Movie Review: The Munsters
One of my favorite TV shows growing up, and still today, was the Munsters. They were a family like in all of the other sitcoms of the era running in syndication at the time but they were better because they were a family of monsters. As far as they were concerned the fact that their clan consisted of a patriarch Frankenstein monster (Herman), his vampiric wife (Lily), her vampire father (Grandpa), their werewolf son (Eddie), and “ugly duckling” daughter (Marilyn) was nothing out of the ordinary therein lied brilliance of the humor. Over the years the popularity of the Munsters has seen them featured in a number of TV movies and specials proving they have staying power in pop culture. Most recently Hannibal and Pushing Daisies creator Bryan Fuller put a brilliant modern spin on it with the special/intended pilot Mockingbird Lane. Last year it was announced that rock star turned trash filmmaker Rob Zombie was going to try his hand at a movie based on the iconic TV series.
While I enjoy his music as a writer/director I have not been the biggest Zombie fan. Sure House of 1,000 Corpses was fun and Devil’s Rejects was better than I expected, but at the end of the day there is only so much of a flick I can take when EVERY character is some foul-mouthed pervert (Gfunk summed it up best in his review of Rob Zombie’s needless remake of Halloween). I was skeptical in his ability to not bring this style to Mockingbird Lane. But I began to feel optimistic when I saw the initial promo footage, shot in black and white and seemingly capturing the spirit of the original series. On top of that Rob Zombie firmly believed the movie should be PG as it could provide the perfect gateway to get kids into horror which is something I can always support. But now that the movie has finally hit the streamoshphere was my cautious optimism rewarded or is it something that would make me yell “Darn! Darn! Darn!” upon seeing it?
First off, this is not the Munsters as we know them rather a prequel. The recently created Herman Munster catches the eye of of the vampire Lily. Despite Grandpa’s disapproval, the two engage in a whirlwind relationship eventually getting married. From there the story shifts as they are forced to move to California and settling into their new home on Mockingbird Lane.
For my money the driving strength behind the Munsters is the family aspect of the series which has been carried over in all other incarnations of the franchise until now. So the idea of making the focal point of the story Herman and Lily’s courtship rather than the entirety of the familial unit is an odd creative choice from the start as far as I am concerned. And when your two leads are in their 50’s age-wise them playing a young couple in love is an odd casting choice.
Before we get too deep into this review, since I am a Positive Patrick let me go over the positives of this flick. As a fan of classic horror movies, I appreciated the references Rob Zombie made in that show he respects the source material that inspired the series to begin with. In taking on the role of Grandpa, Daniel Roebuck is nothing short of fantastic as he both channels Al Lewis’ iconic style while still bringing his own spin on it. As the new character Floop, Lost vet Jorge Garcia is the only consistently funny character in the film. Seeing as how Elvira is a national treasure seeing Cassandra Peterson show up in anything is a good thing. Now we got those out of the way let’s dive in.
As mentioned previously, the released promo material for this film showcased a great black & white look reminiscent of the TV series. Sadly this was a lie as Zombie opts instead for a garish neon color scheme coating the entire film. Not only does it make the film look ugly but also puts the cheapness of the sets on full display. Aside from Grandpa and Lily’s castle the sets look like they found a random community haunted house and started filming. It is like watching the later episodes of the Andy Griffith Show, when they shifted to shooting in color exposing that Mayberry is actually a set and completely destrroying the illusion of it being actual town. Shooting in black & white could have gone a long way to covering the Munsters’ production deficiencies.
Unlike so many others, I never begrudge Rob Zombie for casting his wife Sherri Moon Zombie in all of his projects. When a director finds someone they gel with they tend to work with them as often as they can. That being said she is woefully miscast in this film as Lily Munster as her performance rises above doing a second rate Yvonne De Carlo impersonation. Perhaps the films biggest flaw of the Munsters, is the attempted comedy. Rob Zombie naturally attempts to replicate the zany sitcom style humor of the original series. While this is not a bad idea and could be done, the former White Zombie frontman does not seem to have the knack for directing comedic timing especially this particular brand. This results in hammy jokes, largely more annoying than laugh-worthy.
At the end of the day, it is obvious that making the Munsters was a passion project for Rob Zombie. Hell, the man’s most famous song is “Dragula”. But I am not sure if this story is one that needed to be told. The Munsters thrived as the monster kid equivalent to the Cleavers as a complete nuclear family. The story of Herman and Lily’s courtship and move to America proves rather dull as they faced no challenges along the way and the stakes are relatively low. They simply experience love at first sight and things just kind of flow smoothly from there. Even Grandpa’s attempt to drive them apart never really rise above a botched spell and toothless jabs at Herman. Perhaps if Zombie’s passion for the show had been combined with a screenwriter with comedy pedigree and a bigger budget the Munsters could have been a crowd favorite but as it stands it is a groan-inducing and forgettable hour and 45 minutes.