Zelda Williams can't say she always wanted to be a director, but then again, "I don't know if anyone always knows anything," she says. "I always wanted to tell stories for sure. Even when I was really young, I was writing. I wanted to be an actor when I was really young. I don't know if I would've been able to grasp the needs of being a director until now, as much as I was on sets and around it and around incredible people as well."
Growing up as the daughter of Robin Williams, "The earliest set I remember being on was the set of Hook, which was specifically such a fun set," Williams reflects. "I was older by the time he did Bicentennial Man, and I'm in that movie. I was not a professional child actor by any stretch. Chris Columbus was one of dad's closest friends, and he would hide his kids and dad's kids in their collaborations, so I'm snuck into Bicentennial Man and Mrs. Doubtfire."
Meanwhile, at home, a young Williams recalls being allowed to watch certain movies before any of her peers. "I was allowed to watch movies that were funny or sexual — not like, sexy-sexy, but I was the first girl in my class to watch Shakespeare in Love while the other kids were allowed to watch the scary movies, and I wasn't," she recounts. "The great irony is thinking I was going to be in horror films and now I'm in comedy, and I'm like, 'Oh, that makes so much more sense!'"
Williams now makes her feature directorial debut with Lisa Frankenstein. As scripted by Oscar winner Diablo Cody, this riff on Mary Shelley's iconic monster movie skews more towards the comedy stylings of the '80s than a bona fide horror flick. "You don't think you're going to wind up doing the thing you're most afraid of" in your first film, Williams argues, "and comedy's the scariest thing in the world."
Below, the director shares with A.frame five of her favorite films, that also influenced how she approached Lisa Frankenstein. "If I did my favorite films, people would be like, 'She's a psychopath! These are the darkest movies I've ever heard," she laughs. At the top of that list? "I Saw The Devil. It's a fabulous Korean psycho-thriller thing. That's one of my favorite movies. It's also one of the darkest movies ever made."
Directed by: Mel Brooks | Written by: Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks
I grew up on Brooks' films — my parents were showing them to me at a very young age — and when Kathryn [Newton] walked on set and I put that crazy wig on her, I genuinely couldn't get over how much she reminds me of Madeline Kahn. A lot of young women in movies nowadays, they have to take themselves so seriously, and they're so driven, and there's glass ceilings and all this stuff. Madeline Kahn wasn't unserious as an actor — she's an incredibly talented actor — but she would be so comfortable being deeply silly. Very similarly, Gene [Wilder] is considered to be one of the best actors who's ever lived, but he could be so happily, gleefully silly.
Lisa Frankenstein, for me, is the first time I'd read a script where the leading lady could be as ridiculous and camp and larger than life. So, Young Frankenstein for obvious reasons — they're both Mary Shelley homages — but the performances really resonated with me. Gene and Madeline and [Marty] Feldman, everyone in that movie, are 110 percent dedicated to silliness and laughter, and it's earnest. It isn't meta. It's not nodding to anything else. I think earnestness is underrated, so I will forever hold it in the highest regard. It's one of my favorite movies ever made.
Written and Directed by: George A. Romero
I'm a big Romero nerd, and I know Day of the Dead isn't everyone's top one. It is for me, because it was the first time I ever saw someone create a zombie that had an emotional arc and intelligence. Bub is a main character, but he's still very much a zombie. In embarking on this with Cole [Sprouse], I talked about Bub quite a lot and ironically, Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice. Because that's who Creature is! Creature is basically if Mr. Darcy had died and woken up in the '80s.
As the godfather of zombies, for Romero to have started in this very specific sphere and then found his way to Bub was a really cool evolution to see. I'm very grateful to him for that.
Written and Directed by: Edward F. Cline and Buster Keaton
The Haunted House is kind of out of left field, but I'll explain: The physicality of the silent film era, with all of those pratfalls and all of the really impressive stunts they would do, for me, is the quintessential beginning of comedy in film. Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin are where the heart of comedy came from, and I specifically used Buster here, because a lot of what I wanted Creature to portray is how Buster carried himself; he had this beautiful, sad-eyed look, but he was an active listener, especially to the women that he was chasing in some of these movies. So, Creature is kind of Buster Keaton as a zombie.
The surrealist element at the end of Haunted House, with Buster going to heaven and then being slid down to hell, I was really fond of that. That and Le Voyage dans la Lune and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari are very much much places where my heart lies, in terms of the art of like set design and stuff. We only got to do it very briefly in this movie with the dream sequence. Originally, there were all these jokes about Lisa being a movie nerd that ended up getting cut, because they were just so niche. She would make jokes about Caligari and the fact that no one in her life watched those movies. Now, you mainly only see it in the posters on her wall and the things that she draws, but I still think the heart and soul of her is that film nerd that watches these kinds of movies. So, I wanted to put one on here both for Lisa and for Creature.
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis | Written by: Martin Donovan and David Koepp
I genuinely love Death Becomes Her so much. So much of this movie is about the perils of vanity, obviously, but from such a fascinatingly female-forward gaze. It's these two women being silly and mean and vengeful, but in the most funny, non-threatening way. It made these otherwise very violent deaths very funny. I mean, you literally have a hole in a woman that someone holds a candelabra through! And yet, it was funny and not harrowing and not gross. That was a lot of what I aspired to with the death in Lisa Frankenstein. There's all these murders, but we wanted them to have that feeling where you're like, 'It's silly, and death doesn't exist, so just let it happen!' Death Becomes Her is that for me. Every time I watch that movie, I leave it feeling so giddy. It is absolutely 100 percent the kind of movie that I would rewatch repeatedly for the rest of my life.
Directed by: Les Mayfield | Written by: George Zaloom and Shawn Schepps
I love Encino Man. That era of film can be polarizing, because some people think it's cheesy and there's so many people now that'll be like, 'oh, it's cringe!' It's not cringe. It's amazing. But when Diablo wrote this script, she wanted to create the female wine pairing to Weird Science. My wine pairing was actually Encino Man. Encino Man is such a bro movie, in a weird way, so this was the female response to it. Link isn't a monster — he is a caveman — but he is an outsider, and a man out of time, but they approached him with such a heartfelt, buddy comedy nature, and the madcap stuff that ensues is very much from my love of movies like Encino Man.
So, if you are looking for two movies that pair well together, for me, Encino Man and Lisa Frankenstein should be watched together as a double feature.