the monotonous.

The fatal flaw, however, lies in the casting of Sprouse.  The role of the creature demands a gift for silent-film grace, the ability to communicate through gesture and nuance.  Karloff had it; so too, to mention a more recent example, did Johnny Depp as Edward Scissorhands, another sadly misunderstood social misfit.  Sprouse simply lumbers around clumsily, and his exaggerated facial contortions are the stuff of kids’ cable television.  The role is simply beyond his scope, and his inadequacy sinks the movie beyond repair.

Nor do the campy visuals bring anything but a sense of curdled nostalgia.  Mark Worthington’s production design and Meagan McClaughlin Luster’s costumes revel in a gaudy ugliness redolent of forty years ago, and Paula Huidobro’s cinematography italicizes the look; the effects, of the low-tech primitive variety, fit the same pattern.  Occasional bursts of animation emphasize the comic-book ethos, and Isabella Summers’ score, with the inevitable needle-drops, does the same.  Brad Turner’s editing can’t disguise the glaring lumpiness of it all.

Diablo Cody has surmounted her worst juvenile impulses before to produce work of real insight, like “Young Adult,” “Tully,” and, of course, “Juno.”  One hopes—and expects—that she’ll do so again.